The Healing Power of Humor

As a heart surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, I have to deliver a lot of bad news. Humor is a wonderful tool. It helps patients cope with what they’re facing, and it helps them get better too. There’s a lot of data showing that patients who are depressed after heart surgery have a higher mortality rate, and optimistic patients have significantly fewer wound infections. Laughter can cultivate that optimism, and it truly is the best medicine in many ways:

It defuses fear. People are scared of their bodies. Humor can crack through the ice and take the fear away. For example, I have to tell patients about the risk of cognitive impairment after surgery. They’re terrified, fearing the worst, so I tell them in a humorous way that it’s usually just like forgetting second grade. People understand what that means, and it doesn’t seem quite as scary.

It’s reassuring. After open-heart surgery a patient might say, “Doctor, my chest really hurts.” And I’ll say with a wink, “Oh, does it feel like someone opened you up, cut the bone and operated in there?” That tells them the pain is normal and they’re going to be fine.

It relaxes you. Medical procedures such as surgery are stressful. When you push any engine, including your body, to its maximum, every once in a while it slips a gear. The ways the body manifests that are irregular heartbeats, high blood pressure and increased sensitivity to pain. When people use humor, the autonomic nervous system just tones down a bit to take it off high gear, and that allows the heart to relax.

It helps doctors cope. If you’re giving people bad news every day, it becomes tough. For many doctors, our coping mechanism is to take the humanity out of it. Humor is a mutually beneficial coping mechanism. Plus, it’s a better way to enjoy life.

Want to stay smart and healthy?

Get our weekly Health Reads newsletter

how we use your e-mail
We will use your email address to send you this newsletter. For more information please read our privacy policy.

Funny Jokes

Some people like to travel by train because 
it combines the slowness of a car with the cramped public exposure of 
an airplane.

Dennis Miller

Funny Jokes

I think my pilot was a little inexperienced. We were sitting on the runway, and he said, “OK, folks, we’re gonna be taking off in a just few—whoa! Here we go.”

Kevin Nealon

Funny Jokes

“I can’t wait until your vacation is over.” 
—Everyone following you on Instagram


Funny Jokes

A man knocked on my door and asked for a donation toward the local swimming pool. So I gave him a glass of water.

Comedian Greg Davies

Funny Jokes

Just found the worst page in the entire dictionary. What I saw was disgraceful, disgusting, dishonest, and disingenuous.


Funny Jokes

Client: We need you to log in to the YouTube and make all our company videos viral.


Funny Jokes

My cat just walked up to the paper shredder and said, “Teach me 
everything you know.”


Funny Jokes

“Just because you can’t dance doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dance.” 

@yoyoha (Josh Hara)

Funny Jokes

My parents didn’t want to move to Florida, but they turned 60 and that’s the law.

—Jerry Seinfeld

Funny Jokes

Q: What do you call an Amish guy with his hand in a horse’s mouth?

A: A mechanic.