MH Vol. 1, No. 3

Massage Humor

Newslewtter of the Twerpwyck University College of Innovative Massage

6907 Sherman Street. Philadelphia, PA 19119

Vol. 1, No. 3                                       ISSN 1041-827X                                             January 2001



Mary Brewster

The world will be saved through laughter.  

House of Humor. Gabrovo, Bulgaria

We who are about to laugh salute you.

Albert Schatz

The title of this article is a quote from Reinhold Niebuhr.1  The article is a sequence to "Holy Laughter. The serious humor of Albert Schatz who believes 'A laugh a day keeps insanity away.'"2

Two books that intrigued Albert Schatz with respect to humor are The Individual and His Religion, which points out that humor provides us with a fresh perspective in life,3 and  Laughter Helps the Heart and Soul.4 Albert believes humor is an integral part of our joi de vivre,  because it contributes to good health. "You can't laugh and cry at the same time," he says, "and you can't laugh and be depressed at the same time." Albert has what he considers a fairly reliable test for a sense of humor: "I say something funny. If you laugh, you have a sense of humor. How much you laugh indicates how much of a sense of humor you have."5

He tells people who don't think he's funny, "Try my humor on for size. If it fits, wear it, and let it help you enjoy life. If it doesn't fit, figure out what you learned by trying it on. Either way, you benefit." When someone told him, "There is a method to your madness and a madness to your method." he replied, "That's your problem, not mine."5

Albert is not satisfied  with René Descartes' dictum, "I  think, therefore I am." because "I am."  means only that "I exist. " For Albert, merely existing is not enough. People have a right to live fully and fully enjoy life. This is essentially what "life, liberty, and  the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence means to him. But people need good health to enjoy "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Humor helps them attain, regain, and maintain good health.5

Albert therefore goes beyond Descartes when he proclaims  "I laugh, therefore I live."  and "I live, therefore I laugh."  He also says, "A laugh a day keeps insanity away." But, although humor is important, it is also important and sometimes even necessary to cry because crying, too, can contribute to our health."5

The healing value of humor is finding increasing support among therapists. For example, F. Farrelly and J. Brandsma write, "If the client is not laughing during at least part of the provocative therapy encounter, the therapist is not doing provocative therapy and what he is doing may at times turn out to be destructive. Humor plays a central, crucial, key role in provocative therapy; it is encouraged and necessary, not just a tangential adjunct to the 'real work."6

Norman Cousins concluded that laughter was a major factor in his ability to heal himself from what was considered an incurable collagenous disease.7,8 A report in Sweden confirmed Cousins' belief that laughter contributes to healing.9 That report concluded that "A humor therapy program can improve the quality of life for patients with chronic problems. Laughter has an immediate symptom-relieving effect for these patients." Laughter is also a form of exercise10 that is beneficial for the internal organs,11 in the aging process,12 and in counteracting stress.13

Cousins devoted a whole chapter to The Laughter Connection  in his book Head First. The Biology of Hope.14  This chapter begins with the following two quotations.

The most acutely suffering animal on earth invented laughter.-  Friedrich Nietzsche

There ain't much fun in medicine, but there's a heck of a lot of medicine in fun. - Josh Billings

The chapter ends with a list of books, audio cassettes, and video cassettes that are available to patients in the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Duke University. Cousins says that this collection is, "so far as I know, the most far-reaching of its kind."


*Reprinted from the Journal of Spiritual Bodywork. 1(4):5-6.1995.

1. McWilliams, P., and John-Roger. You Can't Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought. A Book for People with Any Life-Threatening Illness - Including Life. p. 458. Prelude Press. Los Angeles, CA. 1989.

2. Brewster, M. Holy laughter. The serious humor of Albert Schatz who believes "A laugh a day keeps insanity away. Spiritual Massage Ministry Newsletter. 1(3):3-4, 1995.

3. Allport, G. The Individual and His Religion. Macmillan. New York. 1950.

4. Leighty, J.M. Laughter Helps the Heart and Soul. The Houston Chronicle. June 9, 1987.3. Carlson, K. We who are about to laugh salute you. Holistic Massage Newsletter. 1(1): 1,  1987.

5. Carlson, K. "We who are about to laugh salute you." (A. Schatz) Holistic Massage Newsletter. 1(1):1. August 2, 1987.

6.  Farrelly, F., & Brandsma, J. Provocative Therapy. Meta Publications Cupertino, CA. 1974.)

7. Cousins, N. Anatomy of an illness.  New England Journal of Medicine. 295:1458-1463, 1976.8. Cousins, N. Anatomy of an Illness. Reflections on Healing and Regeneration. W.W. Norton & Co. New York. 1979.

8. Ljungdahl, L. Laugh if this is a joke.  Journal of the American Medical Association. 261: 558, 1989.

9. Fry, Jr. W.F. In the Health Briefing Section.  Insight. May 25, 1987.

10. Walsh, J.J. Laughter and Health. D. Appleton and Company. New York. 1928.

11. Fry, Jr. W. Humor, Physiology, and the Aging Process.  pp. 81-98 in: Humor and Aging. edited by L. Nehemow, K.A. McCluskey-Fawcett, and  P.M.McGhee. Academic Press. Orlando. 1968.

