Laughlines: Don’t forget to laugh today
On what was once a peaceful planet and now appears to be our solar system’s biggest crime scene, the world is in need of humour. It’s a big world and as hard as he tries, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford can’t do it all by himself.
Whereas laughter was once a bit of a bonus, it is now a vital ingredient to a happier, healthier life.
Given the complex workings of the human body, the immediate benefits of a good bout of laughter are quite remarkable. First the heart rate drops and blood pressure eases off. More oxygen is added to the blood and then, endorphins are released in the brain, characterized as a “natural high.” A calmness takes over the brain, assisted by the fact that when you’re laughing you can’t possibly be worrying.
Studies show that laughter boosts the immune system, helping to fight off infection. People who laugh a lot get fewer colds and have a higher tolerance of pain because of the immunoglobulin produced in the process.
But it’s got to be a good laugh, eh? Not a tepid ha ha – “don’t bend over in the garden Granny, you know them taters have eyes” – kind of laugh. This is the kind of belly-laugh you get while retelling the story of how your husband, while teeing off at the Humane Society Golf Tournament, took a mighty swing, ripped his pants, fell down and made a noise that frightened the “Adopt Me Dog of the Week.” When you make that snorgeling noise and root beer comes out your nose, the health benefits of laughter are definitely in high gear.
Dr. Madan Katria of Mumbai, India believed laughter played such a vital role in boosting the morale of people living in the slums of Mumbai that he started a laugh club. Each person brought a piece of humour and the hysterical response of the group produced better benefits than therapy. Today there are a thousand laugh clubs around the world and over 50 in Canada. Laughter being immediately contagious, jokes are no longer needed. They just meet, fall down laughing and go home happy.
In the workplace, laughter lightens the mood and boosts morale, thus reducing stress. Humour in a place of business creates camaraderie among employees and wards off burnout. Acting as an emotional stimulant, laughter at work in measured doses can’t help but increase productivity and longevity of employment. Most employees rate a pleasant and happy work environment higher than a wage increase when listing reasons they like their job.
But you have to be very careful. Humour is perilously subjective. As American humourist Ray Blount Jr. was fond of saying: “A good joke is like a hefty sneeze. If it’s any good at all, somebody’s going to get some on them.”
The working title of Margaret And Me, a book I wrote about my wee Irish mother, was: All Humour Needs A Victim And Your Mother Should Come First! I changed the title because at 89 years of age, she threatened to get a lawyer. We settled out of court. Yet part of that title “all humour needs a victim” is true.
Choose your victims wisely. One workplace study shows that 70 per cent of jokes told in the workplace mock their co-workers’ age, sex or weight. This not only defeats all the benefits of laughter, but the real butt of the joke, yours, will find itself in a real bind.
The best victim of humour is always you. Self-deprecating humour, poking fun at yourself, is a solid and safe form of humour.
“Sorry about all that waving,” said Jerry Seinfeld. “I couldn’t control my arms. I shouldn’t have been at that meeting. I was just a puppet in there.”
The next best victim is us. All of us. Observational humour that takes all of us to task for our human foibles is safe by inclusiveness.
The biting satirist Mark Twain was funny but inoffensive because he held all humans to the same (low) standard. “Familiarity,” said Twain, “breeds contempt … and children.”
Twain’s stress-reducer? “When angry, count to four. When very angry, swear.”
Looking at the state of the world, then and now, no words ring truer than Twain’s take on people. “Man is the only animal that blushes. Or has need to.”
To get more laughter in your life and humour in your workplace, be creative. Some hospitals in the States have “humour carts” full of everything from rubber chickens to water pistols to remind the sick that fun should be part of their healing program. Some corporations have “humour rooms” with comedy videos, gags and humour tapes to give their employees a quick jolt of laughter instead of caffeine. The U.S. Digital Equipment Company has deputized a “grouch patrol” whereupon happy employees put on big red noses and swarm the office of the cranky guy.
Nearly a century and a half ago, President Abe Lincoln understood the benefits of humour. “Gentlemen,” he said to his cabinet members, “Why don’t you laugh? With the fearful strain that is with me night and day, if I did not laugh, I should die.”
For comments, ideas and copies of The True Story of Wainfleet, go to williamthomas.ca