Thursday, October 25, 2012

YES: Humor is Profitable!

One of my colleagues remarked recently that humor is difficult to "sell".  I have yet to meet anyone who says that humor is not important, but what does it take for companies to "buy" training in humor development? Are skills like creativity and humor even on the radar of Human Resource Departments or have they ever flickered across the minds of company executives?

Creativity is the ability of the brain to bring together diverse ideas that will generate the thinking necessary for complex problem solving. Humor and creativity are great companions, each a perfect complement for the other in nourishing thinking. Risk-taking is the nucleus of creativity and of humor; the freedom to express wild ideas activates spirited conversation and sparks the imagination. Creativity and positivity flourish when accompanied by a sense of humor.

Forward thinking executives realize that the old solutions don't work any more. It takes creativity and practice to be able to change thinking and increase productivity.  Exploring the benefits of creative thinking has reaped big benefits for companies like Google.  Google has unorthodox “rules” for employee behavior.  Their web site states that employees can create their office environment by showcasing team interests and personality.  Bikes are often used for efficient travel between meetings.  It is not unusual to see dogs, lava lamps and massage chairs in office spaces.  There are volleyball courts, pianos, ping-pong tables and pool tables.  Healthy lunches are served in the cafĂ© with snacks and drinks in the break rooms.  This is not your typical workplace, but it sure sounds like a fun place to work.  One reason Google has been so successful is because of their emphasis on creativity and fun. 

Humor increases the potential for divergent thinking and the capacity for solving complex problems. By linking diverse areas of the brain, humor forges new neural connections  involving previously existing concepts. Voila: creativity flourishes. This means that it is essential to encourage the employees in your organization "think outside the box,"  Humor is a viable way to do this!

Excerpts in this blog are taken from my new book, Using Humor to Maximize Living. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Humordoomers; Bullying Behavior

January can be a cold and depressing month in the Midwest.  Trying to liven up my workplace during a particularly dark day, I suggested that we plan a "Hawaiian Day".  We could put on music, bring in beach foods,  pictures of sunny vacations. and have a trivia contest. In the midst of my excitement and during the crescendo of my planning, one of my co-workers looked at me with a sneer and said, "You don't have enough to do--do you?"  It was as if I was hit over the head with a conch.  

Thus the term, "humordoomer" was created, a definition that evolved from my reflections on this office event.  I wrote extensively about this in chapter 4 of my book, Using Humor to Maximize Learning.  The title of the chapter is: Hurtful Humor is No Laughing Matter.  

"A humordoomer is a person who consistently uses negative humor to control and manipulate others. Humorphobia breeds humordoomers, skilled crafters who use subtle techniques to suppress humor in the workplace. Humordoomers are usually unhappy individuals stressed by the dual demands of accountability and limited time constraints; they’re pessimistic leeches that can suck the humergy right out of you. Grown in a petri dish of fear and anger, these folks are threatened by joyful energy and enthusiasm. They often use humor to manipulate others and to maintain a level of control of their world. Their negative humor reflects their unhappy immersion in the confining straits of a workaholic world. Often their techniques are so woven into the fabric of a culture that not only are they unaware of their own webbing effect, their unsuspecting prey are oblivious as well."

Bullies are often humordoomers.  They use humor as a weapon to belittle and make fun of others.  There has been a lot written recently about bullying behavior, but not much on how they use negative humor control and manipulate others.  Again, this is  addressed in my articles on humor. 

"A bullying type of humor can be used to control what happens in relationships. When making fun of others, bullies are usually expressing internal fears because they are unable or unwilling to recognize their own emotional needs. Humor becomes a weapon of the bully, when used with the intentional purpose of wounding another.

"Bully behavior is frequently portrayed in the media as an acceptable method to express frustration, hostility, fears, and anger. The use of mockery and sarcasm allows the venting of anger. Jokes with the express purpose of making fun of others abound on television, in movies, and on the Internet. Our fears of difference in culture have often been expressed in jokes about Italians, Jews, Mexicans, gays, and religious entities. While often clever, these jokes perpetuate the bully mindset that it’s okay to make fun of individuals or groups. There is research to suggest that this type of humor can lead to violent behavior. "

Think about the humordoomers and bullies in your life.  When I facilitate workshops on humor, people are quickly able to identify these people in their lives.  I am always asked  how to deal with these folks.  There are numerous suggestions in my book as shown from this excerpt. 

