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September/October 2007

A bimonthly newsletter dedicated to serving the principles of physical and spiritual health envisioned in the Baha'i Teachings.

Volume 11, Issue No. 3, Laughter and Health
- Quotes of the month
- From the Editor
- Gelatology: the Study of Laughter
- Resources & Links
- How to Feel Better Advice
- Poetry
- Letters
- Question
- Health in the News
- Erratum
- Frappr! Map
- Purpose of the Newsletter
- Subscription Information
- Web Site


Using Obstacles as Stepping Stones
Environment and Health or, Why Chores Are Good for Us
Fasting for Spiritual & Physical Health
Family Planning & Health

"The duty of long years of love obey
And tell the tale of happy days gone by,
That land and sky may laugh aloud today,
And it may gladden mind and heart and eye."
(Baha'u'llah, "The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys," p. 59-60)

"My home is the home of peace. My home is the home of joy and delight. My home is the home of laughter and exultation. Whosoever enters through the portals of this home must go out with gladsome heart. This is the home of light; whosoever enters here must become illumined...."
('Abdu'l-Baha, quoted in an article on humor and laughter published in "Baha'i Studies Review 7," 1997)

Dear Readers,

I love laughter. It's fun to do and fun to elicit from others. Without the giggles, life would indeed be difficult, especially when trying to deal with the changes and chances that come my way when I'm least expecting them. 

Not news, really. What I find interesting is that humanity as individuals and as societies, needs to be reminded of the benefits of laughter on such a regular basis. Joy is so much more attractive than fear. So why is joyous activity -- laughter, music, even smiling -- regarded with such distrust? 

The Bible tells us to 'rejoice' -- not just joy once, but multiplied! Buddha was famous for His laugh. Rabbis tell some of the best funny stories to teach their Jewish Faith. Jesus Christ and His Apostles used to bring censure upon themselves for their rowdy happiness. Muhammad's followers were reported to have journeyed on foot across the desert just to receive one of his smiles. 

Early Baha'is, imprisoned in Akka, Palestine, would set themselves the task of finding something funny to share with each other every evening. More than 60 people, confined to a cell no bigger than the average studio apartment, with poor food and no clean water, would sometimes laugh so hard they disturbed their guards.

Perhaps enjoyment of the moment is difficult to understand when one is standing in it... And we can be led astray -- or at least, surprised by the effort involved to achieve it -- by those who profess happiness, perhaps for ulterior motives. The resulting skepticism has tainted all expressions of joy in the face of disaster.

And no need to ask which disaster. Life is full of them! Some philosophers even suggest that humor comes from tragedy, and point to generations of family and cultural dark humor used to survive desperate times. Why are there so few references in the media to the opposite? Why can't a happy laugh be just that? And encouraged?

Science, a relative newcomer on the human scene, has begun to take up the argument in favor of laughter. There have been studies of both the structures and the physiology of laughing and its effects on the individual and groups, and the consensus seems to be that it's good for us. (Why it was necessary to spend millions of dollars in order to prove something most of us already know is a mystery beyond the scope of this newsletter!)

It would appear that actual blood chemistry, not to mention mood and emotional strength, can be altered by a good laugh. Psychologists often use laughter, or sense of humor, as a measure of mental fitness. 

Dr. Andrew Weil, in his book, "Healthy Aging," spends as much time on the emotional and spiritual aspects of health as on the physical process of senescence. He points out that to be able to laugh at a bad experience is the surest sign of healthy acceptance of it and adaptation to it. "Laughter may indeed be the best medicine and, like optimism, it can be learned." 

