Norman Cousins: The Man Who Laughed In The Face of Death

Updated on November 16, 2017

What Does Laughing for Do Your Body? Norman Cousins Knew.

Have you ever been in a bad mood? Have you ever been in a bad mood when someone got you to laugh? Have you ever been in a bad mood when someone got you to laugh and you stayed in a bad mood? No? Well join the world!

Ok, so we know that laughing can change your mood. But what does it do for your body?

Technically speaking laughter is a release of tension, much like sneezing or orgasm. Comics know this well. Watch a good one, no matter what the style you will see that he or she will build up tension and then give some form of punchline to release that tension.


Laughter Activates the Immune System

"In Berk's study, the physiological response produced by belly laughter was opposite of what is seen in classical stress, supporting the conclusion that mirthful laughter is a eustress state -- a state that produces healthy or positive emotions.

Research results indicate that, after exposure to humor, there is a general increase in activity within the immune system, including:

* An increase in the number and activity level of natural killer cells that attack viral infected cells and some types of cancer and tumor cells.

* An increase in activated T cells (T lymphocytes). There are many T cells that await activation. Laughter appears to tell the immune system to "turn it up a notch."

bullet An increase in the antibody IgA (immunoglobulin A), which fights upper respiratory tract insults and infections.

bullet An increase in gamma interferon, which tells various components of the immune system to "turn on."

* An increase in IgB, the immunoglobulin produced in the greatest quantity in body, as well as an increase in Complement 3, which helps antibodies to pierce dysfunctional or infected cells. The increase in both substances was not only present while subjects watched a humor video; there also was a lingering effect that continued to show increased levels the next day."

Norman Cousins Laughed His Way Back to Health and Life

Norman Cousins was given a few months to live in 1964. He had Ankylosing Spondylitis, a rare disease of the connective tissues. He was told my a doctor who was his friend that he had a 1 in 500 chance of survival. He was told to 'get his affairs in order'.

But Cousins would have none of it. A journalist, he was used to research and set himself to find a solution. He read and discovered that both his disease and the medicines were depleting his body of vitamin 'C', among other things.

He did three things that would be usual today and were unheard of then.

1. He fired his doctor and left the hospital to check into a hotel. He ascertained that the cultural of defeat and over medication in the hospital was not going to be good for his health. He found a doctor who would work with him as a team member as opposed to insisting on being in charge.

2. He began to get injections of massive doses of vitamin 'C'.

3. He obtained a movie projector, no small feat in those days, and a pile of funny movies inclusing the Marx Brothers and 'Candid Camera' shows. He spent a great deal of time watching these films and laughing. And he didn't just laugh. In spite of being in a lot of constant pain, he made a point of laughing until his very stomach hurt from it.

Did it work? Who knows. You should know that Cousins finally died November 30, 1990 in Los Angeles, California, having survived years longer than his doctors predicted: 10 years after his first heart attack, 16 years after his collagen illness, and 26 years after his doctors first diagnosed his heart disease.

Can it be proved that laughing added 26 years to Norman Cousins' life? Not really, but we see above that it strengthens the immune system that fights disease. There can be no double blind tests for this. They can't take two groups of dying people and have one laugh and the other cry and see who lived. The ethical restraints would be enormous and there would be too many variables. We will just have to take his word. Perhaps a version of Pascal's Wager. If laughing doesn't extend life, wouldn't it be better to laugh anyway to make your last more pleasant?

The Best Laughing Aids

Even More Physical Benefits of Laughter

The results of the study also supported research indicating a general decrease in stress hormones that constrict blood vessels and suppress immune activity. These were shown to decrease in the study group exposed to humor.

For example, levels of epinephrine were lower in the group both in anticipation of humor and after exposure to humor. Epinephrine levels remained down throughout the experiment.

In addition, dopamine levels (as measured by dopac) were also decreased. Dopamine is involved in the "fight or flight response" and is associated with elevated blood pressure.

