Humor isn't only fun - it's good for you

January 08, 1999|By MEG H. PARTINGTON

Taking the Eeyore out of life is a laughing matter.

Sam Splear, a motivational speaker from Avedo, Ill., says too many people walk around living on the outside but wasting away inside. He hears them complaining and arguing, suffering from what he calls the "Eeyore Complex," named after the gloomy donkey from "Winnie the Pooh."

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"You can see people literally dying," says Splear, who is the training administrator for the human resources department at John Deere. He created the concept of CHUMS - use of creativity, humor, understanding, magic and spontaneity.

His observations of the heavy spirits all around sparked the title for his presentation, "Don't Die Until You are Dead," for the International Management Council's mid-winter seminar Tuesday, Jan. 19, at Four Points Hotel in Hagerstown.


By depriving themselves of chuckles and upside-down frowns, many individuals also are missing out on some significant health benefits.

"Humor can add life to your years," says Joel Goodman, director of The HUMOR Project Inc. in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

A simple bout of the giggles can enhance the body's respiratory and circulatory functions and reduce stress-releasing hormones, Goodman says.

"The body's immune system is pumped up" after a hearty laughing session, says Stuart Robertshaw, who founded National Association for the Humor Impaired in 1990 in La Crosse, Wis. Studies have shown that, after laughing, the body's disease-fighting capacity is heightened anywhere from 25 minutes to six hours, he says.

Research also has shown that terminal cancer patients who have a lighthearted outlook live up to three times longer, says Robertshaw, who refers to himself as "Dr. Humor."

Norman Cousins, writer and humanitarian, alerted the medical community to the therapeutic effects of humor in 1979 while being treated for a rheumatic disease. He considered laughter to be "internal jogging," says Goodman, because it has a massaging effect on the body's organs.

"It's that wonderful sense of well-being," says Robertshaw, whose giggle is completely contagious.

The Christmas Day release of the movie "Patch Adams" has put humor's healing powers back in the spotlight.

The film starring Robin Williams is based on the life of Dr. Hunter Adams, a medical doctor and professional clown who in 1971 founded a home-based practice later called the Gesundheit! Institute. It charged no fees for care. He is in the process of building a permanent site for the institute in Pocahontas, W.Va.

"Patch really has been a model of a person who sticks to his beliefs," says Goodman, who met the comedic caregiver several years ago. Adams, who dared to take the high cost and inhumanity out of medicine, spoke at The Humor Project's annual conference three years ago.

Dr. John Reed, an internist and pediatrician in Smithsburg, says his patients seem to respond to his sense of humor.

He says his Irish Catholic upbringing taught him how to laugh in the face of life's tragedies - especially at wakes. Of his lightheartedness, he says, "It kind of comes naturally."

"Laughter and humor help you to reframe stressful situations," says Goodman, who has a doctorate in education but considers himself a true MD - "mirth doctor."

"Focusing on the positive is the first step," Reed says.

Ways to get your 'laugh a day'

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