Introducing Gelotology

There is a school of thought that suggests laughter really is the best medicine.

Yesterday was April fools day, and on that day, Richard Mullen, a humor therapist from Georgetown spoke at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, Massachusetts according to an article, No fooling; local humor experts says skip the pranks and just laugh, in The Daily News Online.

One small criticism, I wouldn’t be so hard on pranksters as the reporter of this event apparently is. Pranks are valuable learning experiences for all involved. Pranks pull the rug of pretension out from under high and low alike. Pranks can be used to re-humanize an increasingly mechanistic world. Pranks offer hope for the future.

Mullen is a self-prescribed gelotologist — itself a funny word — who has studied humor and laughter and the effect it has on the human body. And that part’s no joke.

Gelotology has, as do all sciences, a history.

He also talks about two pioneers in the field of humor therapy, Norman Cousins and Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams, and shows videos of old comedians such as Jackie Gleason and Jack Benny, who were notorious for getting people to laugh, not necessarily for their material, but for their approach.

I imagine this is only the tip of the history iceberg as Kings and Queens of antiquity kept jesters and fools to keep themselves in good humors. It should be noted that fools and jesters often kept Kings and Queens for their amusement and good health as well.

Laughter has its health benefits.

Richard Mullen says the health benefits of laughter include:

• Stimulates the immune system
• Lowers blood pressure
• Increases blood flow to the brain
• Clears lungs and airways
• Reduces pain and depression
• Strengthens core muscles
• Feels good

I imagine there are additional mental health benefits to be gained from laughter beyond that of merely lifting depression. You can’t be serious, after all, about your so called mental illness if it is the source of much laughter, and if you can’t be serious about it, how serious can it be?