11/03/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Best Medicine

Looked out your window lately? The world is crashing and burning all around us. In the past few weeks, we have seen a number of devastating losses. Lehman Brothers: bankrupt. Merrill Lynch: bought out. Jeff Ross on "Dancing With The Stars": kaput. As the economy collapses and
political scandals keep flaring up like bad rashes, where should America turn for answers? What's going to keep us from falling apart? The answer: laughter.

With the destruction of hurricanes, America at war, and $700 billion of taxpayers' money on the line, it might seem rude to fritter our time away laughing. Granted, it's never polite to laugh at a funeral. But after the funeral, everyone needs a good laugh to help relieve the
tension. And what a funeral it is.

Even in less trying times, humor has long been associated with a healthier, happier life. According to numerous psychological studies, laughter improves physical and mental health. The ability to use humor has been shown to help blood flow, reduce stress, and improve immune system response. Duke University researchers have also found that laughter has many of the same physical effects as exercise. Too lazy to go the gym, America? Veg out with an episode of "Seinfeld" instead!

More than simple distraction, though, comedy generates discussion and helps us look at our lives with perspective. Writers have been using satire in times of political turmoil for centuries from Aristophanes' send-ups of the ancient Greeks to Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal"
in which he advocates eating babies as a solution to Ireland's population problems. Comedy allows writers to make shocking statements and express opinions that the more timid among us might be afraid to say.

Take Governor Sarah Palin, whose extreme right-wing views, lack of experience, and ignorance about the economy instill a sense of shock and horror in our nation's liberals. She cluelessly blinked her way through an interview with ABC newsman Charles Gibson, steering the
conversation away from the Bush Doctrine and towards her kids, Track, Tink, and Thomas the Tank Engine. But the public barely batted an eye. Where was our sense of uproar? It wasn't until Tina Fey skewered her later that week on Saturday Night Live that America finally seemed to recognize that it was okay to make fun of her.

Two weeks ago ratings for Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" were the highest in the show's history, up 28% over its year-to-date average.
There's no denying that a large portion of today's Americans are
getting their news from "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report".
Perhaps a little levity is what's needed to balance the sickening
taste of government screw-ups and banking catastrophes. Describing the
show's appeal, host Jon Stewart has said, "If you watch the news and
don't like it, then this is your counter to the news." Even big-name
politicians are using comedy to reach out to viewers. In the last two
weeks former President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair have
both appeared at Stewart's desk. John McCain has appeared on "The
Daily Show" a whopping 14 times. Either they recognize that young
people are getting their news with a side of jokes nowadays or they
need their own daily dose of comedic medicine.

So next time you're watching your stocks plummet and your temper rise,
make a joke. You gotta laugh to keep from crying.