Loma Linda University Professor Teaches 11-Year-Old That Laughter Can Be The Best Medicine

Let’s all take a moment to simply just laugh.
— Dr. Dale

From Loma Linda University Professor Teaches 11-Year-Old That Laughter Can Be The Best Medicin 

In April, Isabella “Bella” Rios had a class assignment: Her task was to review a three-page list of scientific disciplines and choose one to investigate.

In this age of information and technology advances, she opted for an older, more humorous discipline. She wanted to learn about gelotology, the study of laughter and its effects on the body.

Bella, a fifth-grader at Timberwood Park Elementary School in San Antonio, Texas, knew little about the subject. An Internet search turned up several stories written by or referring to Loma Linda University’s resident gelotologist, Lee Berk, an internationally known authority in the field who also holds a doctorate in public health.

Humor, she learned, helps people live longer, healthier and happier lives. Intrigued, the 11-year-old decided to reach out to Berk via email to request an interview.

Berk, an associate professor at Loma Linda University’s School of Allied Health Professions and School of Medicine, said he was surprised and delighted to receive Bella’s request for an interview. Later he and Bella spoke on the phone.

Berk is serious about laughter — especially when it comes to studying the actions people can take to bring positive emotions into their lives to promote health and healing. He has published work and presented at scientific gatherings about his studies on the positive effects of laughter during the past three decades.

“Do you think humor belongs in the classroom?” Bella asked him.

“Most definitely,” Berk said. “It’s a relatively new discovery, but the brain actually begins communicating neuronically within itself when you’re laughing. The brain is functioning at its highest level of cognitive processing, stimulating a heightened ability to learn and recall as a result of your laughing behavior.“

Bella asked Berk if laughter has any adverse effects.

“It’s very rare,” Berk said. “One cannot die from laughing. But from a medical standpoint, patients with certain types of seizures and patients with very rare pulmonary or lung issues may have difficulty with laughter. The other kind of laughter that is not good for you is laughter that aggressively makes fun of others.”

True humor, Berk explained, induces mirthful laughter. Examples would be if a person watched live comedy on television and broke into laughter or saw slapstick humor, which Berk calls his guilty pleasure.

“Multiple studies have confirmed that a positive, humorous perspective on life is beneficial to healing and longevity,” he said. “The good news is you can find humor in most everything if you look for it.”

Berk told Bella that he first became interested in the subject while studying the wisdom of the ages. “There is an Old Testament proverb that says, ‘A merry heart does good like a medicine.’ And today, modern research supports that premise that people who are happier, and especially people who integrate laughter and humor into their lives on a regular basis, live longer and healthier and don’t get as many diseases.”

Bella’s mom, Sylvia, says Berk’s research made a big impression on her daughter and improved her performance in school.

Jennifer Diaz, Bella’s teacher, said Bella earned an A-plus on the project and the other kids in the class thought it was a cool field of study. “They found it especially interesting to learn that laughing during learning is proven successful,” Diaz said. “Bella also applied some of Berk’s concepts about humor and the mind/body connection to her own life. His ideas made a big difference in how she deals with stressful situations, and they gave her a more optimistic outlook on life.”