'Abdu'l-Baha agrees and gives this instruction to assist in the learning, "You must live in the utmost happiness. If any trouble or vicissitude comes into your lives, if your heart is depressed on account of health, livelihood or vocation, let not these things affect you. They should not cause unhappiness," he adds, "for Baha'u'llah has brought you divine happiness. He has prepared heavenly food for you; He has destined eternal bounty for you..." ("Proclamation of Universal Peace," p. 188)

If that were not enough hope, He admonishes us on the importance of learning optimism: "Unless one accepts dire vicissitudes, not with dull resignation, but with radiant acquiescence, one cannot attain this freedom." ("Divine Art of Living," p. 70)

Learning to laugh is more than cultivating a physical response to emotional or mental states. It would appear that this is part of a feedback control loop, and one can effect change at any point in the loop -- for instance, affect the emotional and mental through the physical.

To that end, Dr. Madan Kataria, a physician from Mumbai, India, started a practice called laughter yoga, in which large groups of people meet in order to laugh together as a form of physical and mental exercise. He has traveled around the world starting laughter clubs. In them, people laugh, using breathing techniques at the start and not depending on jokes, comedy routines, or even a sense of humor. Soon the faked laughter turns into real laughter that goes on for fifteen to twenty minutes, leaving everyone feeling great.

My question is this: why do we need to be taught to laugh as adults? Why do we need permission from trusted elders, or proofs from science? Why can't we share naturally with our friends and families -- even strangers -- the health-giving benefits of joy? 

Is being able to feel joy, to laugh -- or even sing or dance a happy jig -- perhaps more a matter of faith than physiology?

Cheryll Schuette, Michigan, USA
"True happiness depends on spiritual good and having the heart ever open to receive the Divine Bounty. If the heart turns away from the blessings God offers how can it hope for happiness?" ('Abdu'l-Baha, "Paris Talks," p. 108)

Laughter has been around a long time; some researchers even think it predates humor, being an aspect of social control before it was a response to a joke or a surprise. Hippocrates took note of the salutary effects of laugher. Egyptian hieroglyphs show entertainments that suggest clowns, and even some cave paintings might have been jokes!

The study of laughter, humor, and the process of comedic activities and response has a name for itself: gelatology. Within the name, researchers are trying to find the history, both social and physiological, as well as the even more mysterious reason for this activity's longevity. What exactly is there about laughter that made it necessary, or at least helpful, for species survival?

Sociologists and psychologists are looking at groups and individuals. And recently the medical professions are tracking health benefits tied directly to both a sense of humor (or lack of it) and laughter.

Dr. Clifford Kuhn, author of "The Fun Factor," lists many ways that laboratory studies have shown that laughter is good for human health. It reduces the level of stress hormones, perks up the immune system, relaxes muscles, clears the respiratory tract, increases circulation and eases perceived pain. 

After a good laugh, it has been shown that endorphins -- the feel-good hormones -- increase, blood pressure settles down to below the norm, and increased oxygen to the brain revs up creativity.

Lee Berk, Dr.PH, and associate professor of pathology at Loma Linda University in California, says that laughter both stimulates and soothes, which is why people feel enlivened, refreshed and clear-headed, much in the same way as they do after an aerobic workout.

William Fry, M.D., professor emeritus as Stanford University, has been researching mirth for more than 40 years and is considered the grandfather of the field. He calls laughter a total body experience -- one in which the benefits build when one laughs often and regularly. As with any exercise, conditioning requires repetition.

Daniel Goleman, in his book "Emotional Intelligence," notes: "laughter...seems to help people think more broadly and associate more freely." He calls it the 'Ha-ha to aha!' effect.

One of the most interesting findings about laughter is that it works best in a group. Laughter is a social phenomenon, both historically and physiologically. We laugh at the antics of the other monkeys, and we are less likely to laugh at our own when we are alone.

It is interesting to note that religions differ on the subject and the practice of laughter, not only among differing religious beliefs, but within the same religion over time. One wonders if the health of a religious community -- even as mental health professionals measure an individual's health -- can be measured by how much it laughs, and how much it encourages this form of happiness.

