Sometimes we laugh so much it hurts. Can it be that we laugh so much it stops hurting, or at least hurts less?
According to a recent study, “proper laughing…that reaches the eyes” helps reduce pain and “promote feelings of well being”.
So if you’ve ever felt a bit guilty that you’re wasting time watching yet another rerun of Friends or Mr Bean you can relax a little – you may well have been doing yourself some good!
These two comedy programmes were shown to participants in the research conducted by an international team led by Oxford University.
Those who enjoyed laughing at the clips were later found to have a 10% higher pain threshold.
The reverse was also true. According to a BBC report the scientists who carried out the study were surprised to find a control group subjected to “how to play golf” videos “was less able to bear pain after watching 15 minutes of the ‘boring’ programmes”.
These results show humour can, at least briefly, help us cross a dividing line between suffering that demands our attention and a more peaceful frame of mind.
There have been many times while laughing at a comedy, or being absorbed in a screen drama, where my thought, and consequently my body, have temporarily been freed from pain and other symptoms of sickness.
Although that kind of change was never permanent, it indicated the impact thought can have on our experience and prompts the question as to whether there is a mental process which can counteract a pain permanently.
I recently lifted a heavy box from a top shelf and strained something internally. The pain quickly grew so intense I found myself gasping “This is unbearable!” For a while I just couldn’t think about anything else.
But experience has taught me it is possible to dig a little deeper and uncover a spiritual level of consciousness less focused on pain.
I was able to calm my thoughts and become aware of a core connection to something beyond my troubled thinking – a connection I would describe as divine. In turn this gave me a different, freer sense of my identity as opposed to one defined by suffering.
At that point the pain abated and it didn’t come back. This experience wasn’t so much about something funny, but about something freeing.
I do love laughter, though. One of my favourite comedians Bill Cosby is a believer in the power of humour. He once said: “You can turn painful situations around through laughter.” I have no doubt he is right and that many people have benefited from his ability to make them laugh.
Whether we find relief through laughter or a spiritual insight it is reassuring to know pain is susceptible to a change of thinking.
That means we have access to more life-improving resources than we probably realise, resources that can help us to break through some of the physical and emotional pains and gain the freedom our intuition might be whispering is natural to us.
Finally, here is an uplifting dose of Bill Cosby at his best.