Laughter Is The Best Medicine

National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore reflects on an important lesson he learned from his grandmother: "Laughter is the Best Medicine."

My grandmother was a tough old bird.

Her name was Faynell Meese. Her first name was completely made up, by her 5-year-old brother, Volney, whose name was also completely made up.

She died this year, at the age of 91. This surprised us all. We never thought she was gonna go. She laughed too much.

She had a lot of sayings: Sing before breakfast, cry before supper. Marry in haste, repent at leisure. And MY favorite; when poverty walks in the door, love flies out the window.

Her favorite saying of all was that laughter was the best medicine. She truly believed that it kept her young, kept her feeling as good as possible, kept her alive. She said that laughter, and the well of happiness it's drawn from, creates good health, and that a smile is actually good for you.

I have no reason to doubt that. In fact, I believe it with all my heart.

For example, years ago I had a splitting headache, and an episode of "Seinfeld" came on. I laughed the entire show and, 30 minutes later, my headache had completely melted away. I've been sold ever since.

There's no absolute proof yet, but some studies suggest that laughter can cause relaxation, relieve depression, provide pain relief, fight infection, even cancer. So it's not only a tonic, it may be a lifesaver.

Silliness counts, too. Halloween is perfect for this. It's just fun and it doesn't make a lot of sense. Or take the "Wayne Chicken Show" in Wayne, Neb. It's three days of all things chicken and egg and I've never laughed so much.

Parades are the same way. Smiling and waving back, whether at a Rodeo Queen in Nebraska or at Miss Top of the World in Alaska, is great for what ails you.

Cowboys seem to know this instinctively. Dogs and little kids, too. Or how about this friend of mine who's a bear trainer? He's constantly laughing, even when his bears look like they're mauling him. I'm sure he'll live to be a hundred, if a bear doesn't get him first.

So what is laughter anyway? I believe that laughter sustains happiness, even when there's nothing to be happy about. It just makes me feel good, and that ain't bad.

Laughter is the sound of pure joy.

Now that's a saying my grandmother would love.

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