August 1990

Norman Cousins' Sick Laughter Redux

Arch Intern Med. 1990;150(8):1588. doi:10.1001/archinte.1990.00040031588004

This epigraph is from a tale told by Mark Twain in A Subtreasury of American Humor,1 a volume recommended by Norman Cousins in his best-selling book, Anatomy of an Illness.2 You will probably recall it was touted that he laughed his way out of a crippling sickness, possibly a collagen disease, which his doctor had expected to be fatal. Anatomy endorses treatment with clean-living sorts of things, like laughter and healthy attitudes, vitamins and nutrition, and has nothing good to say about preservatives and white bread or poisons like aspirin, so it's something of a surprise to discover the advocacy of black humor. Twain's carpet caper is surely a black bit of amusement, but as long as the crepe is hung for someone else, we get relief. We feel better by comparison. That is humor at work, putting "us" ahead of "them." It seems harmless enough: he is dead, the