Posts Tagged ‘Norman Cousins’
Norman Cousins had just recovered from a life-threatening illness when he wrote his famous autobiographical book, “Anatomy of an Illness – As Perceived by the Patient” (1979 W.W. Norton & Co., Inc.). By the time of his writing, his doctors had long given up on finding effective treatments for him, let alone a cure for his demise. Mr. Cousins had to save his own life without outside help – and that he did. His medicine was laughter.
Left to his own devices, he decided to spend whatever time he had left watching funny movies and reading uplifting literature. Nothing negative or dysfunctional was allowed near him. In the end, he laughed himself not sick but healthy. By all accounts, Norman Cousin set a new record for the power of positive thinking.
I myself do strongly believe in the power of positive thinking. As a clinical healthcare professional, I have seen it working its magic again and again. “Positive thinkers” know how to motivate and inspire themselves and others, even in the face of overwhelming adversity.
It is not likely that we are born with a particular disposition, positive or negative, although opinions about the subject may differ. In any case, it is clear that positive thinking can be learned. Destructive thoughts can be changed and turned into constructive ones. For some people this may be harder than for others, but it is possible for everyone and at any stage in life.
Normally, we like to think that our thoughts accurately reflect the real world, that our judgment is more or less sound and that we have a realistic view of things. This includes the beliefs we have about ourselves. But we all experience now and then a change of heart, a sudden insight known as an “Aha!-moment,” a disclosure experience, a revelation. When this happens, we may be forced to alter our old perspectives and adopt new ones.
Many of my clients who undergo significant lifestyle changes, voluntarily or forced by circumstance, face considerable challenges. Most are quite willing to modify their eating habits, quit smoking or drinking, increase their physical activity level and so on. But their thinking often remains untouched. What changes is their outside behavior but not their inner convictions. They don’t take real ownership of their treatment and, therefore, they don’t have a solid foundation on which they can build their future progress.
Positive thinking can be a tremendous asset in many ways, but especially as an instrument for healing. Positive thinking is not what some call a “Pollyanna” attitude, an overoptimistic, naive account of the world. Positive thinking, correctly understood and practiced, is a change of mind that taps into our inner, most powerful resources, which can help us to generate real change.
So I would like to invite you to answer for yourself the following questions:
• Do your thoughts provide you with a generally positive, hopeful outlook?
• Do your thoughts support your goals and aspirations?
• Do they motivate and inspire you to take action?
• Do they provide you with clear directions for your life’s path?
• Do they enhance your self-worth?
• Do they make you feel satisfied with your life and your accomplishments?
If you can respond “yes” to most or all of these questions, you may already be moving in the right direction. If not, here is your chance to get started.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.
It feels good to laugh once in a while. Everyone knows that. But laughter as a health-promoting exercise is not as widely practiced, despite of the fact that scientists have long known about the healing effects of good humor.
In his best-selling book, “Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient” (W.W. Norton & Co., 1979), Norman Cousins describes his own recovery from a life-threatening disease, which he credits in large parts to laughter.
What at first sounds like a good story – man cures himself by watching funny movies – is in fact an account of what scientists call the “natural recuperative mechanism” of the body, a.k.a. “homeostatic response,” meaning that the body is able to heal itself and return to a state of normalcy from injuries suffered at a time of illness.
Of course, proper medical care can support and accelerate the natural healing process, but recovery almost always also depends on the body’s own defense mechanisms. Among these defenses is the patient’s state of mind. In Cousins’ case, it seemed that a positive attitude and specifically a great sense of humor helped him muster the inner resources needed to overcome his ailments.
This, obviously, is a dramatic and rare example of the potential benefits of positive thinking. More common are reports that laughter has helped ease pain and suffering, not just the mental but also the physical kind. A recent study conducted at the University of Oxford, England, found that belly laughs caused the body to release endorphins, which act like opiates by inducing emotional calm and enhancing an overall sense of well-being.
During my internship as a clinical dietitian, I observed these effects more than once. I distinctly remember one occasion around Mardi Gras when a nurse dressed up in a clown costume tried her best to cheer up patients, some of whom were desperately ill. That night, the nursing staff reported having dispensed significantly less pain medication than on other days. The laughter in response to the nurse’s performance worked just like a painkiller.
Even if you are not seriously ill but just feel a bit run down, laughing can be good medicine for you, says R. Morgan Griffin who writes for WebMD. We change physiologically when we laugh, she says, our blood pressure goes up and we breathe faster, sending more oxygen through our system – “like a mild workout.” Laughing may actually offer similar benefits as physical exercise.
Other possible side effects of laughter include stress relief, sounder sleep, better blood sugar regulation and strengthening of the immune system.
As plausible as some of these claims about the health benefits of laughter may sound, it is hard to prove any of them scientifically, warns Dr. Robert R. Provine, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore and author of “Laughter: A Scientific Investigation.” It’s difficult to determine cause and effect when it comes to understanding what laughter actually does, he says in an interview with WebMD. “But we all know that laughing, being with friends and family, and being happy can make us feel better and give us a boost – even though studies may not show why,” he concludes.
P.S. If you liked this article, you may also enjoy watching the movie “Patch Adams” (1998) with Robin Williams, which is based on the true story of a medical student trying to improve hospital patients’ quality of life through humor.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.