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Gelotology vs death: laughing is serious!

Gelotology vs death: laughing is serious!
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Norman Cousins/


If you think that laughing is not serious, you are wrong. Because a whole branch – gelotology – is quite seriously and professionally engaged in laughter. This is the name of the science of laughter and its influence on the human body, which works at the junction of many other sciences – physiology, psychology, philosophy. Our story is about a man who made a huge contribution to its development – Norman Cousins.


Laugh, really, it’s not a sin

Over everything that seems ridiculous!

Nikolay Karamzin




That was the nickname for Norman Cousins ​​(1915-1990). He was an amazing and versatile gifted person. At the age of 11, he could die of tuberculosis, but, despite the circumstances, went in for sports, and the disease receded. Cousins ​​graduated from the College of Education at Columbia University in New York, then the University of California at Los Angeles. He worked as a professor at the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, taught ethics and medical literature.

For over 30 years he was the editor-in-chief of The Saturday Review. He was an active fighter for nuclear disarmament, repeatedly mediated in negotiations on this issue between the USSR and the United States. He considered the nuclear bombing of Japanese cities in 1945 a crime, and contributed to the organization of treatment for Hibakusha – Japanese victims of a nuclear explosion.

In Hiroshima Peace Park, grateful Japanese even erected a monument to Cousins. His contribution to the struggle for peace was repeatedly and highly appreciated: numerous prizes, awards from John F. Kennedy, the United Nations, etc.


Gelotology vs death: laughing is serious!
Monument to Norman Cousins in Hiroshima Peace Park, Japan/




And then one day this unusually active and courageous man in 1964, doctors diagnosed collagenosis, a severe form of arthritis, spinal disease and heart problems. According to statistics, out of 500 patients with collagenosis, only one person recovered. Cousins ​​took this information as another challenge of fate and decided to give the disease a serious battle.

True, he chose a not very serious method for this – laughter therapy. He injected himself with intravenous doses of vitamin C and, locked himself in a room, watched humorous programs for days, leafed through comics and – incessantly laughed! As a result, Cousins ​​lived much longer than doctors predicted. He died 26 years after he was diagnosed with collagenosis from a heart attack, which happened 36 years after the diagnosis of heart disease.

He left the world 4 children, 26 grandchildren, who buried him in the Jewish cemetery in New Jersey. It must be said that all those close to him, remembering Cousins, characterize him as an incorrigible optimist, lover of life and a very kind person. In particular, it is said that in his entire 30-year editorial career, he has not fired a single person.




Cousins ​​reasoned as follows. When the body is mobilized to fight any disease, its endocrine system is working at full capacity. As a child, when he got to a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients, he noticed that optimistic patients usually recover and leave the hospital, while with pessimists it happens much less often.

Negative emotions depress the endocrine system, because the adrenal glands release stress hormones, which, when released into the bloodstream, have a destructive effect on the body. It is logical to assume that positive emotions should have a positive effect on the endocrine system, stimulating recovery. What other emotion is more positive than laughter?

In addition, this medicine is generally available and completely free. Norman re-read a lot of literature on this topic, starting with the Bible, where he found this recipe: “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones”. Cousins ​​only had to prove the correctness of biblical wisdom and use laughing to activate all biochemical reactions in the body. He laughed for at least six hours. Gradually, the doses of anti-inflammatory drugs began to decrease, the pain disappeared, and sleep returned to normal. The mobility of the joints returned so much that Cousins ​​was able to play tennis and perform his favorite Bach fugues on the organ.




Once, many years later, he met a doctor who had sentenced him to a slow and painful death, and squeezed his hand to such an extent that he even cried out in pain. Cousins ​​believed that people have an inner healing energy that they simply do not know how to use. His example and belief in the healing power of laughter were so compelling that Cousins ​​began teaching medical students.

He taught them to never give up, to maintain a positive emotional attitude under any circumstances, to cultivate a “fighting spirit” in themselves and their patients. Interestingly, at the University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine, Cousins ​​was the only teacher without a medical degree.

In 1979, he published his autobiographical book  Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient which became a worldwide bestseller. Of course, Hollywood could not pass by him. In 1984, the film  Anatomy of an Illness was made based on Cousins’ book. If desired, the reader can get acquainted with an artistic version of the amazing story of one of the first laughter therapists in the world. However, Cousins ​​himself considered the film adaptation not very successful. Perhaps because he didn’t find it funny enough?

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