"While difficult to deal with, there are some strategies that you can use to stimulate humordoomer reform. Attempt to identify the cause of the negative behavior exhibited by humordoomers and follow this with suggestions for change. This requires a loving attitude and skillful communication. (Note: these negative patterns of behavior are usually hardwired after years of repetition.) The following are strategies to combat stressed humordoomers (who are fearful and overwhelmed):

Kill them with kindness and understanding. Often people need someone to listen to them and empathize.
Identify the strengths in this person and tell them how much you appreciate this quality in them. It really helps if you have several staff members doing this.
 ‑Ask them what they are going to do to make things better. Encourage any attempts at improvement.

The following are strategies for pessimistic humordoomers (who are habitually negative):
 ‑Smile and say “If you tell me something awful, I need you to tell me three positive things. I just can’t handle negativity today!”
Do the broken record routine: “So what’s the good news?” Just keep repeating this with a laugh. If they come up with something positive, cheer and do cartwheels!

And the way to combat angry humordoomers, who are resentful and frustrated with a lack of control in their life and who are unable to express their feelings in positive ways; is to recognize that these folks may actually need more help then you are able to give. If you have the opportunity, suggest that they seek counseling and/or therapy."

Feel free to share your ideas and techniques for dealing with humordoomers  in the comment section below.  Personally, I consciously make an effort to try to include more positive people in my life and spend as little time as possible with humordoomers.  For more suggestions and ideas on what to do about negative folks, do check out my Humor Quest web site.  And join me in continuing to include more laughter and joy in your life!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Don't Laugh- I'm Serious!

"Are you going to make us laugh?"  Inevitably someone asks me this when I arrive to give one of my infamous presentations on the topic of humor.  So I usually say: "Of course not!  This is going to be  a serious session!"  And then they do laugh!

So many people associate humor with joke telling!  And although I do numerous presentations on brain health and humor,  I am not really a "joke teller".  My humor style is usually slight exaggeration, comparisons and gentle teasing.  But the pressure to at least try to tell jokes got to me one day. I had an important meeting to conduct for about 60 people and I decided that I would start with a joke.

After much practice, just to be sure that I remembered the punch line, I was ready.  I got up to the microphone and welcomed people, thanking them for being there.  And I told my joke.  There were a few groans and some embarrassed laughter. I was kind of frustrated because my joke seemed to have bombed.   After the meeting, I asked my good friend why she thought the joke did not go very well.  Somewhat sheepishly she looked at me and asked me if I  knew that the joke had a sexual innuendo  and was kind of naughty. I did not!  Those that know me will realize that I have never "gotten" those kind of jokes. I can only blame this inexperience on my 12 years in Catholic schools.  I still cannot believe that I was so naive, but the real problem is that I really still do not understand the hidden sexual meaning in this joke!

To this day, I remember cringing whenever I thought I saw someone from that meeting.  However, as with most of our life challenges, this story has served me well by becoming a great example in my workshops, of what NOT to do when trying to incorporate more humor in life.

The ability to tell jokes is a valued skill, but the ability to share humergy (the energy that comes from having a sense of humor) is even more important.  For more information on the benefits of humor, humergy and how to purposefully incorporate more humor in your life, check out my web site, Humor Quest   and my book, Using Humor to Maximize Living. 


Friday, September 14, 2012

When I Grow Up Wanna Be a Tap-Dancing Gypsy

Last week my 6-year-old granddaughter brought home a beautiful self-portrait. She said that her teacher asked them to draw what they were going to be when they grew up. With great detail my grandchild described the hat, shoes, and fancy clothing that depicted a tap-dancing gypsy. I sought to clarify her goals and after a little discussion, she asked me what a gypsy was. When she found out that it was someone who travels lightly and even wanders form place to place, she was quite satisfied with her decision.

After quite a bit of laughter with my daughter (her mom), I believe that I too want to be a tap-dancing gypsy when I grow up. I love to dance and move and hope that I can always enjoy the activity that comes to express joyful energy. I also know it is a powerful way to keep the brain engaged when the body is moving and active. So the tap-dancing sounds like something that I would like to try someday. 

Traveling like a gypsy and wandering around in a rather random pattern is a way that my husband and I like to travel sometimes. It is exciting to find adventure in new places and meet new people. Our favorite travel experiences have come from chatting with folks along the way…asking for their recommendations of places to explore in the area. Of course we always ask for the hometown restaurants that they enjoy.

 If you are familiar with my books and web site, you know that I believe that play is critical for optimal health and well being for the brain. Play keeps the brain active and engaged. Joyful play is essential for lifelong learning with humergy (the energy that comes from optimism, joy and humor).

