Monday, February 27, 2017

Healing Powers of a Happy Heart

These are some of the "emojis" available on Apple's OS 10.2.
Sometimes they're the only smiles we see.
Watching TV, we learn about great new prescription medications available for addressing all manner of aches, pains, symptoms and diseases. Take a pill, or get a shot, and we’ll be good as new (or so it seems). And we often see or read news about major medical advances, reports of researchers on the verge of easing or eradicating various maladies. For strugglers with chronic illnesses, such information offers welcomed hope.

There’s one health alternative, however, that’s typically overlooked: Laughter.

Back in the 1970’s, Norman Cousins, a journalist, author, educator and world peace advocate, brought this “cure” to light. In his book, An Anatomy of an Illness: As Perceived by the Patient, Cousins wrote about a degenerative disease he contracted following a stress-filled trip to the Soviet Union in 1964. Racked with constant pain, he sought medical treatment only to be informed death was imminent.

Cousins, however, reasoned his distress must have been stress-induced, so he prescribed for himself an “antidote” – extremely high doses of vitamin C, accompanied by a continual stream of humorous films and similar “laughing matter.” He discovered 10 minutes of hilarious laughter would provide two hours of pain-free sleep, something even morphine and other pain medications could not do.

His health slowly improved; within six months he was back on his feet. After two years, he resumed work full-time as an editor of the Saturday Review. Cousins’ amazing recovery baffled scientists, but he maintained the key was being able to laugh his way to health.

As this emoji might indicate,
sometimes we need to laugh
to keep from crying.
I thought about this while pondering our society, which is ailing in so many ways. Everyone seems angry, easily offended, and up in arms about practically anything they can imagine. Smiles, much less laughter, seem in short supply. We have emojis to represent various feelings, but they’re a poor substitute.

Maybe if we intentionally tried laughing, resolving to do it often, we – and society – would become a lot healthier. As a newspaper colleague of mine used to say years ago, “Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.”

Perhaps that’s why I enjoy my status as a perpetrator of puns. Maybe the humor isn’t particularly sophisticated, but if it elicits a laugh, a chuckle, even a smile, it’s served its purpose.

Cousins wasn’t the first to discover the healing powers of humor, of cultivating a happy heart. Far from it. The Bible’s book of Proverbs repeatedly speaks of the benefits of an high-spirited heart:
“A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 15:13).
“All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast” (Proverbs 15:15).
“A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones” (Proverbs 15:30).
“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” ((Proverbs 16:24).
“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22).
“The strong spirit of a man will sustain him in bodily pain or trouble, but a weak and broken spirit who can raise up or bear?” (Proverbs 18:14, Amplified).

Such observations and admonitions aren’t limited to the Old Testament. In fact, one of the shortest verses in the Bible makes this simple declaration: “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). And if our hope and confidence come from the Lord alone, rejoicing isn’t an unreasonable expectation.

Several books have been written called Happiness Is a Choice. Indeed, it is. We can let the world manipulate our emotions and moods, or we can focus on things that make us smile, laugh – and even rejoice – giving us a happy heart. And with cheerful looks, pleasant words, and even silly jokes, we can help others to do the same! 

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