Laughter is a way of dealing with life’s stressors. Learning how to use humor to enrich our personal and professional lives can benefit us in our roles as nurses, no matter the setting in which we practice.
When I was a liaison psychiatric nurse specialist in a medical-surgical hospital, my role was to assist patients and families with whatever psychosocial stressors they were facing and to help nurses deal with clients with psychiatric and emotional problems. I also found myself helping the nurses cope with their personal problems and the stressors of their practice. When several requests came in to our speakers’ bureau for a presentation on humor, I found myself intrigued to learn more on this topic.
How could I spark joy and laughter in others? I immersed myself in reading about humor, looking for humor in everyday life (for example, “Eat Here and Get Gas” sign at a gas station), listening to people tell jokes, watching funny movies, even reading blunders in charting notes (“productive cough with thick yellow urine”). After a literature review and a few weeks of work, I had a presentation ready for my first group: 30 persons coping with multiple sclerosis. After it was received enthusiastically, I honed and personalized the talk and presented it over the 11 eleven years to more than 60 groups, from support groups to civic clubs to professional organizations to nursing teams. Besides making people feel better, I had fun myself. What follows are the components of the professional presentation on the use of humor that I call “Humor for Your Health.”
The basic components of my presentation included the advantages of humor (better physical and psychological health, improved job satisfaction, increased productivity and creativity, improved relationships with others), negative versus positive humor, and the differing senses of humor among persons. The following are samples from my toolkit that helped pique interest and encourage audience involvement:
- A handout, “Humor for Your Health” with items such as “remember 10 good things that have happened to you, blow bubbles, look at a situation from a child’s point-of-view” (and I would literally stand on my knees to demonstrate the viewpoint of a five-year-old), “ be willing to laugh at yourself, don’t let someone’s bad mood infect you.”
- A humor assessment asking participants to answer questions such as “Where do you laugh the most?” and “What types of things make you laugh?”
- A humor assessment with various one-frame comics or funny quotes, asking each person to choose the one that made them laugh the most and then I provided a silly “analysis” of what that meant.
- “How’s Your Humor” asking people to rate themselves on statements such as “I laugh easily,” “I use humor to cope with life’s stressors.”
- An Oath of Laughter that I asked everyone to stand and read with me (see sidebar).
- The Nurse’s Rap (Kinyon, 1997) in which the middle stanza reads, “But nurses, beware—It’s time we took care—Of ourselves, you see—Or bananas we’ll be.”
- A rousing cheer dedicated to Florence Nightingale.
Other successful components include comics personalized to the group as much as possible (for example, nurses use a different sense of humor than clients dealing with cancer and chemotherapy) and samples of humor we see in everyday life, such as a news headline that said “2 Sisters United after 18 Years in the Checkout Lane” and a church bulletin that declared “Don’t let worry kill you—let the church help.”
Although humor is much more than telling jokes, I learned to tell jokes, making myself the target of the joke when needed. I encourage audience members to contribute their own humorous stories. Another effective technique to encourage laughter is to interject surprise onto a slide. For example, one slide includes two serious statistical statements about stress with this third statement: “80% of the dogs who bark at 3 a.m. live in my neighborhood.”
To encourage participation I randomly distribute onto participants’ chairs daily calendar joke pages with a short statement written on the back. I ask those in the seats to share both the joke and the funny statement on the back (for example, Be nice to your children because they’ll choose your nursing home). Without a humorous stimulus, I ask people to start laughing; it’s wonderful to see the chuckling contagion grow. I use props such as Groucho glasses and moustache and randomly hand out amusing items such as blowing bubbles, sidewalk chalk, and silly straws. I ask audience members to write a complimentary statement to a co-worker and then give it to that person. I project negative and depressing words that all read out loud; then I project positive and joyful words that all read aloud. It is a marvel to see the change in facial expressions and body language.
Tickle your own funny bone
Healthy laughter is an effective coping mechanism, as many anecdotes and personal experiences tell us. Development of a humor program is a fun way to help others cope with the stress of the nursing profession or cope with life in general. I guarantee that you will have a good time along the way as you devise your own presentation. You will find that your creative juices will be stimulated, and you just may relish discovering your silly side.
Jane Kinyon, MSN, PMH CNS-BC, RN, is now retired.
Oath of Laughter
I VOW to laugh at the small stuff in life.
I VOW to help the humor-impaired learn to giggle.
I VOW to remember that laughter helps my body to be healthy.
I VOW to moon only those people who really deserve it.
MEN: I VOW never to wear black socks and wingtips with shorts.
WOMEN: I VOW never to dye my hair purple when I’m having PMS.
I VOW to take time to look for humor.
I VOW never to dance nude on top of a piano while doing a gorilla impersonation.