 My granddaughter’s goals are mine too. I really never do want to “grow up”. I want to continue to do cartwheels, swing at the park and use the hula-hoop. And a tap-dancing gypsy sounds like an amazing and fun goal.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Becoming a Humor Being

“Today’s mighty oak is just yesterday’s nut that held its ground.”

In a nutshell, humor is a fundamental and integral core of our cognitive emotional growth. The fertile ground of trust and the elements of nurturing relationships are required for humor to take root. 

Humor is an often overlooked skill that many people take for granted.   A closer look finds that humor provides enormous benefits, including stress relief, maximizing learning, increasing creativity, improving communication skills, and creating an environment of trust. Humor is inseparable from our whole being. It is intrinsically woven into our emotional and social psyche reflecting our ethics and belief systems. A sense of humor defines the social and emotional psyche known as our humor being. 

Humor is usually thought of as something that makes you laugh or is amusing. However, a sense of humor is actually the capacity of a human being to respond to life challenges with optimistic amusement. There is a synergy evident in people who have such an optimistic sense of humor. Humergy is the energy that radiates the joyful optimism of our inner spirit, reflects our unique personality, and nourishes a healthy mind/body balance. 

When there is a combination of enthusiasm, energy, joy, and hope, there emerges a peak experience that can be identified as a sense of humor. The relatively new field of positive psychology strives to understand and promote the human potential that enables individuals and communities to thrive. Humor is one of the complex cognitive strengths that emerge connecting our basic temperament and our lifetime experiences.

Many people and organizations are contributing to the pioneering field of humor research.  I volunteer on the board of the international AATH (Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor).  The mission is to serve as the community of professionals who study, practice and promote healthy humor and laughter. 

Each person can improve their humor being by engaging in mindful humor practice.  Here are a few suggestions;
  • Notice what makes you laugh and keep a journal of the funny things that happen each day.
  • Hang out with optimistic and joyful people. Avoid humordoomers.
  • Practice laughing out loud.  Choose funny movies, books and television shows.
  • Engage in healthy humor practices. 
  • Observe your humor style. Notice what kind of humor you prefer-puns, jokes, stories or slapstick. 
  • Read my book, Using Humor to Maximize Living! 
A humorist facilitates the capacity of self and others to adapt to everyday events or global change, with laughter and optimistic humor.  How are you nurturing your humor being? 
“If you haven’t got a sense of humor, you haven’t any sense at all.”
Mary McDonald

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day

Mother's day is a time to celebrate all of the joyful energy that occurs between a mother and their child. That energy changes over time creating new learning opportunities for both. The brain of the new mom has fascinating structural changes according to Scientific American; A New Mom's Changing Brain .

"Using MRI, Kim and her colleagues at Yale University and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor produced detailed maps of the brains of 19 new mothers a few weeks after they gave birth. At around the same time, the researchers asked mothers to select words from a list of positive descriptors such as “beautiful,” “perfect” and “special” to describe how they felt about their babies and about their experience of parenting.
When the scientists mapped the mothers’ brains again about three months later, some areas had grown, including the hypothalamus, amygdala and substantia nigra—regions that animal studies suggest are involved with caring for, learning about and forming positive feelings toward newborns. The planning and decision-making part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, also grew. In addition, mothers who initially chose more of the positive words to describe their feelings about their babies showed more brain growth. The investigators do not yet know what causes what—if brain growth leads to more positive feelings, or vice versa—but the results indicate for the first time a connection between mothers’ subjective feelings and physical changes in the brain. Kim says they are planning more studies to investigate the phenomenon, including one that will look for similar changes in fathers."
This article helped me reflect on my own experiences as a mom. Most of the time I loved being a mother to four amazing kids. I remember rocking my infants and looking with wonder at these tiny miracles of life. However, there were also times when I wondered if I was going to survive the stressful challenges of balancing work and family. How could I possibly provide each of them what they needed from me. Often I struggled with trying to figure out exactly what they needed. Those days are a distant memory and yet I know that I learned so much from my experience as a mother.

Now I relish being a grandparent to 11 incredible grandchildren (with one more coming anytime). I able observe the feelings of joy and wonderment of being a parent through the eyes of my grown children and their wonderful spouses. It is a blessing to be a grandmother. I wonder if they will ever do a study on how the brain of a grandparent changes.

Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Play: Not just for kids

Last week, I had the opportunity to teach at an institute workshop for teachers in a k-12 district. One of the activities that I have developed is a Humor Styles Inventory. The purpose of doing this is to stimulate thinking about how our sense of humor impacts our communication style.

