Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Norman Cousins And Laughter

In 1964 Norman Cousins - professor, author, and editor of the Saturday Review - was diagnosed with a condition known as Anklosing Spondylitis in which the connective tissue in his spine was deteriorating.  He was given a 1 in 500 chance of survival.  He wrote a book about his diagnosis and his recovery - Anatomy of an Illness - in which he tells us that he wanted to play an active part in his treatment.  This alone was a far cry from traditional medical treatment in that day.   The first thing Cousins did was learn as much as he could about his diagnosis and current treatment including the medications he was taking as part of the treatment.  He worked with his doctors to modify his treatment to include large doses of Vitamin C.  Who knows if the Vitamin C helped but he thought it did and feeling that he was participating in and possibly impacting his treatment doubtless did help him at least emotionally.  He then decided to see if laughter might help him more effectively manage his pain and allow him to rest/sleep more comfortably.  He spent hours watching Marx Brothers' movies and any other film or television program that made him laugh.  Within a few weeks of laughter, he returned to his position at the Saturday Review.  That was in 1964.  Norman Cousins died in 1990.
Did the combination of Vitamin C and laughter lengthen the days of Norman Cousins?  Will it lengthen mine or yours or those of my life partner?  Sometimes when life seems so random and chaotic one of the most helpful things we can do is something, anything to regain a sense of order and control.  If laughing is what does it, watch the Marx Brothers or, for me, the movie Airplane.  If meditation does it, meditate.  If visualization does it, visualize.  And until someone proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that it doesn't help, I choose to believe that we can work in partnership with our doctors to beat the odds so seemingly stacked against us.

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