Laughing is aerobic, providing a workout for the diaphragm and increasing the body's ability to use oxygen.

Laughter brings in positive emotions that can enhance - not replace -- conventional treatments. Hence it is another tool available to help fight the disease.

Experts believe that, when used as an adjunct to conventional care, laughter can reduce pain and aid the healing process. For one thing, laughter offers a powerful distraction from pain.

In a study published in the Journal of Holistic Nursing, patients were told one-liners after surgery and before painful medication was administered. Those exposed to humor perceived less pain when compared to patients who didn't get a dose of humor as part of their therapy.

Perhaps, the biggest benefit of laughter is that it is free and has no known negative side effects.

So, here is a summary of how humor contributes to physical health. More details can be found in the article, Humor and Health contributed by Paul McGhee

Even Chimps Have to Laugh

Even Chimps Have to Laugh
Even Chimps Have to Laugh

Laughter Is As Infectious As Any Disease

And many help you fight any disease!

Notice how quickly this man's laughter took over the show and converted the audience!

Laughter Clubs

These sound great, but I think could be abused. Nothing is perfect and anything can be abused. This has an almost cult feeling to it. Talk me down in the Guest Book if you think I am nuts here.

Stock Up on Funny Reading for Your Next Trio and Take It All With You.

Any Purchase Here Will Contribute to Heifer International: The Pay It Forward Entrepreneurial Charity

Laughing All the Way

I have started with a list of very funny movies. Norman Cousins had fewer choices, and spent a lot of time watching the Marx Brother which he got from the NYC library and played on his huge projector.

We have it a lot easier and I have added some of my favorite.

Remember, adding yours here could lengthen someone's life!

Have a Laugh and Sign In!

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    • profile image

      Robertta S. Garns 2 weeks ago

      Love to laugh!

    • profile image

      Judy Lewis 7 months ago

      I am about to embark on a new job, in which helping people to cope with pain and disappointment will play a big role. I would appreciate having a list of books and videos and movies which people could use to let their spirits while recovering.

    • profile image

      E. C. 19 months ago

      Thank you so much for unearthing this uplifting article about Mr. Cousins. We were discussing in a class this week the power of our words, and I remembered hearing about him and his self-prescribed "treatment" to overcome his illness. I wanted to remind myself again of the truth of this theory. It is much needed in my own life right now, and decidedly desperately so in our troubled world. I certainly give it a "10"!

    • profile image

      Orlo 3 years ago

      I have been attending a local Laughter Yoga club for four years and, after the death of my sister, decided to train to become a Laughter Yoga leader. I can assure you that this is in no way a "cult", but a 20-year health and wellness movement. I hope you have an opportunity to go experience group laughter before you pass judgment.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Norman Cousins can be considered to be the father of todayâs positive laughing trend, at least in some parts of society, and today's worldwide laughing clubs. Madan Kataria of India was motivated by the success Cousins had with laughter before organizing in 1995 the first laughter club leading the rest of us to appreciate the tremendous importance laughter plays in our life, health and general wellbeing.

      The evidence shows that regular laughter practice stimulates friendship and good will among those who otherwise would be at each other's throat, it is a simple solution to fear, sadness and even anger, it lowers blood pressure cures stress and it has proved to be a sure short cut to joy and contentment.

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 5 years ago

      Norman Cousins is an inspiration to the rest of us mortals. Been hearing so much about massive doses of Vitamin C too! And, laughter is a great antidote for much of the miseries of our lives.

    • profile image

      dream1983 5 years ago

      Awesome lens! I really enjoyed!

    • LynetteBell profile image

      LynetteBell 6 years ago from Christchurch, New Zealand

      Great lens:) I talk about laughter being the best medicine in my lens on natural remedies to treating anxiety

    • siobhanryan profile image

      siobhanryan 6 years ago

      This is a great lens and cheered me up

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      good lens...I laugh a lot.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 6 years ago from Canada

      I believe that laughter is one of the reasons why I am in as good of condition as I am today. Along with my drug therapy I also use the power of endorphins to keep my health stable. It works.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Stopping back to bless the laughter!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      very positive post. thank you for it


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    • krakensquid profile image

      krakensquid 6 years ago

      Great lens, a truly fascinating read!

