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In 1989 David Spiegel carried out an experiment to prove the importance of emotions on our state of health. He certainly could not have imagined that the simple opportunity of talking about one's problems could double the chances of survival in cancer patients.
The experiment began by singling out a group of women, terminal breast cancer patients, who were treated with the same drugs and by the same doctors.

The women were divided into two groups. Half of them were offered the possibility of meeting every week and exchanging opinions on their condition, freely expressing their feelings (something they were afraid to do in their own homes for fear of saddening their family members). The other half were given treatment without any particular psychological support.
The women who had the possibility of sharing their feelings lived on the average three years. The second group, a year and a half.
If a drug existed that would double the life expectancy of terminal cancer patients, everyone would rush out to buy it.
Further evidence of the importance of psychological factors on health came from research on the effects of drugs.

Normally, to test the effectiveness of a drug, it is administered to a group of 100 people (a suitable number). Another group of patients, whose physical health and social condition are as similar as possible to the first group, is give a dummy drug (called placebo), made with a small amount of sugar (or another neutral substance). None of the patients know if they are taking the real or the dummy drug.

The first unexpected phenomenon observed is that the results are not very different in the two groups. Of 100 people taking the drug, perhaps 88 feel some change, but many in the group who are tested with the placebo report the same effects. If the positive effects observed in the group taking the real drug exceed by 8% the positive effects observed in the group that took water and sugar, one can say that the drug works! Obviously, this difference increases when anaesthetics, sleeping pills and other drugs act on basic physiological functions.
Yet even in experiments using anesthetics, there are cases where very ill patients report a total disappearance of pain when injected with what they are told is morphine, but is actually just distilled water.
Another curious phenomenon amazed the researchers: if some members of the group taking the drug suffer from side effects (pimples, rashes or other), these side effects also affect a considerable, though lesser, percentage of patients who take the placebo. Such phenomena have always aroused interest in many scientists, leading them to question the relationship between mind and body.

This interest led to another discovery. There is a close relationship between the doctor's feelings for the patient and the effect of the treatment. The more communicative doctor cures 25% more sick persons than the therapist who fails to empathize with his patients.
There is a wealth of medical research that proves the relationship between mind and physiological reaction. By now it is certain that attitude toward life, optimism and good humour are conditions that statistically favour good health.

Anger and stress, however, are risk factors that have a greater impact than smoking or drinking. These medical discoveries have been corroborated by research done with totally different objectives.
For example, French insurance companies, searching for the best clients for life insurance policies, realized that among the factors contributing to longevity were mental, social or work-related activities beyond the age of retirement (such as teaching at a university or being an artist), having a large home, being married and travelling.

In short, the poor, the sad, the pissed-off and the pessimistic die first. However, the stressed-out rich pessimists die before the poor optimists.
Another confirmation of this thesis came from the experience of doctors who carried out legal autopsies in areas infested by the Mafia and other such criminal organizations. They found that criminals living in a constant state of fear of being captured or eliminated by rival bands all had the same disorders of certain internal organs - a real "mafioso" syndrome. These are things that good doctors have known since the time of Hippocrates and that psychosomatic medicine has helped to make known. But it was never clear how this happens. It wasn't until 1974 (thanks to research by Robert Ader and David and Suzanne Felten), that it was discovered how emotions influence the functioning of the organs.

Robert Ader, from the Rochester University School of Medicine, conducted experiments on mice. He gave them a drug that artificially reduced the number of circulating cells. These cells are part of the immune system, which defend the body from disease. The mice ingested the drug dissolved in water sweetened with saccharine. After a certain period of time, Ader tried giving them only water and saccharine. To his amazement, he noticed that the number of T cells still decreased. According to scientific knowledge at the time, this should not have happened. It was as if the mouse immune system, having learned to suppress T cells in order to defend itself from the drug, and having associated the presence of the drug with the sweet taste of the water, had also learned to react quickly, before perceiving the effects of the drug. The brain registered the emotion produced by the sweet taste of the water and managed to reduce T cell production. This artificially - induced error was so persistent that with continued administration of water and saccharine, the number of T cells diminished to such a level that some animals became sick and died.
The neuroscientist Francisco Varela, of the Ecole Polytechnique of Paris, defined the immune system as the "Body's brain", the center of the "body's sense of self", which serves to differentiate between what belongs within it and what does not.

