The topic of this article is something very near and dear to me - HUMOR. Maintaining a sense of humor is something that can, all too often, get neglected and/or lost amongst the numerous stressors we are faced with on a daily basis. With that in mind, I’d like to start with a few goofy jokes:

What did one hat say to the other? (You stay here – I’ll go on ahead.)

What did the pirate say on his 80th birthday? (Aye matey.)

Did you hear about the restaurant on the moon? (Great food, no atmosphere.)

I recently read an article on the importance of maintaining a positive sense of humor and the ability to laugh – especially during challenging times in our lives. I’m certain most of us would have no trouble agreeing that the last couple of years have been just that - quite challenging. No matter our opinion on what have often times become divisive topics, one thing we have in common is that those topics have become very anxiety provoking and stressful parts of our lives.

The article served as a reminder that it can be easy for us to lose our sense of humor and willingness/desire to laugh when times get tough. Thinking about that led me to the most recent books I have read: The first was “LAUGHTER YOGA – Daily Practices for Health and Happiness;” the second was “THE BOOK OF JOY” – co-authored by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Those two books were full of practical advice regarding how to utilize humor and laughing for both physical and mental health benefits.

As Mark Twain said – “Humor is the great thing, the saving thing after all. The minute it crops up, all our hardnesses yield, all our irritations and resentments flit away and a sunny spirit takes place.”

Even though humor & laughing research is still a relatively new field, preliminary studies have discovered a staggering number of significant correlations between laughter and improving both our physical and mental health through things such as:

1) Boosting our immune system
2) Having a more positive affect as smiling and laughing can help to increase serotonin (neurotransmitter often regarded as playing a role in depression) levels in the brain
3) Helping to alleviate anxiety and lowering stress hormones (such as cortisol)
4) Boosting our cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure, lowering our resting heart rate, reducing muscle tension and increasing blood flow
5) Helping to alleviate pain by encouraging the release of endorphins (our body’s natural painkillers)
6) Improving self-esteem
7) Easing tension in relationships
8) Easing the negative physiological impact of anger and helping to facilitate forgiveness sooner
9) Higher quality/more productive social interactions as it could lead to drawing people together
10) More focused attention and more rational decision making as scans have shown higher levels of activity in the brain associated with those tasks

The list goes on and on …

The late Dr. Robert Provine – often regarded as the nation’s leading authority on laughter research – said that a person can’t feel anxious, angry or sad when they’re laughing. Dr. Clifford Kuhn (Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Louisville) – known as the laugh doctor – has stated that if laughter could become the nation’s latest health craze, we would all be much healthier – physically and mentally. Having seen the increased productivity of employees in environments where humor is part of the daily routine, Stanford has recently instituted a “Humor in the Workplace” course as a part of their MBA program.

I have spent 30 years in the classroom – at both the secondary and college levels. At the end of most days over those many years, I took the time to reflect upon how things went, what worked well, what things were a flop, was it a good teaching day or was it a lousy one …
Inevitably, the days that seem to have been the most productive were days when the students and I had opportunities to laugh and smile with one another. Those days that I regarded as not having gone real smoothly were the ones that were dry and mundane.

As Danish comedian – Victor Borge – once commented, “A smile is the shortest distance between two people, and we feel closest to one another when we can laugh together.” How true that seems to be when thinking about building our relationships with others.

I’d like to close with a quote from the Archbishop Desmond Tutu - “I don’t think I woke up and presto I was funny. I think it is something you can cultivate. Like anything else, it is a skill. Yes – it does help if you have the inclination – and especially if you can laugh at yourself, so learn to laugh at yourself. It’s really the easiest place to begin. It’s about humility. Laugh at yourself and don’t be so pompous and serious. If you start looking for the humor in life, you will find it. You will stop asking, 'Why me?' And start recognizing that life happens to all of us. Humor makes everything easier, including your ability to accept others and accept all that life will bring.”

Here's hoping that we can all find a little more time in our lives to relax and laugh!