A little known fact about me…I am an actual Certified Laughter Leader having taken the necessary training through the World Laughter Tour of Columbus, Ohio while I was a hospital chaplain at Providence Hospital in Mobile, Alabama.
There was a time when I also performed banquet comedy presentations, mostly for churches and business conferences, but presenting therapeutic laughter programs is something that I still enjoy.
So, let me tell you how a Southern Baptist hospital chaplain became a certified therapeutic laughter leader…
The Value of Laughter…
One day while working with Hurricane Katrina victims, as a hospital chaplain, I was struck by the quick turn-around one patient took, when he suddenly found something to laugh about.
On a follow-up visit, he began to tell me about how he was thinking about something a comedian once talked about. As I was listening to him tell the story, I wanted to jump in and finish for him – because was reciting an old George Carlin comedy bit, called “Stuff.” The bit was one of my favorites!
He shared how he realized that all he lost, was just stuff. He said he got to thinking that he really is thankful that none of loved-ones were lost. I was simple nodding my head, trying not to interrupt. Then he started to recite the comedy bit again, and this time he stopped and said, “Rev, you’re smiling…You don’t know who George Carlin is do you?”
I said, “George Carlin? Of course I do. Before I was ‘Rev’ is was ‘Irev’ – I grew-up in the 70′s near Toledo, Ohio – I know George Carlin.”
He then said, “Well, then you would remember the bit he did on ‘Stuff.’ We both rushed to recount that comedy bit and laughed in his hospital room as we took turns reciting the lines to that comedy bit!
I was amazed by the emotional and physical healing that took place for him after that unscheduled session of comedy, humor, and laughter.
That encounter set me off on a serious two year study of the dynamics of humor and laughter and its place in our emotional, physical, and spiritual well being.
In that process, I became a Certified Laughter Leader and discovered medical research and therapeutic practices of laughter that goes beyond entertainment, taken my message of laughter and humor to local and national media outlets, and had written the now out-of-print book “Merry Medicine for the Soul.”
For several years I presented therapeutic laughter and humorous presentations to 25-30 audiences annually, while still working as a chaplain, since started a new church, my pastoral commitments have taken first priority in my schedule. However, I am always happy to speak to any audience that wants to laugh more, stress less!
Therapeutic Laughter Presentations…
Therapeutic laughter presentations can be a one-time 20-minute speech or a 90-minute workshop.
Each presentation is tailored according to the group and purpose, but typically offers a blend of both education and voluntary audience participation in “Laughter Therapy” exercises. Laughter exercises help groups learn to stress less and laugh more, and fits with a group program that is built around specific exercises.
Laughter therapy presentations are more conducive to “edu-tainment” because although the audience is is there to roll in laughter, they are actually getting useful wellness information.
I do speak to groups on this topic of laughter as medicine for the stressed marriage, and as you may expect I have plenty of humorous stories from 4000 weddings and 4 kids.
Science of Laughter Therapy…
An ancient proverb in the Bible reminds us that “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22 CSB). Laughter is God’s natural medicine for the pressures of life, our battle against disease, and struggle to balance off the toll of daily stress.
Abraham Lincoln, during the heaviness of the Civil War, asked his advisers “Gentlemen, why do you not laugh? With the fearful strain that is upon me day and night, if I did not laugh, I should die.” Too often we find ourselves in our own big battles, but like Lincoln’s advisers, we naturally neglect the natural balm of laughter.
Dr. Lee Berk of Loma Linda University, released the results of a twenty year study that found first time heart attack victims who were prescribed a similar diet and drug regiment, with the exception that half of the group added a daily 20 to 30 minute period of laughter.
Half were told to watch a funny sitcom on television, a comedy, or to spend the time reading a humorous joke book, as long as the 30 minute period was focused on humor and being able to laugh.
Of the group who were prescribed laughter, only 8% suffered a second heart attack. While the group who were not prescribed daily laughter had a 42% recurrence rate of a second heart attack!
On a CNN medical report television program, Dr. Lee Berk said it best when he commented that had he invented a pill that got these remarkable results, he would be on his way to Stockholm, Sweden for the Noble Peace Prize in Medicine.
While laughter offers no guarantees as the ultimate cure-all, we do know that the medical and psychological benefits of laughter have been cited in the top medical research journals. Here is my top 10 list of such benefits that have been mentioned in these journals:
1. Reducing cortisol, a stress hormone that locks up metabolism and hordes fat. (American Journal of the Medical Sciences)
2. Increases endorphins, the body’s opiate feel-good hormone. (American Journal of the Medical Sciences)
3. Eases muscle tension, good for rheumatism. (Southern Medical Journal)
4. Increases the body’s T-Cell count, immune system cells that kill bacteria. (Journal of
5. Increases the body’s Lymphocyte Blastogenesis, helps the immune system work faster. (Journal of the American Medical Association)
6. Improves respiratory conditions, aids in ventilation and helps clear mucus plugs.
(Journal of the American Medical Association)
7. Increases blood circulation and rise in oxygen and nutrient levels. (Journal of Biological Psychology)
8. Improves blood vessel functions and circulation. (University of Maryland)
9. Increases catecholamines, which boost mental alertness and responsiveness. (Journal of the American Medical Association)
10. Reduces the rate of cellular decay. (Journal of the American Medical Association)