5 Reasons Why Laughing When You’re Sick Is No Joke!

January 26, 2024

I’m down for the count again - darn sneaky COVID - testing negative but it’s the gift that keeps giving. More like a horror movie. Cue V/O: “Just when you thought it was safe to go to spin class again….”

Rather than feel sorry for myself and binge on chocolate - definitely 1 and 2 on my To Do list this morning, I remembered my inspiration Norman Cousins.

In 1979 Cousins broke new ground for laughter with his book “Anatomy of an Illness.” According to Barnes & Noble this book, “started the revolution in patients working with their doctors and using humor to boost their bodies' capacity for healing.”

Cousins claims that with his doctor’s knowledge, he watched comedy videos daily, ingested large doses of Vitamin C and cured himself of a debilitating illness that attacked his connective tissue. A reputable journalist, his documented experience was surprisingly endorsed by the medical community. The book is revered as one of the first to present the power of the human mind to combat illness.

Nice, but back to me. ‘Cause I’m typing in my bed. Am I going to be able to laugh my way out of COVID? Who knows, but I’m certainly going to try. Here’s a short list of how to do this:

1. In his article in the New England Journal of Medicine Cousins claimed to have made the “joyous discovery that 10 minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep.” I’m not in the kind of acute pain he found himself in, but I could certainly use a break from the anxiety I am feeling about when this will end. And as Stephen Colbert said in his Showtime special, you cannot laugh and be afraid at the same time! Fortunately, last week I actually made a list of my favorite comedies!

2. Drink water. I know that’s not funny in itself, but it is essential for fighting a virus. I’ve decided to buy silly straws. If you’re going to feel bad, you might as well pretend your mother is still taking care of you. And the kid in this ad makes me smile.

3. Call a funny friend. I’m lucky because I’ve spent 30 years with comedians so it’s not that hard for me to do this. The trick is finding one who won’t shame me for not getting out of bed. Or…maybe someone making fun of me is exactly what I need, someone reminding me that I’m not dying and this too shall pass. Even if you don’t have comedians in your life, I bet you have one funny friend. Or a sibling. Or a dog/cat/fish/stuffed animal that can bring some joy to your day.

4. Play music. “If music be the fruit of life, play on.” Thank you Shakespeare. Yes…and. Since being sick can be a multi-sensory experience, make sure you attack it from all sides. Play music that makes you smile. I remember going through a depression in my 20’s and having Joni Mitchell’s “Blue,” on repeat. People would call me and say, “What’s playing in the background? You might want to change that.” They were right! By the way, I just discovered the actual Shakespeare quote is, “If music be the food of love play on.” I like mine better.

5. Eat food that makes you happy. Although in the case of post-COVID apparently sugar is the devil. Has to do with inflammation and raised blood sugar levels in response to the virus that sets up you up for diabetes. Thank you WEB MD. I need even more laughter relief now. BUT, if it’s not COVID, have an ice cream sundae or eat cookies with smiley faces on them for me.

Reading this sounds like a prescription for a convalescing eight year old. But maybe the type of laughter we need when we’re feeling vulnerable is the kind a kid appreciates. The sort that feels a little silly, a little less cutting, a little more heart-centered. Norman Cousins approved this message.