Laughter is the best medicine: The heart-warming story of Laughter Heroes

Laetitia Spence, also known as Sunshine. Picture: Supplied

Laetitia Spence, also known as Sunshine. Picture: Supplied

Published Mar 27, 2024


Laughter has always been celebrated as a powerful form of medicine and for good reason.

When we laugh, our body and mind responds in ways that promote overall well-being. It helps children develop muscles and strength, manages the release of serotonin, and reduces the negative impact of stress-related hormones like cortisol.

Laughter also brings resilience, creativity, and empowerment, while boosting the immune system and creating a sense of belonging, especially for young people.

According to PhD Dr. David Hamilton, laughter dramatically reduces inflammation, improves sleep and is good for the heart.

On International Day of Happiness, celebrated on March 20, Lifestyle reached out to Reach For A Dream, a non profit organization that launched Laughter Heroes in 2007.

This initiative aims to bring therapeutic entertainment to children undergoing treatment for terminal illnesses in public hospitals across the country.

Chloe Katompa, Head of Operations at Reach For A Dream, and 71-year-old Laetitia Spence, also known as Sunshine, shared their experiences of bringing joy and laughter to children battling long-term illnesses in hospitals.

Research increasingly supports the idea that laughter and happiness can have a positive impact on individuals suffering from long-term illnesses, such as cancer and mental health disorders.

Research increasingly supports the idea that laughter and happiness can have a positive impact on individuals suffering from long-term illnesses. Picture: Supplied

These emotional states not only improve quality of life but also have tangible effects on physical and psychological health, contributing to stress and pain alleviation in patients.

Katompa highlighted the work of the Laughter Heroes, saying, "We currently have seven Laughter Heroes who use arts-based activities like comedy, juggling, magic, mime, and storytelling to bring laughter, joy, and a sense of wonder to these children’s lives while they receive treatment."

She adds, "Laughter is the best medicine. It strengthens our immune system, boosts mood, diminishes pain, and shields us from the damaging effects of stress.

“When we laugh, our bodies respond in ways that promote wellness, triggering a release of endorphins, our body's natural feel-good chemicals."

In 2023, seven incredible Laughter Heroes dedicated 350 shifts to bring 700 hours of fun to 11,085 children. Among these heroes is Spence, who brings joy and laughter to children in Eastern Cape, many of whom are battling long-term illnesses.

Spence's journey to becoming a Laughter Hero was deeply personal.

"My journey to becoming a Laughter Hero began with my own children, who faced mental challenges. I discovered that joy and laughter were powerful tools to navigate their struggles," Spence reveals.

"Since 2020, I've been bringing laughter to the Dream Room at Dora Nginza Hospital, the largest training hospital in Gqeberha. I truly believe that laughter is essential for healing."

Spence believes in the idea that laughter is a universal language that transcends barriers and brings people together. Although, sometimes, children are quite shy.

One of my favourite ways to break the ice is by doing little things like walking into the ward and bursting into spontaneous laughter. It's incredible how laughter can be so contagious.

I've noticed that when I start laughing, others can't help but join in, she shares.

"I've witnessed countless moments where children's lives have been positively impacted. It's a privilege to contribute to their mental, physical, and emotional well-being.

“During our visits, they can set aside worries about medical procedures and simply experience the fun, laughter, and magic of childhood," Spence shares.

She recounted a touching experience from a memorable shift at the burns ward, where she met a boy in intense pain.

"Despite his suffering, when he mentioned his upcoming 12th birthday, I knew we had to celebrate. We talked about his birthday wishes, like a blue bike, and imagined his party together.

“For those precious moments, his pain faded and was replaced by genuine joy. It's in these moments that the magic of laughter truly shines," Spence says.

Testimonials from parents:

“It was special because she could finally talk and play games with the Laughter Hero and other kids, and she loosened up.

“It made a huge impact on her as she was a child who did not talk much, and now she talks, doesn't mind going to the hospital, changes her behaviour, and asks about the Laughter Hero when she goes to the hospital." - Princess.

"Being around other kids with similar conditions, playing with the Laughter Hero, and feeling included made her feel normal. She forgot she was sick and just let loose, playing with others and talking because she's usually quiet." - Keisha

“We are richer if we spend time with children. I believe it keeps you young," she shared.

Laughter is an essential tool in our happiness toolkit, reminding us not to take life too seriously. There’s a saying that’s so true: “It's not just that we laugh because we're happy; we're happy because we laugh.”

Sprinkle a healthy dose of laughter into your day, and you'll find the strength to survive anything, Spence adds.