Patch Adams, famously portrayed by American actor Robin Williams, was known for bringing laughter into hospitals. His “red nose” approach to treating patients took out the sterile seriousness of hospital settings and brought life back into the lifeless. Creative and faux pas at the time, Adams was seen to be a bit of a mental case himself. In fact, he made his decision to go to medical school while he was voluntarily admitted to a mental hospital after attempting suicide.
Throughout his training, Adams found that indifference was the most prevalent disease taking over hospital wards and wings. The infected? Doctors and nursing staff. Instead of treating the patients themselves, Adams realized, doctors were treating the diseases and symptoms. Losing senses of self and their humanity, patients struggled to heal. Laughter seemed to be a certain way of returning patients to their human nature. “Laughter,” Adams said, “boosts the immune system and helps the body fight off disease, cancer cells as well as viral, bacterial, and other infections.”
“Being happy,” the controversial doctor infamously proclaimed, “is the best cure of all diseases!”
Laughter is the Best Medicine
Finding laughter in treatment for addiction and alcoholism isn’t difficult to do. Walk into a room where a twelve step meeting like Alcoholics Anonymous is being held and you’ll be met with surprising glee. Initially, recovery from drugs and alcohol will involve a lot of depression. Largely, this is due to the normalization of dopamine and serotonin levels. Abusive levels of drugs and alcohol create a surplus of dopamine, which creates pleasure in the mind. After the initial detox periods, happiness returns. In time, many people in recovery find that they can enjoy life more fully than they ever have before.
One way for helping the creation of infectious laughter and happiness is through laughter therapy or yoga. It may sound silly to have to formalize such an informal human behavior. Laughter yoga uses a series of breathing, sound and physical exercises to stimulate laughter through silliness. Forced laughter is still better for the mind, body, and spirit, than no laughter. Twenty minutes of continuous laughter increases oxygen, lowers blood pressure, and reduces stress.
Laughter has been proven to be contagious. Participants of laughter yoga report feeling like they can spread their joy to everyone around them, “like dropping laughter bombs around the world.”