In 1964 following a very stressful trip to Russia, he was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis (a degenerative disease causing the breakdown of collagen), which left him in almost constant pain and motivated his doctor to say he would die within a few months. He disagreed and reasoned that if stress had somehow contributed to his illness (he was not sick before the trip to Russia), then positive emotions should help him feel better. With his doctors’ consent, he checked himself out of the hospital and into a hotel across the street and began taking extremely high doses of vitamin C while exposing himself to a continuous stream of humorous films and similar “laughing matter”. He later claimed that 10 minutes of belly rippling laughter would give him two hours of pain-free sleep, when nothing else, not even morphine could help him.
His condition steadily improved and he slowly regained the use of his limbs. Within six months he was back on his feet, and within two years he was able to return to his full-time job at the Saturday Review. His story baffled the scientific community and inspired a number of research projects.
Click here to read the essence of his message in the transcription of a radio interview he gave in 1983 on the impact of positive emotions on health.
His 1979 book An Anatomy Of An Illness is a classic.
Here is the movie version of it:
And here is a (short) summary of it:
Documentary: The Inner Healer
…and here is a 25 minutes documentary on the healing power of faith and positive emotions that features Norman Cousins: