Mental Help Net
Stress Reduction and Management
Basic Information
The Nature of StressMethods of Stress ReductionStress Prevention
More InformationLatest NewsQuestions and AnswersBlog EntriesVideosLinksBook Reviews
Therapist Search
Find a Therapist:
 (USA/CAN only)

Use our Advanced Search to locate a therapist outside of North America.

Related Topics

Wellness and Personal Development

Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Humor Is A Laughing Matter

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Jan 23rd 2007

Want to feel some relief from stress and depression? Try some humor:

"A good marriage is between a blind wife and a deaf husband." Montaigne

"How can we know the universe? I can't even find my way around Chinatown." Woody Allen

"The future ain't what it used to be." Yogi Berra

"Only a four year old can understand this. Go find me a four year old." Groucho Marx

"Marriage is a fine institution.......But I'm not ready for an institution. Mae West

"Too much of a good thing........can be wonderful." Mae West

"I am free of all prejudices. I hate everyone equally." W. C. Fields

If these quotations do not suit your sense of humor, then look for those that do. In fact, watch the types of movies that make you laugh, go to the comedy shows that suit your taste, and read and enjoy those things that stimulate your humor. Why?

Though the studies are contradictory, there is increasing evidence that humor and laughter have physical and mental health benefits. Some studies show that laugher reduces high blood pressure, increases optimism and hope, and reduces stress. Humor can enhance marriages, and some psychotherapists are able to help depressed patients by using humor and laughter.

Of course, humor can have harmful consequences when used to humiliate or harm another person. However, humor used for the purpose of looking at the irony of situations or the inconsistencies and contradictions of life, can be fun.

One supervisor earlier on in my career pointed out to me that the capacity to laugh at ourselves rather than always take ourselves seriously, is the measure of mental health. I have come to realize that this is true of me and of the patients with whom I have worked over the years. At the start of psychotherapy, there were those people who saw humor in nothing. Naturally, these beginning patients were depressed, anxious, or in great emotional pain and conflict. For many of them, as they began to recover and regain control of their lives, the ability to laugh at themselves and at situations, developed and grew.

There is a lot of truth contained in humor. Perhaps that is what feels so good about laughing. I remember to this day a funny comment made by Ed Norton, the character in The Honeymooners television show of the 1950's. Norton, a sewer worker who was married to Trixie and the good friend of Ralph Kramden, a bus driver married to Alice, was trying to persuade his nephew to be stronger with his new wife. Ralph was present, as always, and reminded Ed's nephew that he must be "king of his castle," just as he, Ralph, was. Norton strongly agreed and encouraged his nephew to stand up to his new wife. When his nephew says, "but I don't want to fight," Norton gives his famous retort to his nephew, "if you don't want to fight, what did you get married for?" I have used that quote many times in the context of marriage counseling.

Humor and laughter feels good because we see aspects of ourselves in the jokes and comic situations. The talent of the great comics is to capture the comic and tragic truths that beset all of us. We laugh because we recognize ourselves and take the moment to laugh hard and long.

The process of laughter feels great, especially the "belly laugh," which we can’t control and causes tears to run down our cheeks and hold our sides together.

Many years ago, Norman Cousins, wrote a book about his diagnosis of cancer and how he decided to watch as many Groucho Marx movies as possible in the belief that he could recover if he laughed instead of stressed and worried. Indeed, he did survive for many years. Whether Cousins' prolonged life was due to laughter or medical intervention is unimportant because he entertained himself and had lots of fun.

So, my prescription for all of us, and for the entire world, is to stop taking ourselves so seriously and laugh. It can’t hurt and, perhaps if everyone laughed more, we could all find solutions to international, national, and personal problems. Anyway, we could die laughing!

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Follow us on Twitter!

Find us on Facebook!

This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information:
verify here.

Powered by CenterSite.Net