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The best medicine

The best medicine
The best medicine
Dr. Wayne Willis

“A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired.” —Proverbs 17:22

Reader’s Digest next year turns 100. Its column “Laughter, the Best Medicine” had us children smiling and giggling through jokes and true-life anecdotes of adults doing and saying goofy things. The magazine recognized that adults needed to lighten up to survive a Great Depression and a Great War or impending nuclear holocaust.

The medical world more recently is learning what an important part attitude plays in physical as well as mental health. William Fry, Stanford psychiatrist, wrote, “Laughter is an aerobic workout. Even with a smile, you get some muscular behavior; when you go all the way up to the belly laugh, that’s real conditioning. You work your heart, your chest, your stomach, your neck, your face and your shoulders. You jog for your heart’s sake; why not laugh for your heart’s sake?”

Fry emphasizes that laughter is particularly good for the respiratory system. When people laugh, he explained, they empty their lungs, including the stale residual portion at the bottom that tends to collect carbon dioxide. “Laughter dips down into your lungs and just cleans them out.”

We are often our own worst enemy when it comes to cultivating a cheerful disposition. Four decades ago I heard psychologist Albert Ellis give an unforgettable lecture on “catastrophizing.” He coined the word for those times we mentally turn a relatively minor mistake or failure into a constitutional crisis, a full-blown catastrophe.

When you catch yourself jumping to the worst possible conclusion for a common, everyday kind of disappointment, quickly label it: “Uh-oh, I’m catastrophizing.”

Wise people of old cautioned us about making mountains out of molehills. In like manner, we can make a headache or a depression out of a cracked figurine.