Researchers at NTNU and St. Olav’s Hospital in Norway have found the first evidence in history that proves that a sense of humour reduces mortality. In January in a particular year, all patients with chronic kidney failure in Sør-Trøndelag County were invited to participate in the study. The patients were very ill and had to receive dialysis at least once a week, some every day, to purify the blood for substances that the kidneys would normally filter out into the urine. Without the dialysis, they would die. Approximately 80 per cent of these patients provided answers to questions regarding their age, gender, education, quality of life, and sense of humour.

If the patient belonged to the half that scored relatively high on sense of humour, the risk of dying within two years was reduced by 30 per cent. The figures appeared after making considerations to aspects that could be caused by other health issues, the general quality of life, and other conditions.

No other patient characteristics could predict life or death within two years as strongly as the score for sense of humor.

Not everyone buys that view

“I’m very skeptical,” says William Breitbart, psychiatry chief at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. “Of course, Art Buchwald would be the poster boy for that idea.” Humorist Buchwald, who entered a hospice in January 2006, was expected to die within days of untreated kidney failure. He lived for another year, though, and never stopped joking.

Still, Breitbart says that in 22 years of treating cancer patients, “I’ve met a lot of funny people who died of cancer pretty quickly.” He says stage of disease and aggressiveness of tumors matter far more than a person’s sense of humor.

But someone who can see humor in bad side effects of chemotherapy might stick it out for more treatment, “and that could be a way that humor affects survival.”


Our Own Opinion

’tis very clear: it’s not the sense of humor. It’s the attitude.


Where Is St. Olav’s Hospital, Norway?