English Literature

Cheerfulness as a Life Power by Orison Swett Marden

Cheerfulness as a Life Power by Orison Swett Marden.jpg



William K. Vanderbilt, when he last visited Constantinople, one day invited Coquelin the elder, so celebrated for his powers as a mimic, who happened to be in the city at the time, to give a private recital on board his yacht, lying in the Bosphorus. Coquelin spoke three of his monologues. A few days afterwards Coquelin received the following memorandum from the millionaire:—

“You have brought tears to our eyes and laughter to our hearts. Since all philosophers are agreed that laughing is preferable to weeping, your account with me stands thus:—

“For tears, six times $600
“For laughter, twelve times 2,400

“Kindly acknowledge receipt of enclosed check.”

“I find nonsense singularly refreshing,” said Talleyrand. There is good philosophy in the saying, “Laugh and grow fat.” If everybody knew the power of laughter as a health tonic and life prolonger the tinge of sadness which now clouds the American face would largely [Pg 8]disappear, and many physicians would find their occupation gone.

The power of laughter was given us to serve a wise purpose in our economy. It is Nature’s device for exercising the internal organs and giving us pleasure at the same time.

Laughter begins in the lungs and diaphragm, setting the liver, stomach, and other internal organs into a quick, jelly-like vibration, which gives a pleasant sensation and exercise, almost equal to that of horseback riding. During digestion, the movements of the stomach are similar to churning. Every time you take a full breath, or when you cachinnate well, the diaphragm descends and gives the stomach an extra squeeze and shakes it. Frequent laughing sets the stomach to dancing, hurrying up the digestive process. The heart beats faster, and sends the blood bounding through the body. “There is not,” says Dr. Green, “one remotest corner or little inlet of the minute blood-vessels of the human body that does not feel some wavelet from the convulsions occasioned by a good hearty laugh.” In medical terms, it stimulates the vasomotor centers, and the spasmodic contraction of the blood-vessels causes the blood to flow quickly. Laughter accelerates the respiration, and gives warmth and glow to the whole system. It brightens the eye, increases the perspiration, expands the chest, forces the poisoned air from the least-used lung cells, and tends to restore that exquisite poise or balance which we call health, which results from the harmonious action of all the functions of the body. This delicate poise, which may be destroyed by a sleepless night, a piece of bad news, by grief or anxiety, is often wholly restored by a good hearty laugh.

There is, therefore, sound sense in the caption,—”Cheerfulness[Pg 9] as a Life Power,”—relating as it does to the physical life, as well as the mental and moral; and what we may call


is based upon principles recognized as sound by the medical profession—so literally true is the Hebrew proverb that “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”

“Mirth is God’s medicine,” said Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes; “everybody ought to bathe in it. Grim care, moroseness, anxiety,—all the rust of life,—ought to be scoured off by the oil of mirth.” Elsewhere he says: “If you are making choice of a physician be sure you get one with a cheerful and serene countenance.”

Is not a jolly physician of greater service than his pills? Dr. Marshall Hall frequently prescribed “cheerfulness” for his patients, saying that it is better than anything to be obtained at the apothecary’s.

In Western New York, Dr. Burdick was known as the “Laughing Doctor.” He always presented the happiest kind of a face; and his good humor was contagious. He dealt sparingly in drugs, yet was very successful.

The London “Lancet,” the most eminent medical journal in the world, gives the following scientific testimony to the value of jovialty:—

“This power of ‘good spirits’ is a matter of high moment to the sick and weakly. To the former, it may mean the ability to survive; to the latter, the possibility of outliving, or living in spite of, a disease. It is, therefore, of the greatest importance to cultivate the highest and most buoyant frame of mind which the conditions will admit. The same energy which takes the form of mental activity is vital to the work of the organism.[Pg 10] Mental influences affect the system; and a joyous spirit not only relieves pain, but increases the momentum of life in the body.”

Dr. Ray, superintendent of Butler Hospital for the Insane, says in one of his reports, “A hearty laugh is more desirable for mental health than any exercise of the reasoning faculties.”

Grief, anxiety, and fear are great enemies of human life. A depressed, sour, melancholy soul, a life which has ceased to believe in its own sacredness, its own power, its own mission, a life which sinks into querulous egotism or vegetating aimlessness, has become crippled and useless. We should fight against every influence which tends to depress the mind, as we would against a temptation to crime. It is undoubtedly true that, as a rule, the mind has power to lengthen the period of youthful and mature strength and beauty, preserving and renewing physical life by a stalwart mental health.

I read the other day of a man in a neighboring city who was given up to die; his relatives were sent for, and they watched at his bedside. But an old acquaintance, who called to see him, assured him smilingly that he was all right and would soon be well. He talked in such a strain that the sick man was forced to laugh; and the effort so roused his system that he rallied, and he was soon well again.

Was it not Shakespere who said that a light heart lives long?

The San Francisco “Argonaut” says that a woman in Milpites, a victim of almost crushing sorrow, despondency, indigestion, insomnia, and kindred ills, determined to throw off the gloom which was making life so heavy a burden to her, and established a rule that she would[Pg 11] laugh at least three times a day, whether occasion was presented or not; so she trained herself to laugh heartily at the least provocation, and would retire to her room and make merry by herself. She was soon in excellent health and buoyant spirits; her home became a sunny, cheerful abode.

