Many individuals have left profound marks in the human history book of laughter as a form of complementary medicine. To talk about them all is beyond the scope of this training. Here is a brief summary of the ones that you are most likely to hear about.
Celebrated writer Norman Cousins (1915, 1990) raised a lot of public awareness for almost 30 years on the healing power of laughter and positive emotions following his miraculous 1964 “laughter” recovery from a fatal illness, ankylosing spondylitis (rare form of degenerative arthritis). He claimed that 10 minutes of belly rippling laughter would give him two hours of pain-free sleep where nothing, not even morphine could help him. His story baffled the scientific community and inspired a number of research projects. His 1979 book Anatomy of an Illness is a classic.
Read Norman Cousins’ prescription for health.
His book “An Anatomy Of An Illness” was turned into a movie in 1983.
Dr. William Fry
Psychiatrist William F. Fry from Stanford University demonstrated in 1969 that most of the major physiologic systems of the body are stimulated by mirthful laughter. In one of his most famous experiments he measured his own physiological responses as he first laughed and then exercised, and found out that one minute of laughter gave him the same cardiovascular benefit as ten minutes on a rowing machine.
Dr. Lee Berk
Dr. Lee Berk from Loma Linda University Medical Center rose to fame in the early 1990s following a study on the physical impact of mirthful laughter that focused on heart attack patients under standard medical care. Half were asked to watch humorous videos for thirty minutes each day (the patients selected their own humor material based on their own sense of humor). All received the same medication. After one year, it was found that the “humor” group had fewer arrhythmias, lower blood pressure, lower levels of stress hormones, and required lower doses of medication. Best of all they only had a 20% recurrent heart attack rate compared to 50% in the non-humor group.
Watch Dr. Lee Berk and comedian Norm Crosby discuss the positive effect laughter can have, not only on our mental health but also our physical health: Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3
Dr. Hunter (Patch) Adams
Dr. Hunter (Patch) Adams inspired millions by bringing fun and laughter back into the hospital world and putting into practice the idea that “healing should be a loving human interchange, not a business transaction” for more than 30 years. He is the catalyst for the creation of thousands of therapeutic hospital clowns groups worldwide. His story was the object of a major Hollywood feature film starring Robin Williams.
Website of Dr. Patch Adams: www.patchadams.org
The movie “Patch Adams” is available on DVD at amazon.com
Dr. Annette Goodheart
Psychologist Dr. Annette Goodheart from California (1935-2011) dabbled with laughter therapy in the late 1960s, and was so impressed with its results that she went back to school to get her PhD. She kept using it throughout her life and extensively shared her experiences with the media and her peers. She promoted the value of simulated laughter decades before Dr Kataria had the idea.
The American Association for Therapeutic Humor was founded in 1987 and unites several hundred professionals interested in integrating humor into a variety of therapeutic modalities. Together they have published hundreds of articles over the years.
Psychologist Steve Wilson from Ohio invited Dr. Kataria to the USA for six weeks in 1999, and was the first one to present him to the American public. Impressed with the simplicity and power of Laughter Yoga he created a company “World Laughter Tour” shortly after this visit, and started to train Certified Laughter Leaders, whom he authorized to lead Laughter Clubs. He and Dr. Kataria did not share the same vision and so they stopped working together. Although Mr. Wilson never taught nor promoted Laughter Yoga specifically but only taught his own curriculum, he gained some level of popularity and introduced the essence of the concept of simulated laughter exercises in the USA. He is the author of several books on the psychology of humor in various settings.
The website of Steve Wilson is www.worldlaughtertour.com
…and so many others
Indirectly linked, yet also influential in raising societal awareness about the use and importance of laughter in the 1970s, 80s and 90s: