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Take your Happy Pill today

It's referred to as "MeMe," a World Health Organization research design that stands for "Multiple Experiences, Multiple Effects." With apologies to those who apply this concept more formally, I have, quite by happenstance, stretched the theory, given it practical application and may have identified a new way to generate improved health outcomes.

It starts with a Saturday errand. I stopped at a large neighborhood drugstore because we desperately needed cough medicine. In light of my husband's raging chest cold and his resultant cranky world view, I was in search of the world's most effective cough suppressant. Once in the store, I saw a sign that said "flu shots available." It is the season after all. I could have opted for a shingles vaccination, too (but I'd already had one), or been immunized against pneumonia — but I decided to save that for another day.

I was assigned to wait for the pharmacist in an area of the store where a line of mostly slow-moving, tired-seeming people were picking up prescription medications. There was a lot of wheezing and sighing. As the line got longer, I stood from my assigned perch to offer my chair and spied a box of stuffed-felt figures each about the size of the palm of my hand. They were colorful replicas of medication capsules, with big eyes, wide smiles and a heart-shaped request on the center of each that said "Press me." So I did.

The sound emitted was a hysterically happy, giggling child. It was unexpectedly captivating. There were at least 10 to 12 seconds of laughter exploding for all to hear. I loved the effect it seemed to have on the people in line — so I did it again. A few folks looked at me skeptically, but I noticed they seemed to chuckle a little, too. It was irresistible.

Recalling the "multiple exposures" theory, I thought about pressing the felt-figure's tummy one more time or letting someone else try it, but the "multiple effects" result was already in play. I was surrounded by grinning, chortling happiness.

Laughter begets laughter. I was holding happiness in my hand. I bought several of those compelling little Happy Pill laughter capsules, of course, and have already sent off all but one to ailing, bed-bound friends. No prescription needed.

My husband is a hard guy to engage with things of this kind, so his eyebrows-raised reaction when I returned with cough medicine and a colorfully matching Happy Pill was a bit more reserved. But he did crack a smile. (And his cold does seem to be abating.)

My drugstore observations are supported by actual research. Laughter enhances immune function and relaxes your vascular system. A recent study at the University of Baltimore's School of Medicine linked more laughter to less heart disease — the effects were noted as consistent with the benefits of aerobic exercise and the use of statin drugs. An Australian study found humor therapy eased agitation as much as drugs did in dementia patients.

Multiple laughter-filled experiences result in multiple positive effects. Refills unlimited.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 541-776-7371, Ext. 210.