"The immune cells travel in the blood throughout the entire body, contacting virtually every other cell. Those cells they recognize, they leave them alone; those they fail to recognize, they attack. The attack either defends us against viruses, bacteria and cancerous cells, or if the immune cells misidentify some of the body's own cells, creates an autoimmune disease such as allergy or lupus. Until Ader came upon his serendipitous discovery, every anatomist, every physician and every biologist believed that the brain (along with its extensions throughout the body via the central nervous system) and the immune system were separate entities, neither able to influence the operation of the other. There was no pathway that could connect brain centers monitoring what the rat tasted with the areas of bone marrow that manufacture T cells. Or so it had been thought for a century".

From 1974 to today there have been innumerable discoveries to confirm a correlation between mind and body.
Emotions, in particular, are not only mental phenomena.
They have a powerful effect on the central autonomic system that regulates all sorts of functions, from the quantity of insulin secreted by the pancreas to the blood pressure level. That a sudden scare could set the heart racing, or that the sight of a sweet could trigger the secretion of saliva, has been known for some time. However, David and Suzanne Felten succeeded in describing this process in great detail, discovering that it is repeated at all levels of physiological activity. With their team, they initially singled out one of the communication pathways between the autonomic nervous system and the cells of the immune system (lymphocytes and macrophages). Using extremely powerful microscopes, they discovered structures similar to the synapses of the brain, where the immune system comes into contact with the nerve ends of the central nervous system.

Thanks to these synapses, the central nervous system cells communicate with the immune system cells through neurotransmitters.
In this way, the autonomic nervous system regulates the activity of the immune cells. However, it should be noted that the communication can go both ways. It was never before imagined that immune cells could communicate with the nervous system! Subsequently, it was proven with guinea pigs that by surgically isolating the spleen and pancreas (organs that produce or store the immune cells) from the nervous system, these organs stop reacting in the proper way against invasions of viral bacteria. In other words, in a way still not entirely understood, the autonomic nervous system stimulates the immune system to recognize elements foreign to the body. Therefore, emotions not only influence the autonomic nervous system, but through it, the emotions arrive at the immune system.

But this phenomenon occurs simultaneously in different ways. In fact, it has been discovered that emotions stimulate the release of hormones.
For example, in a state of stress, adrenaline, noradrenaline, prolactin, cortisol and natural opiates (beta-endorphin and enkephalin) are released into the blood. These substances all have a strong impact on the immune system. Principally, they produce the effect of inhibiting the activity of the immune cells so that all the available energies are concentrated in the defense against danger provoked by stress (fleeing from a lion is more urgent than curing a dumb cough). This explains why a person under stress becomes ill more easily.
Finally, New Age research has highlighted the relationship between stress, the instinctive unconscious brain, and involuntary muscular contractions. The rigidity of the muscles has a direct effect on blood circulation. In turn, the blood nourishes and regenerates the cells. If, without noticing it, I keep one part of the body contracted for a long time, all the tissues of this part will suffer.

To summarize: a new map of human physiology is being drawn, where thoughts and emotions (which are electrical discharges travelling through our brain) are closely interconnected with the body.
Thus, it has been demonstrated unequivocally that there is a relationship between stress, emotion and health (we will return to this theme in following).
In short, popular wisdom has proved true. It has always been said that to get angry "makes bad blood and ruins the liver" and that "Heaven helps a happy heart". It is obvious that a contented person, with a capacity for communication and optimism, will not only be in better health but will also relate better with others and find fulfillment in life. This greater success will in its turn bring satisfaction and a further boost to psychological and physical health.

Twenty years ago, "official" doctors quarreled with homeopaths, acupuncturists and bioenergetic therapists over the relationship between mind and health. Today, everyone believes that the success of a cure depends a good deal on the mental attitude of the patient and that certain illnesses, such as ulcers, are caused above all by factors relating to emotional stress. On the other hand, even alternative medicine has accepted the importance of the new medical technologies, which especially in the diagnostic field are often used in parallel with empirical methods of diagnosis.


Of all the emotional factors that can contribute to a good state of health, laughter is for certain the most potent. First of all, it is good exercise. For crying we use less than 20 muscles, but for laughing we use more than 60.
Laughing produces a mechanical stimulus in the area of the temples, and has a galvanizing effect on the functions of the brain and of certain glands. It mobilizes the diaphragm, invigorates the intestines and oxygenates the lungs. It stimulates an increase in the rate of synthesis of the enkephalins, which are the go-betweens of the central nervous system. It activates the secretion of endorphins and other substances that besides giving a feeling of well being, also enliven cellular functions and perk up the immune system (the body's defense against infections, viruses and other external aggressions).

The positive function of laughter on metabolism was also proved by observing that newborns who laugh more are bigger and healthier.
It was found that laughter has a positive effect even on tumours and leukemia. I read that it was an American journalist, Norman Cousins, who made the discovery. He was diagnosed with a terrible disease, ankylosing spondylarthritis. He decided to cure himself by devoting himself to laughter and going to see stand-up comedians, slapstick, clown acts, and comedy shows, reading joke books, watching hilarious films and looking for the funny side in everything.
After six months, he discovered he was cured.

He was the inventor of comic therapy.
For years now, comic videocassettes and clowns have been used as therapy for the terminally ill in some American and French hospitals. Sometimes laughter does not work, but at least the people die happier. Play, emotional contact, and laughter have also been widely used with hospitalized children with encouraging results.
It was in fact noticed that the oppressive atmosphere of hospitals is not conducive to children's recovery.
Cheerful people are sent to play with abandoned infants and to make them laugh. Puppeteers, actors and game leaders have entered hospital wards. Recently, even in Italy, in the pediatric ward of the hospital in Padua, the presence of puppies is being tested: animals have an incredible capacity to induce play and laughter.

The positive results of this "four-paws" therapy, however, is nothing new. For example, the great effectiveness of hippotherapy in the cure of handicaps and mental disorders has been verified by decades of medical practice.
But laughter is important above all because it stimulates a particular state of consciousness that is in itself extremely positive. I cannot burst out laughing if my mood is not inclined to do so.

When we look at a comedian and we know that he is going to make us laugh, we enter an emotional state of happy and playful expectation. If we do not enter this state, laughing is impossible. And each bout of laughter induces us more and more to assume this open-minded and light-hearted attitude. In a crescendo of carefree delight we search, in the best moments, the famous fou rire, or crazy laughter.

During this uncontrollable laughter that feeds on itself, we transcend reality and magically come to see the world as a very complex and hilarious cosmic joke.

Everything becomes reason for jest and rip-roaring laughter. We laugh to the point of tears, until we feel stomach pains, cramps, and finally, exhausted, we stop laughing (ah, how wonderful it is to laugh!).
These fits of laughter are not just physically beneficial. They also relax our mind, lighten our thoughts and make our fears seem groundless. In short, they rid the brain of negative thoughts by cleaning and reordering it.
Laughing is a cultural and philosophical experience. It makes you change your mind about the world.
And when we are able to laugh about something that frightens or pains us, we further the healing process of the psychological wounds that life deals us.

Laughing heals the soul.

By seeing things from the perspective of a laughter, we discover the errors of our mind. When we are taken over by a wave of seriousness, we feel important, conceited and self-assured. We do the most dumb-ass things and end up in trouble. If we sift our plans, ambitions and ideas each time through the sieve of laughter, we will then have an exceptional tool for evaluation. Castaneda says there are three cases in which I should be afraid:

  • When I am sure of myself.
  • When I am sure that others are wrong.
  • When I am doing something in which there is nothing to laugh about.

If I laugh, my way of seeing the world changes: the powerful are not so very powerful and the aggressive often hurt only themselves. And death, although inevitable, is not as bad as it seems. After all, what does death matter? The important thing is to live, laugh and make others laugh.

In the immensity of billions and billions of years, here we are, for a moment, on the stage of events. We have a few minutes to live out our show. So what are you going to do? Sit in the corner brooding because sooner or later it's going to end? Are you joking? Making a loud racket is much, much better!
But it's still not over. Laughter is a means for obtaining positive results.

Laughing switches off the rational mind, it overcomes it, sweeping away its emotional ties and freeing the energy that habitually consumes itself in thinking. When you laugh, this energy is used by the body to regenerate itself. In those moments devoid of rational self-control, we have a more open perception of our being part of the world. For this reason, many masters consider laughing a sacred act of empathy with creation.

The primary flaw in the sectarian and bureaucratic mentality of certain religious leaders is in their seriousness and their lack of a sense of humour, and therefore of the spiritual uplifting that hilarity involves. They fear uproarious laughter because it weakens the power that sustains them, which is characterized by fear and superstition. Humour for them is a mysterious capacity, an unknown and treacherous territory. That is why they don't want anybody to laugh in their temples. They fear that they are being laughed at. On the contrary, the true masters laughed first of all at themselves. They have always seen laughter as a sacred gesture.
The first miracle of Jesus was to transform water into wine so that people could dance and laugh! If he wanted us sad he would have handed out a good shot of bromide to everyone.


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