Both Testaments of the Bible make reference to laughter. In Psalm 15: "the cheerful heart hath a continual feast." In
Proverbs 17:22: "a merry heart doeth good like a medicine." Or in another translation of that verse seen on a billboard: a cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired. 

Such health-giving effects are echoed by 'Abdul'l-Baha in a compilation of quotes from the Baha'i Writings called, "The Divine Art of Living": "Joy gives us wings! In times of joy our strength is more vital, our intellect keener... But when sadness visits us our strength leaves us." (p. 55)

Early followers of Christ, Buddha, Moses, Muhammad, The Bab and Baha'u'llah share a commonality in their joyous laughter, often in the face of incredible persecution. Were they delusional? Or had they discovered this universal religious truth reiterated by Baha'u'llah: 

"'Observe My commandments, for the love of My beauty.' Happy is the lover that hath inhaled the divine fragrance of his Best-Beloved from these words, laden with the perfume of a grace which no tongue can describe." ("Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah," p. 332)

Perhaps those who laugh even when surrounded by calamity have learned an important aspect of life -- that whatever happens, one has free will to choose how to respond. As Saranne Rothberg, founder of the Comedy Cures Foundation, explains, "Choosing to laugh puts you in control."

More research is needed, but Dr. Lee Berk advises, "Why wait for science? Go ahead and laugh now. If you do this often, you let fresh air into your mind and sunshine into your soul. You may even fix what's broken."
"If we are not happy and joyous at this season, for what other season shall we wait and for what other time shall we look?" ('Abdu'l-Baha, "Baha'i World Faith," p. 351)

For some specific spiritual instructions:
* "Divine Therapy: Pearls of Wisdom from the Baha'i Writings," compiled by Annamarie Honnold, George Ronald Publishers, 1986.
* "Divine Art of Living," a compilation, Baha'i Publishing Trust. Many editions.

The science:
* "Laughter: a Scientific Investigation," Robert Provine, Ph.D., professor of psychology at U of Maryland
* "Emotional Intelligence," Daniel Goleman, 1996. He has a blog and answers questions:
* "Head First," Norman Cousins, Penguin, 1990 . This website has a review of the book:

The practice:
* "The Fun Factor," Clifford Kuhn, M.D., Minerva Books, 2003. He is a professor of psychiatry at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, otherwise known as the Laugh Doctor. His page for humor resource links:
* "Laughter and Liberation," Harvey Mindess, NASH publications, 1971
* "Anatomy of An Illness," Norman Cousins, Norton, 1971 and reprinted forever.
* "Good-Hearted Living," or "Eat Dessert First," Steve Wilson. a workbook format with daily suggestions. And for an audio clip on inner spirit and laughter:
* "Compassionate Laughter - Jest for Your Health," Patty Wooten. Nice book review here:
* "The Healing Power of Humor," and "The Courage to Laugh," Allen Klein:

Some applications:
* Association of Applied and Therapeutic Humor
* Comedy Cures Foundation, Saranne Rothberg, founder
* The Humor Project, Inc., Joel Goodman founder,
* "The Laughter Prescription," Lawrence Peter & Bill Dana. Dr. Peter started the Humour Foundation:
* "Humor Works," John Morreall.

HOW TO FEEL BETTER: Advice from a Clown
Comedian Dom DeLuise was asked if there was any advice or a recipe he might give to people who are feeling down and he is reported to have replied,

"If I were to give advice, I would tell them to find somebody else who is in trouble. Go to hospitals, go to a person in need, and do something for them. Leave all your troubles. Try to get a smile on their faces.

What happens is God says, "Because you cared about others, I will give you a good feeling." And that good feeling is genuine. It doesn't come from a candy bar; it doesn't come from cocaine. It comes from helping other people."
"Turn all your thoughts toward bringing joy to hearts... Be a source of consolation to every sad one...cheer every heart." ('Abdu'l-Baha, "Promulgation of Universal Peace," p.453)

"...for man can receive no greater gift than this, that he rejoice another's heart." ("Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha, p. 203-4)

"Lay hold of something that will help you, and then use it to help somebody else." (Booker T. Washington, quoted in "Patches of Godlight," compiled by Jan Karon)

A scab
is a beautiful thing -- a coin
the body has minted, with an invisible motto:
In God We Trust.
Our body loves us,
and, even while the spirit drifts dreaming,
works at mending the damage that we do...