    • profile image

      Andy-Po 6 years ago

      Very good. I'm glad to hear that laughing is good for me. I laugh a lot.

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 6 years ago

      Fabulous and such a wonderful truth (not everything that feels good is bad for us, eh). Love this lens . . just what I needed today.

    • howtocurecancer profile image

      howtocurecancer 6 years ago

      Blessed by a SquidAngel. I love your lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Great stuff!! I like your lens; very funny and engaging. Iâm also building a site Drinking how much is too much which is really useful for drinkers.

    • profile image

      momsfunny 7 years ago

      Laughter is the best medicine. Being happy is the most nicest thing in this world.

    • Philippians468 profile image

      Philippians468 7 years ago

      oh boy i love this lens! it brightened up my day! thank you!

    • Fcuk Hub profile image

      Fcuk Hub 7 years ago

      Very nice and funny lens. I must admit, I should laugh much more.

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 7 years ago

      Great lens. I firmly believe that Vitamin C is a great cure all for many diseases and conditions. Enjoyed the laughter.

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      anonymous 7 years ago

      @Swisstoons: i am in love with the american version of The Office!!

    • profile image

      tssfacts 7 years ago

      When I need a good laugh I look for "I love Lucy" reruns. It's the older comedies that really get me into the mood to laugh and can't stop.

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      termit_bronx 7 years ago

      I heard this story and it's amazing! Positive life :)

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      Kate Loving Shenk 7 years ago from Lancaster PA

      I need to add here that high doses of Vitamin C were added to Cousin's regimen! Through an IV, no less!! Healing come in all forms. When we are ill, we throw together a whole arsenal of healing tools to combat what we perceive as unwanted, but which is also a great teacher.

      Then when it comes time to figure out what helped the most to eradicate the illness, we don't have a clue! As in Cousin's case, medical science and the pharmaceutical companies like to ignore the Vit C. And lest we forget, Cousin's belief in the Vit C.

      So so much is at play!!

      Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday and have a fantastic time!!

    • Swisstoons profile image

      Thomas F. Wuthrich 7 years ago from Michigan

      I certainly second the notion that laughter is good medicine! If it is, I have been involved in the "health industry" for more than 35 years. My specialty? Well, I guess my avatar probably gives that away. I first read about Norman Cousin's successful use of laughter to combat his illness in the late 1970s with the Marx Brothers. And while I do like the Bros, my preferred prescription would include the Mary Tyler Moore Show, Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm and, most recently, the American version of The Office...all of which regularly send tears of laughter to flowing. Thumbs up on this very informative lens!

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 7 years ago from Canada

      Ah you have the same laughter beliefs as I do... wonderful. Wishing you a merry little Christmas season and a fantastic New Year :)

    • puzzlerpaige profile image

      puzzlerpaige 7 years ago

      The time I laughed the hardest in my life was in 6th grade. My friend and I snuck in some candy to our classroom and got tickled about the stack of wrappers and we laughed until our stomachs ached. Then got in trouble but it was all so funny we didn't care. Still think about it until this day. Love your videos!

    • profile image

      Tempus 7 years ago

      Got a cold coming. runny nose, sore throat, headache? Stick a Phil Silvers Show (Sgt Bilko) into the DVD player and you'll start to feel better in no time at all. Works every time for me.

    • profile image

      Tarra99 7 years ago

      The chimp pic just makes me laugh...when I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year the 1st email I sent out to family and friends said "feel free to send email jokes...I hear laughter helps!" ...and it did :o) great lens Margo...thanks for sharing...and thank you for visiting and commenting on my custom Zazzle iphone cases lens. I want the Wonder Woman one too! (I need an iphone 1st but...) ;o) HA!

