A Sense of Humor is Good For Your Health and Good For Business

Do the best you can, and don’t take life too serious.”
 ~ Will Rogers

Will Rogers (1879-1935) was considered one of the wisest men of his time and one of the greatest wits. He once said, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” That might seem like a bit of a stretch for most humans, but a twist on that statement might be the advice many parents have given to their children: Always try to find something good in everyone you meet.” The same could be said of every situation: try to find the silver lining even in the darkest of clouds. Because being positive not only places you in a healthy frame of mind, the bonus is it’s one of the top qualities employers seek in a job candidate.

Think about the people you like to be around the most. Are they smart, upbeat, friendly and helpful? Do they have a sharp wit, great sense of humor, a strong code of ethics and a positive outlook? Do they tend to be more thoughtful and unpretentious, and demonstrate understanding and empathy toward others? Do they smile easily and often?

It Starts With a Smile

I’ve written about your smile being your most powerful secret weapon, and it’s true. Smiling at others can improve your day and make others feel better about themselves and about you. Smiling, as well as laughing, is good for your health and good for business.

Smiling helps you to bond with others, get your point across and make people feel good when they are around you. If you also see the humor in situations — if you make people laugh and forget their worries –you can more easily exercise your influence and authority. You’ve broken the ice and spread warmth and joy.

Laughter is the Best Medicine

Smiling can also lead to laughter, and both are healing. We all need a bit of comic relief now and then from the stress of life. For many years, people relieved stress by reading the “Laughter is the Best Medicine,” section of the Reader’s Digest, and now there is a collection available to relive that enjoyment and have some laughs.

And a true story of how one man decided that laughter could save his very life is the experience of Norman Cousins, legendary journalist and publisher who became better known for laughing in the face of death. In 1964, Mr. Cousins was told by his doctor that he had a rare disease and only months to live. Not a quitter by nature, he decided to take matters into his own hands; working with another doctor he combined massive doses of Vitamin C with laughter, watching endless funny TV shows and movies, especially Marx Brothers films. Amazingly, he wound up extending his life for another 26 years! Of course, it could be that Mr. Cousins would have recovered in any case because misdiagnoses and inaccurate prognoses are not unheard of. But it is still an extraordinary story that is documented in his book, Anatomy of an Illness: As Perceived By The Patient.

Satirical comedy is so popular because it makes us laugh at everyday problems, chases our fears away and gives our anger a constructive outlet. How many times have we’ve laughed at the humor and satire of Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, John Stewart and friends and Saturday Night Live?

But…Just What Does Having a Sense of Humor Mean?

Having a sense of humor is not exactly the same as being a funny, witty person. It simply means that you are able to see the humor in many situations, that you have a light side that can balance out tense moments. People with strong senses of humor also tend to take themselves less seriously and can be philosophical about problems they encounter.

It’s important to note, however, that one’s sense of humor must be called upon in an appropriate manner. That’s where emotional intelligence comes in; humor must be used with great sensitivity, kindness and empathy — and good timing. It’s essential to understand thoroughly the situation and the people involved, and feel confident in making a humorous observation. Sometimes people stumble when they misread a situation and make what they think is a humorous comment only to have it fall flat because it’s inappropriate, offensive or even cruel. So while a sense of humor can go a long way in solidifying professional reputations and relationships, using it improperly can result in the opposite.

When Not to Laugh — and When We Just Can’t Help It

There are times when we laugh precisely when we’re not supposed to. You know the feeling, when a laugh insists on bubbling up and escaping your lips, and the harder you try the more impossible it becomes to suppress it? I’ve experienced that kind of laugh a few times like that myself, and they comprised some of the weirdest moments. There’s one from my youth that I’ll never forget. I was a child in church and the pastor we had at the time was one of those fire and brimstone sorts. For some reason — probably because we were late — my mother and one of my friends and I wound up sitting in the first pew right under the pulpit. As the pastor was getting up a strong head of steam my friend caught my eye and we were done for. Our faces screwed up to try to keep from laughing, but soon our shoulders were shaking, tears were streaming down our faces and our noses were running, but not a sound came out of us. My mother glanced over at us and was about to reprimand us when suddenly her face contorted as she tried not to laugh at us. We all had to remove ourselves and sit out the rest of the service in the vestibule.

So…just for laughs…let’s take a look at a few vintage scenes in which some comedians were not supposed to laugh but couldn’t help themselves, and stroll down memory lane with the brilliant Mary Tyler Moore when she, as Mary Richards, attends the funeral service of Chuckles the Clown:

Tim Conway – in a Carol Burnett Show skit with Harvey Korman, who cannot contain himself.

SNL at Disneyland – with the SNL cast and guests having some difficulty getting through it.

Mary Tyler Moore – who has trouble keeping a straight face at the funeral service for Chuckles the Clown.

And if you’re looking for summer reading that will prompt anywhere from chuckles to flat out hysterics, try these:

For J.K. Rowling fans:

Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them (not the screenplay, but the textbook that is required reading for Hogwarts first-year students), by Newt Scamander, and Quidditch Through The Ages, by Kennilworthy Whisp (I laughed my way through both delightful books.)

For light mystery fans:

Janet Evanovich – The Stephanie Plum Series (start at the beginning)

Dorothy Cannell – The Ellie Haskell Series (again, start at the beginning)

Donald Westlake – The John Dortmunder Series

Why Do We Laugh?

We laugh for so many different reasons. Sometimes the way someone speaks or a particular situation will prompt an amusing memory, or a private joke will pass silently between two people at an inopportune moment. Other times we might laugh because we are nervous or scared. And have you ever seen one person in a group start laughing, prompting others to laugh helplessly even though they have no idea what is so funny?

We all have the capacity to laugh; it’s part of our human makeup from the time we are infants. Therefore, despite all the tension and worries with which we must cope, keep your sense of humor and remember what Will Rogers said, and you can get through most anything.

Until next time,


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