One of the questions is "How do you play?", and it gets the same puzzled inquiry each time. There seems to be a common belief that play is only for children. Yet play is critical for both children and adults according to Stuart Brown who wrote the book, " Play". In his TEDx video Play Is More Than Fun. he provides the rationale for play. It is not just joyful and energizing, it is integral to human development and intelligence. He has found that with enough play, the brain works better. Without play, life is a grinding and mechanical process organized around survival according to Brown.

Most early childhood educators realize the critical importance of play for young children. Children learn through play. Of all of the species, humans engage in the longest period of developmental play: and that length of play contributes to our level of intelligence. The research is quite clear about the importance of play for children. This is explored by Joan Almon in The Vital Role of Play in Early Childhood Education. I have written in the past about concerns on the current focus in education on assessment and accountability as undermining the importance of this research on play. This issue extends to the lack of play and fun in the adult world.

The opposite of play is not work--it is depression according to Brown. And stress and depression are saturating our world today. As usual at this workshop, I saw a lot of puzzled looks and fielded several questions asking what I meant by by the question about how they "play".

What did you enjoy as a child? Include these activities in your life again. Do a skip or jump, ride a bike, fly a kite, shoot marbles, play hopscotch, use the hula hoop. Try new games, and purposefully add unexpected fun into your life. Constantly seek to be with those who are full of joyful energy and avoid the humordoomers -those folks who can suck the energy right out of you.

One lady who lived to be 100 said the reason that she lived that long is that that she jumped every day. I encourage you to jump for joy and increase the play in your life. How do you play? Let me know!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Laughter and Mirror Imaging

There is fascinating research on the impact of mirror neurons on our ability to socialize and learn. At all stages we mirror the expressions and actions of those we are in relationship with. The universal practice of parents actively eliciting smiles and laughter is a great example of mirror neurons at work (or at play!). Isaiah is our youngest grandchild. His siblings and cousins have smothered him with kisses, hugs and laughter. At 4 weeks he was smiling and responding to their repeated attempts to get him to smile. If you use these same smiling techniques in your everyday life, smiling at strangers, laughing with your family, you will discover these mirror neurons at work. Of course the opposite is true. Negativity and frowns also stimulate the mirror neurons. Purposeful use of smiling and laughter can stimulate the positive energy that is possible through mirror neuron activation.

Laughter yoga groups have become popular in the past few years. These groups were initiated by Dr. Madan Kataria from India who felt that laughter could add to a healthy lifestyle. Research does show that laughter stimulates the release of endorphins and reduces stress.

Next week I will have the privilege of teaching a 3 hour graduate humor studies class called the Humor Academy at the international AATH (Association for Applied and Therapuetic Humor) conference in Chicago. This conference brings together an amazing group of professionals who are dedicated to sharing healthy humor and laughter. People who walk by the doors of our conference sessions always comment that it sure sounds like a lot of fun. The laughter flows spills out from the rooms and into the hallways. Do consider joining us April 19-22 at the beautiful O Hare Westin hotel! CE credits are available for nurses, social workers, counselors, and teachers. Registration is on line at

If you want to reduce stress, add some laughter and experience your mirror neurons at work-do join us! I promise the mirror on your wall will reflect your reduced stress and increased humergy.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Got Humergy?

"Can you come give a talk to our group? We really need a laugh. " So often when I am invited to speak, there is an expectation that I will tell jokes. The truth is that I do not really tell "jokes", although I usually do get quite a bit of laughter from the audience. Why do people think that humor means telling jokes? There seems to be a bit of confusion about what humor really is.

Humergy is first described by me in my book, Using Humor to Maximize Learning

Humergy is the energy that emerges from the joy and optimism of the inner spirit, reflecting a unique personality, and nourishing a healthy mind/body balance.

This term was coined as a response to the confusion that I frequently face about what humor is. A sense of humor can create a remarkable feeling of control. Learning to use humor as the binoculars for life’s challenges can amplify confidence in your own internal power to cope. The optimistic energy that comes from humor will enable you to embrace difficulties with resilience. Some people purposefully use laughter to ease pain and promote physical healing. There is some experimental research indicating that laughter and humor might actually cure illness and provide effective therapies for a number of disorders. Some claim that laughter relieves pain, reduces stress, and improves the immune system response (Harvey, 1998). Although many studies are preliminary, numerous indicators are confirming the benefits and applications of positive humor.

The purposeful use of humor can help you feel more optimistic about your life, knowing that you can choose how to respond to stress. Humor elevates mood and has been known to be a deterrent to depression. Stress reduction is considered one of the most important benefits of humor. A little humor will go a long way in helping us balance the challenges of high-speed living.

So find your humergy. It may be that telling jokes is the way that you do find this quality. For the rest of us, I encourage the purposeful use of humergy practice. My book identfies countless ways for the practice of humergy.

