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Healthy Aging

Laughter IS Good Medicine: Feel-Good TV Shows & Films

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 11/04/2010
Last Updated: 12/28/2010

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I love to watch a good movie or television show, but for whatever reason, I usually gravitate toward the darker types where the main characters are either in a state of mental distress, fostering suicidal or homicidal thoughts or are practically comatose with depression. And when it all gets too much to bear, I start to crave an honest-to-goodness, all-out silly or ridiculous comedy. Instead of getting a headache from grinding my teeth, feeling the distress of all the characters, my jaw pleasantly aches from laughing. What a nice change of pace.

Laughter doesn’t just affect the way your jaw feels: it has an effect on your whole body. Researchers at the University of Maryland studied people as they watched either comedies or dramas. They found that blood vessels of the group who watched the comedy expanded and contracted normally, while the blood vessels of the people who watched the drama actually tensed up, reducing blood flow. Other studies have found that the ability to use humor may actually raise your body’s immune response and lower blood sugar levels.

So I asked friend and fellow blogger Jane Boursaw, the queen of all things cinematic, to share her well-researched list of movies and TV shows that are bound to leave you cheerful and buoyant instead of making you wish you’d never been born into an awful, depressing, dark and hopeless world. Jane is a family entertainment writer who specializes in movies, TV and celebrities. If anyone knows, Jane knows. (And if you want to know more about Jane as well as read her excellent tell-all reviews, visit her at Film Gecko and Reel Life With Jane.

It’s so easy to turn your attitude around with a good laugh…take it away, Jane!

Five Feel-Good Films and TV Shows

It’s a tough world out there, and sometimes you just need to settle in with a movie or TV show guaranteed to take you to a happy place. I polled my readers at Film Gecko recently, who kindly replied with a wide array of great ideas – everything from ‘The Gilmore Girls’ to ‘When Harry Met Sally.’ Click here to read their responses and enter a feel-good giveaway.

It got me thinking about my own favorite shows and movies – the ones I turn to when the world closes in or when I need to escape for a while. It’s tough to narrow it down, but I’ve managed to pick my top five:

  1. ‘My Three Sons.’ You’d think that a show about a widower left to raise his sons would be somber at best. Not so with ‘My Three Sons.’ Maybe it’s the fact that Fred MacMurray as the cardigan-wearing Steve Douglas always knew just what to say. Maybe it was Bub’s dry wit or, later, Uncle Charlie’s tough love. Maybe it’s because I identified with the kids, having grown up in that era myself. Whatever the reason, watching ‘My Three Sons’ is a sunny day in the storm of life.
  2. ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show.’ I loved watching this show with my parents every week, because it had something for everyone. My Dad loved watching Ted Baxter make a fool of himself, and Mom and I loved watching Mary “make it after all.” There’s no denying it had one of the best casts in TV history, including Betty White as the ditzy Sue Ann Nivens.  And even though Mary Richards seemed like she had it all, I could still identify with her “off” moments, like the time she went to the awards banquet with a nasty cold and her hair all puffed up. But she got through it. She had spunk, after all.
  3. ‘M*A*S*H.’ No matter where I am in my life or the world, there’s one show I can always count on to get me through. ‘M*A*S*H’ still airs somewhere on my TV every day, and watching the doctors and nurses at the 4077th struggle through as best they can – even as the war rages on -- gives me hope that I can get through life, too. And I still have a major crush on Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce.
  4. Any Doris Day Movie. I’m partial to the movies she did with Rock Hudson, including ‘Pillow Talk,’ ‘Lover Come Back,’ and ‘Send Me No Flowers.’ But she also scored with every other male star with whom she was paired, like Cary Grant in ‘That Touch of Mink,’ James Garner in ‘The Thrill of It All,’ and Rod Taylor in ‘The Glass Bottom Boat.’ I love her early movies like ‘Romance on the High Seas’ and ‘Tea for Two,’ as well as her TV series – especially the later seasons where she gained more control over the direction of the show. I’ve read several books about Doris Day, so I know she hasn’t had an easy life. But you’d never know it watching her on screen. She just exudes grace and style and a happy outlook on life that makes you feel like anything is possible.
  5. ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’ Is there anything more calming than the life Andy Taylor led in Mayberry? With Aunt Bee cooking up a pot roast at home and Opie stopping by the courthouse after school, you get the feeling this must be the happiest, most stress-free place on the planet. And the comical capers of Barney Fife (“Nip it in the bud!”), Gomer Pyle (“Citizen’s Arrest!”) and the rest of the gang just add to the homespun goodness of this show.


