Mirth's worth. Laughter is as important to our physical, emotional and mental well-being as eating nutritious foods, exercising and developing relationships.

Chuckles, giggles, belly laughs.

We laugh naturally and spontaneously many times a day for many different reasons. Some experts feel laughter is as important to our physical, emotional and mental well-being as eating nutritious foods, exercising and developing relationships.

By all accounts, the modern humour therapy movement was inspired by the writings of Norman Cousins with his book Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient (1979). It recounts how, stricken with a painful disease, Cousins hired a nurse to read him funny stories and watched Marx Brothers films to distract him from the pain.

According to Cousins, 10 minutes of hearty laughter would induce two hours of pain-free sleep and helped him recover from an illness diagnosed as irreversible. Beth Agnew, a certified laughter teacher (laughpractice.blogspot.com) and a technical communications professor at Seneca College, is convinced that you can use laughter as an antidote for depression, to manage stress, to boost your immune system and to improve your ability to think and make decisions.

The medical community, however, thinks this might be taking a joke too far, as is the notion that laughter can overcome the biology of cancer, infectious diseases or other physical disorders. Dr. Robert Buckman (drbuckman.com), a medical oncologist at Princess Margaret Hospital and professor at the University of Toronto, is adamant that laughter is not a miracle cure.

"I teach communication skills, including how to use humour after dealing with serious topics in medical discussions," adds Buckman. "I never propose it as a therapy, but I do propose that it is part of the normal bond.

"We do know from clear evidence that the act of laughing is contagious. When you see someone else laughing, you are more inclined to laugh along with them," says Buckman.

"Something as simple as smiling with the eyes transmits good vibes, which mirror neurons in the brain will recognize, making you tend to smile when you see someone else smiling."

Next: The Healthy Benefits of Laughter

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