Close your eyes, knowing
that healing is a work of darkness,
that darkness is a gown of healing,
that the vessel of our tremulous venture is lifted
by tides we do not control.
Faith is health's requisite:
we have this fact in lieu
of better proof of le bon Dieu.

--- From 'Ode to Healing,' by John Updike, quoted in "How to Live between Office Visits," by Bernie S. Siegel, M.D.

- A dream about releasing from MS
I am sitting with a group. We are examining theoretical bases for new understandings... I'm reading another man's work's...We're all together and excited by what we're seeing in a sentence: It defines new processes for evaluating reality. What matters is not merely the redefinitions of all things; the most important essence this person is focusing on is the processes: what's going on conceptually rather than materially, physically.
So, rather than focusing on my body, my disabilities, I could be focusing on the realities that I can examine and consider [with Stephen Hawking as an example]. The more I stay focused on my disability, my MS, the less I am focusing on what I am capable of!
At the end of the dream I was awakened by a bright ray of sun hitting my eyes at 6 a.m. True illumination!

(shared by Kurt)

>From Cambodia: According to local doctors, our Noyan has "Congenital lacrimal duct obstruction". Tears can not flow and there is always yellowish discharge in the eyes. Sophany said his response towards things is not the same as Payam at the age of one month.
We are using the medicine ... and observing very carefully. Some people are making us very scared that baby may not be able to see properly in the future, they are asking us to go to Phnom Penh and consult with eye specialists. We really do not understand the situation. Please update us if you can and pray for him.
With thanks and regards,

- Walking Outside Is Better than Prozac
Going for a walk may be the easiest way to get rid of blue moods. Researchers at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom found that strolling outdoors for 30 minutes had a natural antidepressant effect. In the study, 20 depression sufferers took a brisk walk. Afterward, those who walked in a wooded area felt 71 percent less depressed. In comparison, those who walked in a mall felt 22 percent more depressed! The experts concluded that green settings enhance the mental-health benefits already linked to exercise alone.
- It's Who You Know...
"Prospective epidemiological studies in adult populations have found consistently that social networks predict the risk of all-cause and cause-specific mortality (including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and traumatic causes of death)." From the Institute of Medicine's summary of what's known about the very significant role social factors, social support, and social networking have on patient outcomes which, to date, have been considered "biomedical."
"Genes, Behavior, and The Social Environment," IOM, 2006.
- More on 'It's Who You Know'...
We are not self-contained individuals whose actions and personal choices matter only to ourselves! For a very cogent and accessible video presentation of the science and findings of epigenetics: "The Ghost in the Genes."
(Thanks to Gayle in California for the link)

The source of the quote in last issue's Humor column was not Ernest Hemingway, but Somerset Maugham, also a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, who when asked if he wrote regularly, or just when he felt inspired, is said to have replied, "Only when inspired, which happens every morning at 9 o'clock!"

We have a Frappr! map for this newsletter. This is a great way to see how many places our subscribers live around the world. Interesting to note that most of those who have joined the map so far are female.

To sign on and join the group, (it's free) access the Healing Through Unity map and at:

Check back every so often to see how many more have signed on; watch our world map blossom!

"Healing Through Unity" is published for the purpose of sharing thoughts, comments and experiences on how the teachings of the Baha'i Faith are being applied to physical and spiritual health. Other than the quoted Holy Writings, the material in this newsletter represents the thoughts and opinions of the writers and has no authority. None of the material published in this newsletter is intended to be a substitute for the advice of a physician.

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