So there you have it. When my life is crashing down around me, these are the shows and movies that get me through. And there are plenty of others, including any romantic comedy starring Andie MacDowell, Meg Ryan or Julia Roberts; holiday movies like ‘White Christmas’ and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’; any episode of ‘Modern Family’; and one of the best musicals ever, ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’ The scene where Gene Kelly dance-splashes his way down the street is one of my all-time favorite movie scenes. 

What about you? Which movies or TV shows do you watch to feel better about life? Tell me in the comments below, so I can add them to my own list!

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Don't forget CHEERS.

These are oldies but goodies. I love Mary Tyler Moore!

For a more modern feel-good show, I like Gilmore Girls. I've also Netflixed most of That Girl, because I love the sixties clothes and humor.

Although I love darker/thought-provoking shows like The Sopranos or LOST, most of the stuff on the DVR right now is comedic: Chuck, Modern Family, Glee, and the ridiculously sublime It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Thanks for these, Casey, and everyone else who suggested shows. It helps to know there's always a choice!

two Hallmark Channel made for tv movies that cheer me right up -- though you might not think it from their titles -- are The Good Witch and The Good Witch's Garden. People are misjudged and misunderstood, and handle that with laughter and grace. Catherine Bell (of JAG and Army Wives) is the lead in both, and there are secondary characters nice, not so nice, and just plain funny. Not the deepest movies I've ever watched, but fun and with good messages too.

I didn't watch Seinfeld, because I was in France for most of the series, so I enjoy the reruns. Always good for a laugh.

I don't think I've ever seen a Doris Day movie, I'll have to give that a try. But MASH, that's my favorite show ever. I DVR every episode and I must say even after all these years it's still such a powerful, relevant show.

Jon Stewart always makes us laugh, and teaches us something about what's going on in the world. He's my go to feel good man.

Seinfeld, SNL and I Love Lucy! Love them all.

Hand up over here for Glee, Arrested Development, and Flight of the Conchords. And hallelujah for Hulu and Netflix streaming for instant gratification when a good belly laugh is called for.

I don't know any of these - I need to catch up on my comedies!

I love watching funny shows for the same reasons. A Modern Family has done it for me lately.

Yes, Modern Family...so funny. I have to remember to record the shows - I've been missing way too many lately!

All great TV classics, along with "All in the Family." As mentioned, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are good for laughs (with a political edge). Some newer sit-coms that my family enjoys are "Scrubs" and "The Office." We also occasionally go further back to "Friends" and "Everybody Loves Raymond." And you can't leave out "I Love Lucy." Looking for laughs in an older movie, "What's Up Doc?" is a good one. "Shrek" and a lot of the newer animated movies also are good for laughs.

Great suggestions, Marcia. I need to re-watch "All in the Family." I have forgotten how much I really enjoyed it back in the day...thanks for the reminder~!

Though my perennial favorite is I Love Lucy. And I'm with the commenter above who appreciates Jon Stewart's humor!

I make sure I watch plenty of comedy every single day. I still watch all the old Seinfelds, those of you out there who havent watched it... its time to! It is the funniest show ever on television.

"Coupling" is one of the funniest shows I have ever seen. Watching an episode gets me out of a funk in a hurry!



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