It was said, by one who knew this woman well, and who wrote an account of the case for a popular magazine, that at first her husband and children were amused at her, and while they respected her determination because of the griefs she bore, they did not enter into the spirit of the plan. “But after awhile,” said this woman to me, with a smile, only yesterday, “the funny part of the idea struck my husband, and he began to laugh every time we spoke of it. And when he came home, he would ask me if I had had my ‘regular laughs;’ and he would laugh when he asked the question, and again when I answered it. My children, then very young, thought ‘mamma’s notion very queer,’ but they laughed at it just the same. Gradually, my children told other children, and they told their parents. My husband spoke of it to our friends, and I rarely met one of them but he or she would laugh and ask me, ‘How many of your laughs have you had to-day?’ Naturally, they laughed when they asked, and of course that set me laughing. When I formed this apparently strange habit I was weighed down with sorrow, and my rule simply lifted me out of it. I had suffered the most acute indigestion; for years I have not known what it is. Headaches were a daily dread; for over six years I have not had a single pain in the head. My home seems different to me, and I feel a thousand times more interest in its work. My husband is a changed man. My children are called ‘the girls[Pg 12] who are always laughing,’ and, altogether, my rule has proved an inspiration which has worked wonders.”

The queen of fashion, however, says that we must never laugh out loud; but since the same tyrannical mistress kills people by corsets, indulges in cosmetics, and is out all night at dancing parties, and in China pinches up the women’s feet, I place much less confidence in her views upon the laugh cure for human woes. Yet in all civilized countries it is a fundamental principle of refined manners not to be ill-timed and unreasonably noisy and boisterous in mirth. One who is wise will never violate the proprieties of well-bred people.

“Yet,” says a wholesome writer upon health, “we should do something more than to simply cultivate a cheerful, hopeful spirit,—we should cultivate a spirit of mirthfulness that is not only easily pleased and smiling, but that indulges in hearty, hilarious laughter; and if this faculty is not well marked in our organization we should cultivate it, being well assured that hearty, body-shaking laughter will do us good.”

Ordinary good looks depend on one’s sense of humor,—”a merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance.” Joyfulness keeps the heart and face young. A good laugh makes us better friends with ourselves and everybody around us, and puts us into closer touch with what is best and brightest in our lot in life.

Physiology tells the story. The great sympathetic nerves are closely allied; and when one set carries bad news to the head, the nerves reaching the stomach are affected, indigestion comes on, and one’s countenance becomes doleful. Laugh when you can; it is[Pg 13]


Merriment is a philosophy not well understood. The eminent surgeon Chavasse says that we ought to begin with the babies and train children to habits of mirth:—

“Encourage your child to be merry and laugh aloud; a good hearty laugh expands the chest and makes the blood bound merrily along. Commend me to a good laugh,—not to a little snickering laugh, but to one that will sound right through the house. It will not only do your child good, but will be a benefit to all who hear, and be an important means of driving the blues away from a dwelling. Merriment is very catching, and spreads in a remarkable manner, few being able to resist its contagion. A hearty laugh is delightful harmony; indeed, it is the best of all music.” “Children without hilarity,” says an eminent author, “will never amount to much. Trees without blossoms will never bear fruit.”

Hufeland, physician to the King of Prussia, commends the ancient custom of jesters at the king’s table, whose quips and cranks would keep the company in a roar.

Did not Lycurgus set up the god of laughter in the Spartan eating-halls? There is no table sauce like laughter at meals. It is the great enemy of dyspepsia.

How wise are the words of the acute Chamfort, that the most completely lost of all days is the one in which we have not laughed!

“A crown, for making the king laugh,” was one of the items of expense which the historian Hume found in a manuscript of King Edward II.

“It is a good thing to laugh, at any rate,” said Dryden, the poet, “and if a straw can tickle a man, it is an instrument of happiness.”[Pg 14]

“I live,” said Laurence Sterne, one of the greatest of English humorists, “in a constant endeavor to fence against the infirmities of ill health and other evils by mirth; I am persuaded that, every time a man smiles,—but much more so when he laughs,—it adds something to his fragment of life.”

“Give me an honest laugher,” said Sir Walter Scott, and he was himself one of the happiest men in the world, with a kind word and pleasant smile for every one, and everybody loved him.

“How much lies in laughter!” exclaimed the critic Carlyle. “It is the cipher-key wherewith we decipher the whole man. Some men wear an everlasting barren simper; in the smile of others lies the cold glitter, as of ice; the fewest are able to laugh what can be called laughing, but only sniff and titter and snicker from the throat outward, or at least produce some whiffing, husky cachinnation, as if they were laughing through wool. Of none such comes good.”

“The power to laugh, to cease work and begin to frolic and make merry in forgetfulness of all the conflict of life,” says Campbell Morgan, “is a divine bestowment upon man.”

Happy, then, is the man, who may well laugh to himself over his good luck, who can answer the old question, “How old are you?” by Sambo’s reply:—

“If you reckon by the years, sah, I’se twenty-five; but if you goes by the fun I’s ‘ad, I guess I’s a hundred.”

From the “Independent.”

“Why don’t you laugh, young man, when troubles come,
[Pg 15]Instead of sitting ’round so sour and glum?
You cannot have all play,
And sunshine every day;
When troubles come, I say, why don’t you laugh?

“Why don’t you laugh? ‘T will ever help to soothe
The aches and pains. No road in life is smooth;
There’s many an unseen bump,
And many a hidden stump
O’er which you’ll have to jump. Why don’t you laugh?

“Why don’t you laugh? Don’t let your spirits wilt;
Don’t sit and cry because the milk you’ve spilt;
If you would mend it now,
Pray let me tell you how:
Just milk another cow! Why don’t you laugh?

“Why don’t you laugh, and make us all laugh, too,
And keep us mortals all from getting blue?
A laugh will always win;
If you can’t laugh, just grin,—
Come on, let’s all join in! Why don’t you laugh?
[Pg 16]


Categories: English Literature

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