Laugh for Longevity! – New Research on Laughter and COVID-19

Laughter takes away the power of whatever holds us prisoner.

~Kathleen O’Keefe-Kanavos

Laughter has always been considered a form of medicine. You may have heard the saying, “Laugh ‘till it Heals.” Now current research agrees. Laughter is an innate God-given gift that is also a weapon.

A good laugh may take the power away to whatever is holding us prisoner. During these stressful times of facing a Buggy-man named COVID-19, it may be time to laugh in the face of danger and use our gift as a blessed weapon because laughter is contagious, too.

When nothing else helps us during a crisis we can lean on our faith and laugh our way to wellness.

One person who sticks in the echoes of my mind is a British woman named Petranelle who lived on the corner of High School Street on Cape Cod.  Pete, as she preferred to be called, mentored me during my battle with breast cancer and the writing of my book Surviving Cancerland: Intuitive Aspects of Healing (1).  Petronelle had the pen name Margot Arnold and had written numerous novels of espionage and romantic suspense in addition to an acclaimed mystery series.  She could always be found sitting on her blue recliner in the living room of her home in which she had raised her children. Now she lived alone and although the sound of children’s squeals of glee was silent her laughter still lived-on, especially during the news hour.

She would sit in front of her TV set and laugh at the nightly news.

The thing I remember most about Petranelle was her constant joy, which was addictive. If I felt depressed or frightened, I would call her up and get a “hit of Pete.”  No matter how bad things appeared, Petronelle discussed it between peals of laughter. The worse the situation, the louder the laughter.

At first, I found this laughter quite alarming and questioned her state of mind.

However, over time, I began to realize it made any crisis seem less dire, even if it concerned a life or death situation or a frightening state of declining health. In her case, it was the loss of her eyesight. “Yes, the doctor told me I’m going blind,” she laughed with a twinkle in her eye.  “So, I’m learning brail because although my eyes may fail me, my fingers still work.” And then she would belly-laugh at her joke while rocking in the chair. There was something about crisis deliver with a British accent followed by howling laughter that seemed to make everything so much better. “Eventually, we are all going to die,” she would chuckle, “so, it really doesn’t matter anyway, dear, does it?”

Petranelle had a point. And it made me giggle.

The first time I heard Petronelle laugh while she delivered a dire dose of crisis, I thought she had lost her mind until I realized she was chasing away the Buggy-man. She could not change the chaotic situation but she could change how it was perceived, accepted, and ultimately delivered to others.

Petronelle handled and conquered fear from the higher vibration of joy and laughter.

Leading by example, she taught me how to laugh in the face of fear. So, while I went through cancer and recurrence surgeries, treatments, and tests, it was easier to follow in Petranelle’s footsteps and laugh as often as possible, about anything, or nothing, anywhere and at any time. At times my husband wondered about my mental state. Delivering catastrophic news via laughter chased Petranelle’s blindness Buggy-man and my Cancer Boogy-man right out the front door. Fear cannot live in a laughter-filled environment.

Something amazing happens to our mind, body, and soul when we laugh.

Laughter creates scientifically measurable positive change. According to current research, laughter is the best medicine and an excellent treatment for relieving stress because research also shows that stress is a killer. Forbes (2) magazine explained how laughter has an anti-inflammatory effect that protects blood vessels and heart muscles from the damaging effects of cardiovascular disease. Regular, hearty laughter should probably be part of every heart disease prevention program. And, according to the Journal of Neuroscience (3), Laughter is a potent endorphin releaser. 

Endorphins are our natural, homegrown, feel-good chemicals delivered via opioid receptors. 

One of the most recent studies on laughter shows that laughing with other people releases endorphins in the brain. (4) The more opioid receptors a given person has in their brain, the more powerful the effect. Our laughter can be our natural and healthy “Happy-pill.”

The endorphin effect also explains why social laughter is so contagious.

Laughter contagiously forms social bonds. When an endorphin release spreads through groups, it promotes a sense of togetherness and safety. Each person in the social unit becomes a transmitter of good feelings to others via laughter. That is why when someone starts laughing, others will laugh even if they are not sure why everyone is laughing. The reason is not as important as the good feeling of belonging.

