Humor As A Stress Reducer and Energizer

Work is often associated with stress, and we know that stress is one of the main causes of illness, absenteeism, and burnout. Humor is a great stress reliever because it makes us feel good, and we can’t feel good and feel stress simultaneously. At the moment we experience humor, feelings like depression, anger, and anxiety dissolve.

Humor and, its partner, laughter also reduce stress by activating the physiological systems including the muscular, respiratory, cardiovascular, and skeletal. In fact, we may even lose muscle control, as many of us have, when we laugh so hard that we fall down or wet our pants. Laughter has been labeled a jogging and juggling of the internal organs. When we laugh we feel physically better, and after laughter we feel lighter and more relaxed.

In addition, humor provides a psychological stress reducer as it snaps our thinking to another channel. Norman Cousins called it trainwrecks of the mind. One of the characteristics of humor is that it involves incongruity. We find things humorous when they are incongruous or mismatched. Good jokes guide us down one path only to suddenly track us onto another. The tracking is what we call the punch line. As we are tracked over, our thinking shifts and, in fact, breaking the mind set of the thinking leads to increased creativity.

Consider the story of the midwestern farmer crossing Harvard square searching for the library. He approaches a stately looking gentleman, who happens to be a Harvard English professor, and he asks, “Excuse me sir. Can you tell me where the library is at?” The professor looks somewhat disdainfully and replies, “At Harvard we do not end sentences with prepositions.” After a pause the farmer turns back to the professor and asks, “Well then, can you tell me where the library is at…Asshole.” In this joke we are guided down one path and suddenly tracked over to another. The incongruity is what we experience as humorous.

We know that all good lecturers have many jokes, stories, and anecdotes that are shared in order to command attention and energize the audience. Humor wakes us up and increases our attending. An office bulletin board loaded with cartoons, one liners, jokes, pictures, etc. is one way to invite humor into the workplace. A few moments of humor at work can lead to increased productivity as the newly energized employee returns to his or her task.

If you are having a bad day and would like to brighten it up, all you might have to do is to read a joke a funny story. There are plenty of resources on the web, including humor blogs, Digg-Humor, Funny-Or-Die and Fun’N’Love.

Humor is a major career asset, so let’s be serious about humor and use humor to lighten our seriousness in the workplace. As we increase our personal humor quotient and spread our humor contagiously to others, we will begin to see the “lite” at the end of the tunnel.

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