Our bodies are intricately designed, so that when a breakdown occurs in one area, due to stress, it can have an adverse effect on other parts of our body. Stress is the body’s reaction to a demand made upon it. Unfortunately, stress is all around us and we do not have to look far to find stressed–out people, whether at work or at home.
In these fast-paced days there are increasingly heavy demands being placed on our emotional and physical well-being. Because of these demands we at times may break down and give in to the emotions of fear and anger, resulting in rigidity of thinking and behaviour. At this stage we may begin to feel like things are out of control, precipitating paranoid thinking. Thankfully, there is one important antidote that has been shown to provide relief from this dilemma, which if utilized wisely can restore us back to productive living. I’m speaking of humour, or more specifically, playfulness and laughter.
Dr. Kenneth Pelltier, author of Longevity: Fulfilling Our Biological Potential, travelled to Pakistan, the Sudan, Mexico and other areas to study the secrets of longevity among people who claimed to be 120 to 150 years old. His study revealed that many of these people possessed similar traits, the most striking of which were their vigour, humor and love of life. Many of us, too, have acquaintances who, though up in years, also possess the same joyful attitude as those found in Pelltier’s study. Gathering from this, therefore, we can assume that integrating humor into our everyday life experiences can contribute much to our health and long life.
Our physiological make-up as human beings has three components: the mind, the emotions and the body. The mind is the rudder that directs our emotions which in turn directs our subsequent actions. When the mind operates at or above its potential, it increases our mental flexibility, giving us the capacity to think clearly and creatively, while at the same time enabling us to block out negative emotions. This can give us a shift in perspective, enabling us to see humor in just about anything, even in mistakes and failures. To see humour in this way is helpful to those who deal with life-and-death situations, helping them stay sane and flexible even in the midst of unpleasant circumstances.
With change occurring rapidly around us, we cannot afford to be caught in mental ruts. Change and adaptation are the mode of the day. Fortunately, humor brings incongruity; that is, we get the opposite of what we expected, giving us the needed shift in perspective. Looking at potential stressful situations with a humorous eye is what it is all about. At a crowded event a quadriplegic friend of mine, while in his wheelchair, quipped, “At least I can always find a seat in a crowded auditorium.”
Have you ever sat down to tackle a project and then experienced a mental block? After taking a few minutes for a break, possibly a musical interlude, looking out the window, or physically stretching your mental block disappeared and you were able to finish the task.
In his book, Humor Works, Dr. John Morreall tells of how humor helped turn around the fortunes of the Xerox Company. Management decided to set up a project to be housed in a dilapidated warehouse which they named Skunk Works. The employees were instructed to leave the building in its broken-down state, to come and go as they pleased, and wear whatever they wished. All the usual office restrictions were lifted, and their only task was to be creative and innovative, and have fun at the same time. Projects were given humorous names such as “Bulldog” and “Chainsaw.” The employees were relaxed, creative and productive. Amazingly, through this change of perspective, and even without the usual rules and leadership of an authoritarian boss, Skunk Works managed to succeed in saving Xerox Company millions in research dollars.
In addition to the mental and emotional benefits mentioned, humor also benefits a person’s physical being. In 1960, Dr. William Fry of Stanford Medical School began studying the physical benefits of humour. His study and others like it, show that laughter is very beneficial in reducing the levels of physical pain. He also found that laughter gives the muscles of the upper body a workout that releases six times more oxygen into the lungs than talking alone. Another benefit is the increased blood circulation which occurs through laughter. In fact, Dr. Fry stated that twenty seconds of hearty laughter gives the heart the same exercise as three minutes of hard rowing.
In his book, Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by a Patient, Norman Cousins wrote of his own journey from an illness?in which the connective tissue of his spine was disintegrating?to full recovery. By his own admission, he had made himself sick from overwork. Scrutinizing his lifestyle, he began to make some changes. One key decision he made was to let loose his laughing spirit. As he watched humorous videos and visited with humorous friends, he found that ten minutes of belly laughter brought him two hours of pain-free sleep. Gradually, through laughter and other lifestyle changes, he regained his health and became free from the devastating disease.
An incident that I experienced recently brought home the value of humor in reducing stress and maintaining optimum health. Six months ago, I encountered a number of deadlines that needed to be met in a very short time, almost impossible for even two people to meet. Nevertheless I pushed on, developing in the process a severe headache that no medication in the house could relieve. With my head pounding, as if it was about to explode, I sat on the couch, petted the family dog and watched the children play nearby. In this relaxed state I soon became detached from my problems, felt the stress lift and my headache disappear.
As we can see, it is important to disengage our minds in stressful moments from what is troubling us and allow humor and playfulness to take over. Remember, laughing about something will help you from getting stressed about it. It even states in the Bible, “A merry heart does good like a medicine,” a good motto to follow indeed.