One way is to focus on what makes you laugh and brings you joy? Follow this reflection with purposeful intention to increase the humergy in your life. Let me know what you are going to try. I would love to hear from you!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Stress Causes Brain Shrinkage

The headline in the Dana Press newsletter shouted to me. Stress Causes Brain Shrinkage. My work in exploring the benefits of humor and advocating laughter for stress reduction has been going on for a number of years. So I have had a great interest in the research on stress, but this past month new information has emerged on my radar.

According to The Dana Foundation, A new Yale study shows that stress can reduce brain volume and function, even in otherwise healthy individuals. This study was published Jan 5 in the journal Biological Psychiatry. The amount of gray matter in the brain is actually decreased with stress and makes it more difficult for people to manage stressful situations in the future. This is the first study to show the impact of cumulative stress on the brain in other-wise healthy individuals.

Toxic stress impacts infant development in utero. It is becoming increasingly clear that the stress of the mother impacts the child. The stress of single parenting, poverty, illness and emotional distress all contribute to toxic stress in both parent and child. Unfunded mandates, excess testing, unfair teacher evaluation, lack of funding and stressed children are creating hostile environments in our schools.

There are amazing videos highlighting this research from The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. These videos are free and came to my attention through my participation in Alignment Rockford "Talk2Me programs. I was asked to provide trainings that had been developed to encourage attachment between caregivers and infants. It is such a critical need to encourage parents in the bonding that is so critical for healthy emotional well being. This attachment directly impacts the capacity of the child for learning later in life.

Stress impacts the regions of the brain that regulate emotional and control impulses. Have you noticed that there seems to be a lot of kids with unregulated emotions and numerous students with extreme lack of impulse control? Educators have noticed and are frustrated with the lack of attention to this critical issues. Richard Davidson addresses the research in this video on The Heart Brain Connection.

Addressing the issues of toxic stress will take time, but it is encouraging that the research is now emerging frequently on our radar screens.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Why Schools Should Be Funnier

After years of being treated like a non-entity, humor is finally getting a glimmer of recognition as being a significant factor in learning. I was thrilled to see a reference to my book, Using Humor to Maximize Learning in this week’s education page of the Washington Post. Unfortunately, humor is not quite yet a part of the mainstream media in education. We need to continue to share the research from the field of neuroscience on the impact that humor can have on learning.

Students and teachers are under enormous pressure to improve test scores, with an increasingly greater focus on a basing teacher evaluation on student scores. Diane Ravitch highlights these issues in an article in The New York Review of Books”.

"Like George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind, Barack Obama’s Race to the Top program is part of what Pasi Sahlberg calls “the Global Education Reform Movement,” or GERM. GERM demands teaching to the test. GERM assumes that students must be constantly tested, and that the results of these tests are the most important measures and outcomes of education. The scores can be used not only to grade the quality of every school, but also to punish or reward students, teachers, principals, and schools. Those at the top of the education system, the elected officials and leaders who make the rules, create the budgets, and allocate resources, are never accountable for the consequences of their decisions. GERM assumes that people who work in schools need carrots and sticks to persuade (or compel) them to do their best".

There is a misconception that providing incentives ( like more money) will be a motivator for teachers to improve their teaching. The fact of the matter is that most teachers teach because they love teaching and they believe they are making a difference in the lives of kids. AND they teach because they believe that learning is exciting, energizing and fun. After I provide workshops on humor and stress, numerous teachers tell me that they are infusing humor into their teaching every day. Many express gratitude not only for the permission, but for the encouragement to increase the use of humor in their classroom. They appreciate the research that the use of humor can indeed facilitate the learning process.

It is heartwarming to read that my book on humor is making the mainstream media.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

So excited that the press release that I wrote for the AATH conference, The Neuroscience of Humor and Education: A Focus at the AATH Conference is hitting the news media outlets in Chicago. This conference takes hours of volunteer planning time and incredible energy by the dedicated members of this humor organization. It is a joy to work with them. I cannot begin to tell you all I have learned from members of this fantastic organization.

This year the conference is in the Midwest for the first time in a number of years. If you know an Illinois teacher who would like CPDU credits--this is a great and fun way to get those credits. Nurses, social workers and counselors also can receive CE credits.

Join us for this Beat the Blues with Humor conference

Friday, February 24, 2012

Top Ten Reasons that Humor is FUNdamental for Education.

Honored to be invited by author Bob Sylwester to be a part of this e-book by IAE-pedia. Check out my article, The Top Ten Reasons Humor is FUNdamental for Education.