In 1964, then 49-year-old Norman Cousins collapsed in the middle of his living room floor. Cousins was rushed to the hospital, and he was diagnosed with sudden-onset degenerative collagen disease — a connective tissue condition which gave him severe back pain and almost left him quadriplegic. He was given by his doctor a one-in-500 chance to recover (that’s only 0.2%).
Cousins, however, decided that he will recover and beat the odds.
“He knew that there was research and evidence showing that negative emotion — fear, anger, anxiety — was bad for you,” said Anne Harrington, a professor of the history of science at Harvard University, as quoted in the book Fingerprints of God. “But he felt that there had been little study of whether positive emotions might have the opposite effect on your health, that it might be good for you. He felt he had nothing to lose, because he wasn’t going to get better through conventional means, and perhaps he had a lot to gain.”
Cousins checked himself into a hotel room and developed his own treatment. He hired a doctor to pump doses of vitamin C through his IV and prescribed himself a “laughter routine” in which he read funny excerpts by E.B. White and watched episodes of “Candid Camera” and Marx Brothers films.
According to Cousins, it worked.
He, however, is unsure of what happened to him, and he says that it is quite possible that what happened to him is an example of the placebo effect.
Cousins is not the first one to explore the idea of using laughter as medicine. It has its roots way back in the Middle Ages, in the early 14th century.
Know more about the history of laughter therapy over at Medium.com.
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