12. Martin, R.A., and Lefcourt, H.M. Sense of humor as a moderator of the relation between stressors and moods. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 45:1313-1324. 1983.

13. Cousins, N. Head First. The Biology of Hope. E. P. Dutton. New York. 1989.


The Serious Humor of Albert Schatz Who Believes

 "A laugh a day, keeps insanity away."

Mary Brewster

"It's … a pity we can't go to market and buy … a big chunk of … humor just as … we buy a package of yeast. They [both] do about the same kind of  job; yeast gives lightness, pleasant texture and taste to bread; … humor works to lighten the heavy seriousness of our daily living, and smooths out the rough spots in our communication with each other." (One at a Time in  Al-Anon. Al-Anon  Family Group Headquarters, Inc. New York  City. 1989) The Spiritual Massage Ministry Newsletter will publish some of  Albert's massage humor because humor can be both spiritual and healing.

Albert is a world-famous scientist as well as a humorist and a humorologist. (A humorologist is someone who studies humor, just as a biologist studies biology.) He became interested in humor in religion, especially humor in the Bible, when he learned that "wit … "has been studied … as a special expression of the spirituality of man." (Creativity. The Magic Synthesis by Silvano Arieti (Basic Books, New York. 1976).  He then read Salvation by Laughter. A Study of Religion and the Sense of Humor  by Dudley Zuver (Harper & Brothers. New York. 1933), and Holy Laughter. Essays on Religion in the Cosmic Perspective  by M. Conrad Hyers. (The Seabury Press. New York. 1969).

Albert became  interested in how laughter contributes to good health when he heard someone describe laughter as internal massage because hearty laughter manipulates a person's internal organs. One hundred years ago, J. H. Kellogg, M.D., listed 10 procedures for Massage of the Liver. The last procedure was a "laughing exercise consisting of the syllable 'ha' uttered in an explosive way, and up and down the scale."( The Art of Massage. Its Physiological Effects and Therapeutic Applications. Modern Medicine Publishing Company. Battle Creek. Michigan. 1895).

The healing ability of laughter was also recently pointed out by Andrew Weil, M.D., in his latest book Spontaneous Healing. How to  Discover and Enhance Your Body's Ability to Maintain and Heal Itself (Alfred A. Knopf. New York. 1995) "When I can get patients to laugh," he wrote,  I feel that the curses are dispelled." The curses, which he calls "a kind of medical 'hexing'", are doctors' comments to their patients such as

"They said I'd be dead in six months… They told me it would only get worse… They told me I would just have to live with it… They said there was nothing more they could do for me." Weil believes, these "statements are particularly disturbing, because they reflect deep pessimism about the human potential for healing. At its most extreme, this attitude constitutes a kind of medical 'hexing' that I find unconscionable." He considers this "so-called voodoo death " to be "the ultimate example of a negative placebo effect."

For several years, Albert was a stand-up comic when he lectured at scientific and other meetings where serious matters, such as cancer, were being seriously discussed. He is therefore an artist whose medium is humor. Artists see the world differently than most of us do. Albert's humor  reveals that he has a different kind of vision. It also tells us a lot more. It tells us who he is, that he knows who he is, and that he likes who he is. That's why, when he shares his humor, he shares himself. His humor also shows that he respects people because he never makes fun of anyone. Finally, his humor reveals that he enjoys life and wants others to enjoy life also. Because he enjoys his humor, he laughs with people. He is not a straight-face comedian.

When the participants at one of his Therapeutic Touch workshops decided to evaluate his humor, they drew up the following questions: How is Albert's humor unique? How is his humor an important component of how he teaches?  How do you react to his humor; what does it mean to you and how does it affect you? How does it help you learn? What have you learned from his humor? What spiritual aspects does his humor have? How do you relate to one another when you all laugh together? Does shared laughter help bring you all together? Does the family who laughs together stay together? How does your humor compare to Albert's humor? 

Finally, I want to point out that humor and healthy laughter are not necessarily related to tickling. When someone tickles your fancy, he does not touch you physically, but you laugh if what that person says is humorous. However, tickling by touching may be pernicious. One certainly does not enjoy being tickled to death. Douglas Graham, M.D., pointed that out forty-three years ago  in his book Manaul Therapeutics. A Treatise on Massage. Its History, Mode of Application and Effects. (J. B. Lippincott Company. Philadelphia. 1902):

"Dr. T. Lauder Brunton tells us that one of the most painful experiences of his life was that of being tickled to death by a nurse when he was a small boy. He can never forget the agony of  it. This lead him to believe the statement that Simon de Montfort, during the persecution of the Albigeneses, put several of them to death by tickling the soles of their feet with a feather. The neurons may have become so tightly interlocked that they could not let go. Perhaps something of the same kind occurs in tetanus."  

*Reprinted from the Spiritual Massage Ministry Newsletter. 1(3):3-4.1995.

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