Jest for the Health of It!
by Dr. Joseph Michelli
Humor truly represents a set of skills which increase our capacity to stay fluid and flexible when we think our lives are out of control.
Humor skill development emphasizes shifting cognitive sets from tracking negatives to tracking positives.
The novelist Arthur Koestler wrote that laughter is a reflex but unique in that it has no apparent biological purpose. One might call it a luxury reflex. Its only function seems to be to provide relief from tension. From Mr. Koestler’s perspective, laughter and humor skills have little value. Thanks, however, to the work of psychoneuroimmunologists and our own clinical experiences we know that, if laughter isn’t “the best medicine,” it certainly is a component in emotional and physical health and well-being.
Consistent with health care reform throughout American, emphasis has been placed on preventative, low cost measures to decrease stress and improve immune functioning. Clinics have emerged emphasizing the acquisition of autogenic, relaxation, exercise, stretching, and visualization skills. Although these skills serve to assist the body to adapt to stressors; in the environment, they offer little immediate help when acute stressors attack. Going into a trance, for example, is contraindicated when frustrated with rush-hour traffic, and jogging is typically discouraged during stressful business meetings. Humor skills, however, serve to lighten us up when the elevator stops at every floor, or the person in front of us has 30 items in the express lane. Humor, fun, and laughter skills help us exert biochemical warfare on our fears and provide for maintenance of our hope.
If you are a serious type and professionally seek some scientific data before you accept the notion that humor has health maintenance properties, feel free to read the rest of this paragraph; if not, skip lightly to the paragraphs that follow. William Fry, Jr., MD, of the Department of Psychiatry at Stanford University Medical Center, has shown that sustained frequent laughter helps lower blood pressure and that 20 seconds of laughter is the cardiovascular equivalent of 3 minutes of strenuous rowing. Dr. Gary Schwartz of the Yale University Department of Psychology found that exercising while angry or sad decreased the cardiovascular and biochemical benefits of exercise, and that exercising in a positive and playful environment increased the health benefits of the workout by as much as one-half. Doesn’t this information make you want to open a health club devoid of exercise equipment but filled with clowns and comics?
Humor truly represents a set of skills which increase our capacity to stay fluid and flexible when we think our lives are out of control. Teaching humor skills involves assisting people to define a disciplined sense of joy in living, the ability to take oneself lightly while taking one’s job seriously, and the vision to see the absurdity in difficult situations. Humor skill development emphasizes shifting cognitive sets from tracking negatives to tracking positives. It explores the need to let go of control in certain situations and to step back to gain perspective. It addresses the importance of changing our reactions to situations as opposed to changing the situations themselves. Most importantly, it permits people to be silly, playful, and less depreciating.
In the nursing profession, humor skills are yours to master and yours to share. There are probably a few people (doctors, colleagues, and patients) who could use some humor today, jest for the health of it.
Copyright 2005 by Dr. Joseph Mitchelli. Reprinted with permission. Joseph is a professional (and funny) motivational speaker based in Colorado. You can reach Joseph at www.HumorProfits.com