At first, the concept of laughing in the face of fear may feel uncomfortable and forced. But, over time, it can replace the old behavior of becoming anxious and worried.

Laughter in the face of danger can become a new habit that may naturally enhance focus for problem-solving.

It is easier to see a solution when fear is laughed out of the equation. 

One way to reach this positive point is to go on the internet and read jokes, watch old reruns on TV like one of my favorites, I Love Lucy or The Three Stooges. If you have children, or not, become child-like; turn on the television cartoon channel and laugh out loud. It can improve your emotional and physical well-being because to laugh, you must take in a deep breath of life. And, what a great way to spend family-time while home-sheltering?

Here is a joke to get you started. (5)

  1. Where do sick boats go to get healthy? A. To the dock!

Use the current shelter-in-place-order as an opportunity to bond with your “tribe” through laughter.  

During times of severe illness, laughter may be just what the doctor ordered. Like love you cannot buy laughter because you already own it, yet it is priceless. We are not as powerless as we may feel. When I began to laugh in my dreams and nightmares, my new positive-health-habit had taken root.

Petranelle died with her eyesight. Her vision was poor, but she was not blind. Did the power of laughter keep her crisis at bay?  Her laughter and lessons still live on in the echoes of my mind. Despite the odds of surviving breast cancer and recurrence three times, I am still alive, standing in the protection of my belief in God, and laughing in the face of COVID-19 and his best friend Uncertainty.

 “Laugh at fear and uncertainty? Impossible!” you say? Try it. You might like it and discover your new happy-medicine.



Kat O'Keefe-Kanavos
Kat O'Keefe-Kanavos
Kathleen (Kat) O’Keefe-Kanavos is the award-winning author of Surviving Cancerland, and co-author of Dreams That Can Save Your Life. She’s a three-time cancer survivor, and co-publisher/editor of WEBE Books Publishing. Her dreams diagnosed her illness as seen on Dr. Oz, Doctors, NBC News, American Express Open, in Newspapers and magazines. She’s a Contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul, TV/Radio Host/Producer- Dreaming Healing on DV7Radio/TV Network, Wicked Housewives On Cape Cod™, Kat Kanavos Show, Internationally Syndicated Columnist in BIZCATALYST 360°, Dream Columnist in Positive Tribe Magazine, and Desert Health Magazine, Keynote Speaker, Performance Coach who taught Special Ed & Psychology @USF, and Lecturer who promotes patient advocacy and Spiritual guidance. She is co-author to the inspiring books; Chaos to Clarity: Sacred Stories of Transformational Change and Crappy to Happy: Sacred Stories of Transformational Joy

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    • Hi Darlene Corbett. Laughing in the face of danger or depression can be difficult but living without laughter is even harder. You are so right, it is a mood changer. Thank you for your comment.

  1. Kat, thanks for this article. In my effort to keep myself sane, I have tried to reach out to friends I rarely call. Angie, one of my friends, started laughing about something I said. We laughed together and it was cathartic. She thanked me for saying whatever I said because it strengthens our lungs. Since this virus attacks the lungs. Keeping our lungs healthy is a worthy goal. Your article reminded me of my conversation.

    • Kate Frank isn’t it amazing how the worst of times can become the best of times for reconnecting with old friends and loved ones. Yes, taking that deep breath to laugh can be a life-saver. Thank you so much for sharing your uplifting expeirnce and your comment.

  2. Hi Kat – thanks so much for this wonderful article. Smiling and applauding over here in the moustache and goatee I drew on my face with eyeliner earlier today. I remember a time several years ago when laughter and joy totally alluded me along with the ability to sleep and any sembalence of well being due to chronic pain and the additional sufferings caused by the amygdala hijack. I’m all about spreading joy and laughter! If you’ve got it, give it. It really is our natural “Happy Pill”.

    Thank you!

    • Hi Shelley Brown, thank you so much for taking the time to read my article and applaud in a mustache and goatee drawn on your face with eyeliner. You sound like a breath of fresh air! And you certainly spread laughter to me when I read your comment. I am so pleased you are feeling better. Keep up the big grin. Thanks again.