Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Let's Laugh!

Let's Laugh!

You know it's a no-frills airline when...*They don't sell tickets, they sell chances. *All the insurance machines in the terminal are sold out. *You see a man with a gun, but he's demanding to be let off the plane.

If at first you don't succeed, then skydiving is not for you.

The prospective father-in-law asks, "Young man, can you support a family?" The surprised groom-to-be replies, "Well, no, I was just planning to support your daughter. The rest of you will have to fend for yourselves!"

What is 2000 pounds of Chinese soup? "Won ton." What is the time between slipping on a peel and smacking the pavement? "One bananosecond."

I hope you are smiling, chuckling or laughing. If you find any of these jokes funny, I hope you are trying to remember the joke and commit it to memory so that you can laugh again and again. To be perfectly honest, dear reader, I was having so much fun looking up jokes that I almost didn't finish writing this column!

You may remember the last column I wrote on teasing, the downside of humor which can be playful but often is hostile and hurtful. (You can find the column on the September Southern Neighbor website or in the Reading Room of my website.) It occurred to me that I should write about the positive value of good humor in our lives. Dr. Google has a number of websites detailing the value of humor and laughter for good health. You will find that humor improves the immune system and reduces pain and disease. I won't describe all this information here. I think you know instinctively that humor feels good, improves mood, reduces stress and helps us carry on more cheerfully through the difficult parts of our lives. I've written elsewhere about the survival value of the fight/flight/freeze responses of the sympathetic nervous system in alerting us to danger. Modern life often keeps our adrenaline and cortisol levels chronically high, and we need to seek out positive influences such as humor to counterbalance the stress responses.

One research finding is worthy of comment: people who use humor frequently benefit the most from humor. In other words, if you really want to improve your life through humor, you'd better get going. I don't know if a laugh a day keeps the doctor away, but why not find out? So, every day look for and seek out opportunities to enjoy humor and work up a good laugh as often as possible. I enjoyed myself doing research for this column, and I will share a few of my results. I found some web sites with jokes I liked, including some sites which will send you jokes on a daily or weekly basis. The Good Clean Funnies List (www.gcfl.net) sends daily jokes and includes an archive page which lists the all time best jokes as rated by the readers. The Stress Humor and Health website (www.chy.com.au) will send you Friday Funnies jokes. Garrison Keillor's website (www.Prairiehome.org) has a Pretty Good Joke section. Caution: if you're browsing through Google or Yahoo, do be careful because offensive humor is plentiful. CDs, books and movies can help us improve our humor IQ. I found a website page (http://amazon.imdb.com/chart/comedy) which lists the top-rated comic movies.

Please note that humor varies from individual to individual. Do lawyers like lawyer jokes? I don't know. I really enjoy shrink jokes but I don't know if other therapists share this type of humor. One person's humor can be another person's insult. Be careful with jokes about people's roles. Would a new cook enjoy this joke? "My wife treats me like a god; she keeps giving me burnt offerings." Is this joke better? "My wife went to cooking school and majored in defrosting. She has the best meals you ever thaw." You should probably avoid jokes about people's names. Names are an important part of a person's identity, and name jokes can be offensive. Furthermore, people with unusual names probably have already heard all possible jokes about their name.

We can find many types of so-called humor around us, some of which we should avoid. In doing research on happiness and depression, I found that TV sitcoms are actually rated by viewers as mildly depressing. Let's not emulate the life of a couch potato.

A lot of advice-givers suggest that you should laugh at yourself. I would like to add a word of caution about this type of advice. It's much too easy to put yourself down with self-directed jokes. If other people join in the "fun" you may end up feeling worse than ever. My suggestion in using humor to heal your hurts is as follows: first distract yourself from the problem by seeking out impersonal humor such as I've described in this column and later go back to re-examine your problem, soothe your hurt feelings and resolve the issue if problem-solving is in order.

If you watch children you will find that they have fun, play and laugh naturally and frequently. Sometimes we are tempted to call children or childish behavior "silly" and exhort young people to "grow up." Let's re-examine this advice, because growing up should not mean abandoning natural humor and enjoyment of life.