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.