Laughter Is a Lot Like Parsley

There's a surprising connection between parsley and laughter.

Posted Sep 24, 2019

Copyright, David Evans, author
Source: Copyright, David Evans, author

If you go to a restaurant and order an entree, there’s a good chance your plate will arrive with a sprig of parsley on it. Is it part of the meal?

It isn’t, really. It’s just there to add a splash of green to balance out the yellow and orange of corn and carrots. It’s a mere bit player in the roll call of vegetables.

And yet…

Its biochemical resume is most impressive. With zero fat and carbohydrates, it contains bountiful amounts of vitamin A and vitamin C, a largesse of potassium, and enough fiber to make a stick jealous. So why is parsley relegated to the role of being a mere “ceremonial vegetable?” Alas, that is one of the Great Vegetable Mysteries.

I mention parsley because I believe the role of humor in our culture is roughly analogous. Like parsley, humor is amazing and confers extraordinary benefits. But in our culture, we don’t normally grant humor full status. It’s trivialized and marginalized. We “parsley-ize” humor. (You didn’t know that was a word, did you?”)

But in spite of the fact that humor and laughter are not valorized in our culture, people are discovering that humor nonetheless confers some amazing benefits. 

In Norman Cousins’ famous medical memoir, Anatomy of an Illness, he recounts how he healed himself from a painful, immobilizing disease through watching Laurel and Hardy comedies every day!  

And at Loma Linda University in California, associate professor Dr. Lee Berk has discovered that laughter limits the release of the stress hormone cortisol. He also found that laughter dramatically promotes the flow of the brain’s feel-good endorphins. 

And at the University of North Carolina, Dr. Sara Algoe, associate professor of social psychology, has found strong benefits from humor in interpersonal relationships. 

“We have been able to show that, with romantic partners, laughing at the same time as the other person is a very good indicator for the health and longevity of the relationship,” she explained.

And my own personal experience points to still another huge but very surprising benefit that can come from laughter:

Spending time with humor can help a person become very adept as an innovator!

Here’s how it works: Any innovation is something new. A new breakthrough, a new idea, a new way of doing something. You may have been looking for it, or it may just occur spontaneously. The main thing is, it’s new.

And it comes along as a surprise.

So, if you want to be a great innovator, you need to be comfortable with, and available to, surprise. And there’s no better way to do this than to spend time with humor.              

Because the heart of humor is surprise. 

Surprise is at the core of every joke or funny situation. Consider the following two jokes:

Joke 1:

A man is walking down the street and sees a second man walking a dog. As the first man draws even with the second man, he asks, “Does your dog bite?”

The second man replies, “No, my dog has never bitten anyone.”

So, the first man reaches down to pet the dog, and the dog takes a big bite out of his hand.

The first man, shocked and surprised, says, “I thought you said your dog didn’t bite!”

The second man says, “This isn’t my dog.”

Joke 2:

A man and his wife are on the front porch of their house just before he leaves for work. They are looking at the neighbors next door, where the man is kissing his wife goodbye.

Irate wife: “See that?!  Every morning he kisses his wife goodbye, and every evening he kisses her again and brings her flowers! Why can’t you ever do that?”

Husband: “I could never do that. I don’t even know the woman!”

Both of these jokes use classic joke structure. They set you up to expect one thing, and then they end up giving you something different. You’re surprised, and you laugh!

There are thousands of different kinds of jokes and funny situations, but they all share this same structure. They all involve some variant of the set-up and switch

Both humor and innovation hinge on being available to surprise.

Would you like to become more open to the surprises of innovation? The best way I know of is to spend time with the surprises of humor!

So, although humor has been relegated to a very secondary role in our culture, it can confer some truly amazing benefits. Laughter can improve health, relieve stress, and improve interpersonal relationships. Best of all, through its emphasis on surprise, it provides a golden route for developing new innovation breakthroughs! 

Now all we need to do is find a great recipe for parsley!

© 2019 David Evans