Humor—exercise your sense of it each day

July 22nd, 2014

Just what is humor? What makes you laugh? Are humor and laughter synonymous? According to Dr. Chaya Ostrower

“Humor is a complex phenomenon. There is no general theory of humor or even an agreed definition. When we try to define exactly what counts as humor and what does not, or how humor operates, we find it quite difficult. Humor is comprised of three components: wit, mirth, and laughter. Wit is the cognitive experience, mirth the emotional experience, laughter the physiological experience.”

Think mind/body/spirit.

A sense of humor... is needed armor.

“Joy in one's heart and some laughter on one's lips is a sign that the person down deep has a pretty good grasp of life.” Hugh Sidey

For my purpose here I would like to focus on laughter as the physiological experience associated with successful aging. Norman Cousins was an early crusader for laughter being a form of medicine as he wrote of his healing experience through laughter in “Anatomy of an Illness” in 1964.

In the fifty years since then, many researchers in the fields of medicine, psychology, gerontology (to name a few of the many disciplines) have been/are studying this concept and believe in the mind/body/spirit benefits of laughter.

Some of the benefits of laughter are:

  • Increase in endorphins (feel good chemicals in your body)
  • Reduction in blood pressure
  • Reduction in stress
  • Reduction in anger (it is all but impossible for anger and laughter to exist simultaneously)

Laughter has been described by Norman Cousins as “internal jogging.” Even when you have nothing in particular to laugh about—make yourself laugh—a real belly laugh. Your brain will not know the difference and your body will be better for it. It is a whole lot easier than doing those pushups. I do this often when I am by myself in the car. Somehow it feels odd/weird to do this in a group of people unless you are leading a group in a laughing exercise.

I ask students, “What makes you laugh?” The answers are widely varied and different for different folks. Some answer the comics—I then ask, “What are your favorite comics?” "Pickles" is usually one of the first mentioned. We often see ourselves in either Opal or Earl. For me the incredible genius of Gary Larson and his “Far Side” comics are so funny on so many levels.

And sometimes, I have to say, “Huh?” For those of you who remember the “Far Side.” I have it on good authority that Larson did not retire, he is being held hostage by an irate herd of cows. I own all of Larson’s “Far Side” Comic Collections. If I am having a horrible, miserable, lousy, rotten day, I sit on the floor and go through his books of comics. My day gets better almost immediately.

Some TV shows make people laugh—such as “America’s Funniest Videos.” Some folks answer with pets or grandchildren. My granddaughter makes me laugh. She says the funniest things with a completely straight face and I crack up laughing. She planted peas in our garden and several months later she was told she could eat the peas that she planted. Her completely straight faced answer was, “Actually, I don’t like peas very much. Next time could we plant chicken nuggets?” She was 3 ½ years old at the time. The child makes me laugh. What makes you laugh? Think about it.

I tell a joke just about every time I teach. In my book “100 Days to Successful Aging” every 7th day is a Sabbath and there is a joke. Often I will have participants choose a number that is a multiple of seven and that is our joke for the day. I never tell demeaning jokes. Usually my jokes have to do with some form of creative thinking.

It is fun to hang around with people who make you laugh. The day brightens and people have a good time. I often ask my classes to sing, “You Are My Sunshine” this song usually brings a smile as people sing. I then ask them to sing the chorus with a frown. It is all but impossible to do.

Think ministry

Invite people to come for an afternoon of dessert and laughter. Try some of these suggestions: 

  • Locate and show several funny YouTube sessions like "I Love Lucy" or other vintage comedy shows
  • Ask people to share their favorite—and appropriate—jokes
  • Have copies of the humor pages from old Reader’s Digest magazines and find your favorite jokes

The important thing is to get people laughing. It really is good medicine. It does not need a prescription or have any side effects.

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