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  • Robin Dynes


My office door opened a foot. A blonde head and a smiling face appeared. 'Are you going to stay in there skiving all day?'

Tony is in his late twenties, six foot tall, slim and walks with a limp. He is prone to bouts of depression. He has twice attempted suicide while under the influence of alcohol - once by jumping off a bridge, hence the limp, and once by taking an overdose. Most days he is full of frivolity and mischief. He lightens up the activities he takes part in but his jokiness can also be irritating at times.

'Give me five minutes and I'll come and join you,' I say. I hear him go off down the corridor giggling.

I have talked to Tony about his use of humour.

'It's how I cope,' he said. 'When I get up in the morning I feel sluggish and down. I really don't want to face the day. To try to bring myself out of it I poke fun at myself and the silly things I sometimes do. Other times I ring my brother and we have a laugh over the phone. I keep a book of jokes I have heard so I can rehearse them. Some mornings I practice telling them or I listen to tapes or watch funny TV shows I've recorded. I need something to help me get things into proportion and take me out of myself; otherwise I can become more despondent as the day progresses.'

Tony uses humour to help him boost his mood and face the day. People's experience has led to the current view that humour makes an important contribution to both physical and mental health. It can provide a sense of control over feelings of helplessness and fear.

The benefits of humour

Laughter benefits us in many ways, including:

· Stimulating the immune system and counteracting the effects of stress. It helps us to relax automatically and naturally, thus reducing tension.

· Helping to change perspective when dealing with negative life events. It enables us to gain some emotional distance from something bothering us, thus reducing the negative effects and enabling us to be more optimistic and make conscious efforts to seek alternative solutions to problems.

· Helping us bond with others and to keep relationships strong. It is so much easier to make and stay friends with someone who shares a sense of humour and who is fun to be with.

· Increasing tolerance to pain. If you are having fun, enjoying yourself and feel relaxed you are less aware of the pain, gain a more positive mood and a lift to how you feel.

· Keeping minor problems in perspective. If a person feels more optimistic, has some emotional distance, then minor problems are less likely to get blown out of proportion.

· Increasing a sense of control. When we laugh, even in difficult circumstances, it creates a feeling that we have risen above it and a sense that we are more in control of our reactions to the situation with which we have to deal.

Ten ways to promote humour and laughter.

1. Form a humour club to share humour. Laughter in isolation is not nearly so effective as humour shared. The first thing to do when the group meets is to find out the sort of humour that appeals to members. Discuss what kinds of films, TV sit-coms, cartoons, jokes, books, etc. people find funny. What do they dislike or find distasteful? Get them to think about what makes them laugh - jokes, funny stories, spontaneous or witty remarks. Does anyone act funny? Do they laugh at themselves? This will give you a good idea of the sort of things you can do and organise to promote humour and laughter.

2. Put up reminders to laugh and find humour in life. Display these in the centre, home or environment in which you live or work.

3. Fake laughter when angry, anxious or feeling down and note the affect it has on the way you feel. Faking laughter in a group is really effective. Once one person begins it is difficult for others not to start smiling and laughing. Try it and see!

4. Keep a humour journal. Note down any jokes or things you see that makes you chuckle. This might be something in a book, seen on TV, anecdotes, puns or jokes told by someone else. You can then reflect on these at the end of the day and share some of them with others and at a humour club meeting.

5. Watch humorous film or TV shows. If sharing these with others, take into account the type of humour the others enjoy.

6. If in a group, discuss the role of humour in life and identify ways people can increase humour in their lives.

7. Cultivate an ability on being able to see the funny side of things. Imagine extreme scenarios when feeling irritated or annoyed. For example, when waiting in a queue to imagine still being there in two days’ time, the family bringing sandwiches, celebrating a birthday with friends while still waiting, having a barbecue, etc. Think about situations that have irritated or angered you and make up extreme scenarios.

8. Develop the habit of asking yourself: ‘What will I find funny about this situation when I look back next week or next year?’ Situations don’t always seem funny at the time but when we reflect back on them at a later date we can see the funny element and laugh at ourselves. Think of your experiences that were not funny at the time, but seem so looking back.

9. If you form a group you could engage a laughter therapist or facilitator to run one or more laughter sessions. There are many now available in most areas.

10. Write or get the group members to write a short situation comedy or story. Alternatively, produce a short show in which various members of the group write and perform their own separate act. This might include limericks, stand-up style jokes or short sketches. Material could be based on entries in a humorous journal they have kept. Or they could obtain copies of a comedy play from the local library and have fun enacting this.

When not to use humour Be aware and make others aware of the need to be sensitive to whether other people are responding positively or negatively to their humour. Individuals may not share the same sense of what is funny, be in pain or just not in the mood. Other times when humour is not appropriate include:

· When someone is trying to come to terms with an emotional crisis, needs to cry or to have some quiet time on their own.

· When another person is trying to communicate something that is important to them. This will destroy any sense of rapport or bonding.

· Using it in a way that belittles, mocks, is sarcastic, a put-down or prejudicial. Also, ethnic jokes must be avoided. Disguised as humour, all this is both hurtful and harmful.

· Copyright – Robin Dynes

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