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M
ind Body Health
 

Good Humor, Good Health

© David S. Sobel MD

The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Mind Body Health by David S. Sobel MD. View all columns in series

Nurture your jokes. If you hear a good one, write it in your journal and tell five other people as soon as possible, so it imprints on your mind. Don't worry about how well you are telling it. Sometimes screwing up the delivery can create something that's even funnier than the original joke. If you can't remember a joke, tune in to the humor in everyday situations. Become aware of the sitcom of your own life. Sooner or later we all have experiences that strike us as funny - notice them, collect them, and share them.

Laugh at Yourself
Focus the humor on yourself rather than others. If you expect to do everything right all of the time, then you can't afford to have a sense of humor. But if you can allow yourself the inevitable mistakes and stupidities that we all make, then you can laugh at yourself. Being able to laugh at yourself helps you to accept that your shortcomings don't really matter that much. The people who are able to laugh at themselves have a much stronger sense of self-worth and higher self-esteem than those who can't.

If you think you are taking yourself too seriously, try to back up and give yourself a sense of perspective. Keep a pair of Groucho glasses to put on at such moments, then twirl in front of the mirror and ask, "just how serious is this?"

When you have a private moment, look at yourself in the mirror and try to compose 10 different funny faces, e.g., sucked-in cheeks, pressed-in nose, crossed eyes, tongue as far above or below your mouth as possible. Work all your face muscles - it will reduce tension. When you have perfected your faces, dare to use one of them on some appropriate occasion: having fun with the kids, fooling around at work, or to strangers on vacation.

Or do a "Candid Camera" on yourself. Take a step back from your office or your kitchen and see what is going on there with outsiders' eyes. How would they react to the scenario that just now seems of such vital importance to you - your clash with the boss or ambitious colleague or disgruntled salesperson, or your broken dishwasher that's spilled water all over the kitchen ?oor? The real test of seeing whether or not you can laugh at yourself is if you can take a bit of teasing. We all need a few things that we are willing to be teased about by our nearest and dearest - things like our clumsiness, forgetfulness, or getting our words twisted, or perhaps a few physical ones such as ?at feet or balding. But they really do have to be things you can see the funny side of too. If you don't feel okay about it, gently let the joker know the subject is off limits.

Look for the Funny Side
A stressful situation can sometimes be transformed into a bit of fun if you can see the humor in it. One traveler tells of an airport "horror story":

After a long flight, the group of weary travelers finally arrived, but their baggage didn't. After a long wait one suitcase finally appeared. But it was obviously damaged, and clothing and personal items spilled all over the conveyor belt.

Everyone was becoming quite upset when one group member commented: "Relax, this is really funny. In a few weeks we'll be telling stories about tonight, and we'll be laughing about it. Why wait? If it'll be funny then, it's funny now!"

That comment broke the tension and drew the travelers together. When the other bags didn't arrive, they smiled. When the car rental agency ran out of cars, they laughed. And when they heard there was a taxi strike, they howled.

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About The Author
David S. Sobel, M.D., M.P.H., is a practicing physician in adult medicine and Medical Director of Patient Education and Health Promotion for Kaiser Permanente Northern California. He is physician lead for the national initiative in Self-Care and Shared Decision-Making for Kaiser Permanente. He is coauthor of Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions, The Healing Brain,......more
 
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