In 1976, Norman Cousins, the revered editor of the Saturday Review, wrote a piece that signaled the arrival of laughter in the precincts of science. The piece, which was called “Anatomy of an Illness (as Perceived by the Patient)”, follows Cousins as he checks himself out of a hospital and into a hotel after the best conventional care failed to improve his ankylosing spondylitis—a crippling autoimmune spinal arthritis. Once inside his hotel room, he took megadoses of anti-inflammatory vitamin C and watched long hours of Marx Brothers movies and TV sitcoms.
He laughed and kept on laughing. He noticed that, as he did, his pain diminished. He felt stronger and better. As good an observer as any of his first-rate doctors, he developed his own dose-response curve: ten minutes of belly laughter gave him two hours of pain-free sleep. Soon enough, he became more mobile.