THE PSYCHOLOGICAL BENEFITS OF HUMOR
I am sitting on the Staten Island Ferry. It is a miserable, rainy day and I am in the worst mood. I am running late, tired, wet and freezing. As I sit wallowing in my misery, a burly construction worker plops down next to me, he too seems to be in a bad mood. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a large bird flies in through an open window and crash-lands on the seat opposite us. He is dirty, feathers askew, and has something slimey dangling from his beak. Breaking the silence, I turn to the guy next to me, gesture to the bird and say: “They’ll let anyone on this boat.” There is a split-second pause and then he bursts out laughing. Then I start cracking up and in seconds we are both laughing hysterically. A few minutes later the construction worker turns to me, pats me on the back and in a thick Staten Island accent…says: “Good one.” And suddenly we are both transformed…despair lifted and each of us a little bit lighter.
USING HUMOR IN PSYCHOTHERAPY
Although comedy is no match for Wellbutrin, there are more and more scientific studies that now suggest that laughter and humor can actually have positive psychological benefits. James Grostein, Psychoanalysis and professor of Psychology at UCLA theorizes that one of those benefits is that it fosters the capacity to “shift perspectives.” It is very easy for us to focus on the ghastlier side of things, but a little humor can help us shift our focus to the brighter, lighter side of life’s shenanigans. In other words, humor does indeed have the potential to change the way we relate to obstacles, it can change the way we see the world
HUMOR REDUCES STRESS
Psychology professor Dr. Allen Cornelius, from the University of the Rockies, also believes that humor can be used to “tweak negative perceptions in a more positive direction.” He even suggests that humor has potential to open us up to experience those ever-so-allusive flashes of insight, or “Aha” moments.
Additional studies suggest that the ability to maintain a humorous outlook during stressful situations can keep us from becoming swamped, overwhelmed or all-consumed by negative thinking. Since one of the key causes of stress is the perception that we are not able to meet the numerous demands of the day. Dr. Cornelius hypothesizes that, with a little humor, we may be able to take a fresh look at our skills and abilities and realistically view life's overwhelming demands as challenging but doable.
“The worst thing about living in this world,” says comedian and podcast host Marc Maron, “is that things get overwhelming, and can cause a tremendous amount of despair and anxiety.” Maron claims that a few funny quips “can disarm and slay dragons of despair and depression.”
Humor has also been linked to positive emotional states such as: joy, hope, love, contentment, and dare we even say it…happiness! Some researches even suggest that humor can help improve maladaptive communication styles.
With over 25 years experience working in the professional comedy trenches in both Los Angeles and New York, I am a huge fan of using humor-as-a-therapeutic-tool. In my coaching practice, I often use it with new clients as it helps to relax them and establish rapport. I've also found humor helpful when working with couples, it’s a great way to diffuse mounting tension and get back down to business.
Robert Frost once said; “If we couldn't laugh we would all go insane.” George Clooney if notorious for his humor and practicial jokes on film sets. Even Audrey Hepburn was a big fan claiming that; “It cures a multitude of ills,” and “is probably the most important thing in a person.”
So, alas, the good news is that the scientific community is now jumping onto the comedy healing train with study after study suggesting that humor has the potential to be life changing. So yeah, keep your meds nearby, hang onto your expensive shrink, but why not think about adding a dose of comedy and laugher to your mental health regiment? Quite frankly you can’t beat the side effects: a more positive attitude, relief from stress, and maybe even a few glimmerings of joy.