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LESSONS

ON

HUMOR

Introduction

Humor is fun. Most individuals love to laugh. When is the last time you had a good belly laugh? I mean a laugh that brought tears to your eyes and really made your stomach hurt. It's probably been a long time since you've experienced this and yet, when we have one, we feel so much better both physically and mentally. Why don't we laugh more? In fact, children laugh a lot more that adults do. Probably as we grow older we tend to get embarrassed easier and think that we should be more serious. Sometimes we learn this in school. For example, many teachers look more favorably at the serious student. As a child, I remember being told to get that "smirk off your face" and to "grow up". These kinds of attitudes can stifle humor rather than fertilize it. SMILE!

Humor and laughter should be taken seriously, yet, humor itself is not serious and therein lies a paradox. Because of this paradox we have avoided studying humor although that is beginning to change.

The use of humor in healthcare settings has been extensively studied by Vera Robinson, R.N., Ph.D., who concluded that the need to laugh is as basis as the need for love, security or faith. Other researchers have found that laughter stimulates the production of pain killing endorphins. In his book, Anatomy of an Illness, Norman Cousins, makes a strong case in favor of laughter both as an addition to the positive emotions of a patient and also as good medicine and ascribes his recovery from a crippling disease, in part, to laughter.

Laughter is a physical act which exercises your lungs and breathing muscles and stimulates the circulatory system. During laughter, your chest, abdomen and face get a vigorous workout. Your entire cardiovascular system can benefit by the increased oxygen in the blood.

And once, laughter is over and you have laughed hard enough, you know that laughter is nature's tranquilizer. The release of tension and surplus energy may cause muscles to go limp and relaxation to occur, which in turn relieves stress.

Humor is much more that laughter. It can trigger laughter which is a physical act but it doesn't necessarily have to. Persons with good senses of humor are not always laughers, and visa versa. Humor exists in our spirit. It has to do with our attitudes and is a part of our mental and emotional make-up.

The Patient and Caregivers

Humor can help to improve one's quality of life. In my estimation it should be a part of every activity department and every family. We need to promote humor programs by offering our loved ones the opportunity to participate in laugh-ins, watching comedy tapes, sharing personal funny stories, and using props which may stimulate laughter and smiles.

Caregivers also need to have humor become a routine within their daily schedules. They need to understand that it can be a coping mechanism and a tool in communication. When individuals are going through trying times we can support them by encouraging them to see things in a light-hearted way. We can see this disease or illness as a hopeless time or as a chance to take stock of our life. Humor can be used as a tool to celebrate life.

Humor can temporarily take away the upsets in our life. We need to allow humor to happen, to be open to it, use it, not push it away or try to force it. Just let it come into our world and the world of our loved ones, families and medical people we have to deal with.

Techniques

Learn to think funny. Look for the funny and outrageous side of every situation. Laugh at life's situations , not at someone, EXAGGERATE!

Learn to laugh at yourself, not in a put-down way but in a way to say it's OK to make mistakes and still laugh about it. Don't take yourself too seriously, but do take your responsibilities toward others as serious.

Share your laughter with others. Assess the situation, know the audience, establish rapport, and ask if the humor is appropriate, timely and useful. At first, practice humor. This is risky because at its best, humor should be spontaneous; but to become skilled we must learn the process. We can help set the stage for humor to happen.

Do an assessment. A funny bone history. Ask these questions:

The humor itself should be based on the initiator's own style, the situation, the content, and the need.

Once the humor interaction has occurred, then evaluate it. Did it reduce tension, promote laughter, convey a message, or improve one's quality of life for a moment in time?

Summary

Human beings have been endowed with humor. We need to understand that it is much more than fun, laughter, and trivia. It goes to the soul of who we are. It is mind, body and spirit. It is attitude. As caregivers we need to understand that it is a healthy, meaningful tool that we can learn to develop, promote, and use more in our own lives and the lives of the loved ones we care for. It helps all of us to live more enriching lives and definitely provides a balance to our sometimes stressful life.

In the total car of our loved ones, humor is one tool that should be used as a way of communicating, coping, teaching, and enjoying life. It is appropriate if it is used in the right situation, with the appropriate content, and at the right time. Finally, I will end with a quote from Joel Goodman, "Humor is such a great gift--why leave it to chance?"