A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs – jolted by every pebble in the road. ~ Henry Ward Beecher
At the National Wellness Conference, I participated in a breakout session, “Laughter: It’s No Joke” on the essential role humor plays in our well-being. It was led by Sandy Queen, a well-respected speaker and humorist. She shared some great jokes, as well as describing the structure of humor and pointed out interesting research about how and why we respond to humor. I was hooked before I entered the room.
Comedian, cancer survivor and friend, Brenda Elsagher and I worked together at a survivorship event in 2013. We met again soon after and she was very generous in helping me explore how to interject more humor into my speeches. I followed her suggestions and have come to realize that there is more humor in my story than I have been willing to share. Actually, I used to include a whole humorous section that I entitled “There is Nothing Funny About Cancer.” But over time, I got away from that format and lost some of that humor. The time for change has come. It is a bit of a narrow spot for me.
In July, I started a stand-up comedy class at Stevie Ray’s Comedy Club in Chanhassen, MN. Carl Olson, the stand-up comic/teacher has shared additional invaluable information about the structure of humor and the reality of stand up. I was busy writing jokes while attending a writer’s retreat in Taos, NM. I was the only “comedy” writer in the bunch. I tried out my routine on the assembled audience before returning home. They laughed! My “recital” is in two short weeks.
When we are confronted by a narrow spot in our lives – a change that feels difficult to navigate – it may seem irreverent to either express or accept humor. But experts agree that even during the most difficult circumstances, maintaining a sense of humor and allowing ourselves a laugh can work wonders, having a positive effect on our psychological, emotional, and physical health – our sense of well-being. Laughter can go a long way to heal us.
Humor has various benefits. Allen Klein, in his book, The Healing Power of Humor, discusses how humor can help us get through losses, setbacks, disappointments, and illness by giving us a sense of power and a way of dealing with these difficult situations. It does this primarily by helping us, even for a short period of time, to change our perspective and look at our situation from a different angle, developing a new relationship with what or who has changed. Humor and laughter can provide a respite from pain and sadness.
There is a growing body of research, some of it anecdotal, indicating that humor and laughter really are good, if not the best medicine. When we laugh, healthy physical changes are triggered within the body. Our immune system is enhanced by decreasing stress hormones and increasing infection-fighting antibodies, thus providing resistance to disease. Our entire body relaxes for up to 45 minutes after the laughter has ceased. Our heart experiences increased blood flow and enhanced function of blood vessels, which in turn can protect us from heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems. In addition, endorphins, our body’s natural “feel good” chemicals, are automatically released.
The benefits of laughter and even the benefits of a simple smile extend far beyond physical changes. Laughter is very strong medicine. It brings our mind, body and spirit into quick and meaningful balance. The depth and breadth of our sense of humor go hand in hand with having a positive attitude and building resilience. (Read more about building resilience in my March 14, 2015 Blog Post)
So, how do you promote humor and laughter in your life? Find your resources and keep them handy. Perhaps make a list of books, videos and/or movies that are sure to bring a smile to your face – and a deep, down belly laugh to your heart and soul. And don’t keep your sense of humor a secret. Laughter is contagious. Share it freely. Hang out with some funny people. Come to my Stand-up Comedy Recital on August 9. I promise to be funny.