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Looking for a Little Humour in the Era of COVID

These are tough times and it is hard to escape the seriousness of COVID-19. A little diversion or two could help. Maybe even a chuckle here and there. Especially since laughter might be good for our health.

A priest a lawyer and an engineer are about to be guillotined. The priest puts his head on the block, they pull the rope and nothing happens - he declares that he's been saved by divine intervention - so he's let go. The lawyer is put on the block, and again the rope doesn't release the blade, he claims he can't be executed twice for the same crime and he is set free too. They grab the engineer and shove his head into the guillotine, he looks up at the release mechanism and says, "Wait a minute, I see your problem..." If you laughed at that, and you should have, you probably improved your health. That, at least, is what research by Dr. Michael Miller of the University of Maryland Medical Center implies. He is interested in making people live longer. How? By making them laugh! And he has some evidence that this may just work.

Dr. Miller decided to investigate the effect of laughter on circulation. He enlisted twenty volunteers who were willing to undergo an experiment in which the blood flow and extent of dilation in the brachial artery of the upper arm were measured by means of ultrasound as they watched either a serious or a funny movie. The funny movie was Kingpin, which features Woody Harrelson and Bill Murray. Roger Ebert rated it as one of the funniest movies ever made. I never saw it, so I can’t comment on that aspect, but the plot is described as “A star bowler whose career was prematurely cut off hopes to ride a new prodigy to success and riches.” Anyway, the volunteers must have found it funny because in all but one the artery relaxed, and blood flowed more freely for 30-45 minutes after. When they watched Saving Private Ryan, a decidedly sad piece, the opposite happened. In 14 of the volunteers, the artery constricted, reducing blood flow. I guess the six others did not find war that tragic. The overall results showed that blood flow decreased by 35% after stressful movie clips and increased by 22% after laughter. It seems that laughter can help arteries stay healthy.  

Dr. Miller of course was not the first to link laughter to health. Dr. Madan Kataria, a physician in Bombay, India, was so convinced of the therapeutic value of laughter that he organized a laughter club. Members met each morning in a park for some 20 minutes, told jokes, and laughed. They began to report better relationships with co-workers, improved self-confidence, improved ability to concentrate, and fewer colds and headaches. The idea became so popular that now there are at least 400 laughter clubs in India with 25,000 “laughaholic” members. And it seems they no longer find it necessary to tell jokes. They just gather every morning and begin to laugh spontaneously. And not only that! In addition to feeling better all day, some experience another benefit. Weight loss!

I don’t need to lose weight, but I must admit that constantly dealing with COVID-19, which circumstances force me to do, is starting to weigh on me. My email inbox is flooded with questions many of which, much to my frustration, cannot be conclusively answered. I can’t say for sure that hugging a grandchild poses no risk, or that you cannot become infected by playing cards with friends on the patio. I think the risk is extremely small, but that is just an educated guess. 

After dealing with such questions all day, I do look for relief with a little humour. Seinfeld is my standby. I just love the episode in which Jerry enters and finds George sprawled on the floor with his pants around his ankles having just rushed out of the bathroom to prevent Kramer from answering the phone and giving away George’s white lie about being an importer-exporter. On surveying the bizarre scene, Jerry asks “and you want to be my latex salesman?” No matter how many times I have watched this episode, and it has been many, I can’t help laughing. Makes me feel better and gets me ready to start answering questions the next day. Questions like, “We are told to have windows open as much as possible, but flies come in. Can you catch the coronavirus from a fly? After all, we don’t know where it has been.” Had to laugh at that one. I don’t think you can, but that is just a guess. Nobody has studied transmission via fly if it happens to fly into your mouth, at least as far as I can tell. Maybe another reason to wear a mask.


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