    • hlkljgk profile image

      hlkljgk 7 years ago from Western Mass

      i told my 4yo dd about the benefits of laughter, and she'll just start laughing for no reason. even "fake" laughter is beneficial because so often it turns right into the real thing. :)

    • kimark421 profile image

      kimark421 7 years ago

      Norman Cousins. I knew the name, but didn't know why I knew the name. Now I know. Did that make sense? Great lens btw!!

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      June Campbell 7 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      I have heard of Norman Cousins many times, and I have to say that his approach is inspirational. It lends support to many of the mind/bpdy therapies that many people are trying such success.

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      darciefrench lm 7 years ago

      Excellent lens on laughter and healing- angel blessed and will be featured on NOvember Blessings under mnetal health and humor.

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      RinchenChodron 7 years ago

      Norman was brilliant early on in the holistic health movement. I love to laugh and renting movies that are comedies is a good way to lift my spirits. I'm lensrolling this one to

      my lens on depression and how to deal with it.

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      Kate Loving Shenk 7 years ago from Lancaster PA

      I don't think there's any harm in a laughing club. The laughter seems to open up memory, as sometimes a good cry does. Hysterical laughing and crying is one of the best releases I know!

      Thank you!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      @anonymous: Laughing is so good for us. Sometimes when things look the worst, is the best time to laugh. I don't know how many times I have made myself start to laugh, and it soon turns into real laughter. Laughter doesn't change things, but it sure changes me and the way I look at things. Yes, I have shaken off illnesses by laughing...learned that many years ago at church. What a great topic for a lens Margo!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      No doubt laughing heals, staying calm and in harmony with nature heals faster and makes you stronger. Meditation has a curable and very effective healing effect too.

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      awakeningwellness 7 years ago

      I have heard about Norman and his laughter cure, he is an inspiration to us all not to take the world so seriously! Makes me think of the song I Love To Laugh from Mary Poppins (o:

    • TopMovieSoundtr profile image

      TopMovieSoundtr 8 years ago

      I did not know that about him. The power of positive healing.

    • kateloving profile image

      Kate Loving Shenk 8 years ago from Lancaster PA

      Norman Cousins is one of my most favored people in the world! Thank you for helping me to remember!

      I laugh every chance I get!!

      *****5 and faved!!

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      Joan4 9 years ago

      Wonderful lens and so true! We just need to grab this simple truth and live it. Laughter is inexpensive medicine and lots of fun, besides! Why not give it a try?

    • billco1 profile image

      billco1 9 years ago

      I remember reading about Cousin's unique approach to his illness many years ago. Nice lens.

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      Pat 9 years ago from Midwest, USA

      I have featured this lens on

    • giacombs-ramirez profile image

      gia combs-ramirez 9 years ago from Montana

      I've lensrolled this fabulous lens to The Power of A Simple Smile. The bit about animals was completely new!

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      GrowWear 9 years ago

      Fascinated by this concept and believe it to be true. Love a good belly laugh! Wish I had more and more and more!

    • profile image

      Marelisa 9 years ago

      Fabulous lens Margo. It's amazing what laughter did for Norman Cousins. We should all take a cue from him and laugh for twenty minutes a day :-) Thank you for featuring my Laughter Arsenal lens.

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      anonymous 9 years ago

      Great lens, Margo. Definitely a great addition to Get Happy!.

    • tea lady 2 profile image

      Pat 9 years ago from Midwest, USA

      I'm laughing!! Thanks for featuring my lens on David Naster!

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      Nancy Tate Hellams 9 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Another great one and yes, I do agree that Laughter is the best medicine.

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      Good_MEdison 9 years ago

      I really like your style! So here's a 5 fingers up for your lens too. And thanks for featuring me. Your lens "features" nicely into my lens too - Dude! Where's My Gall Bladder so here's a feature right back at ya.