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Mary Kay Morrison's Words to Live By: More Rules, Less Fun

Morrison shows why humor is essential to success, creativity and health.

Mary Kay Morrison’s Using Humor to Maximize Living, published in 2012 and recently out in its second edition, is subtitled Connecting with Humor. The charming and deliberate ambiguity of the subtitle—since it means either connecting with other people through humor or connecting with humor itself is indicative of the kinds of treats this book has in store.

I need to offer a disclaimer: I’m mentioned in the book and I know Mary Kay Morrison. But then again, everyone who’s dealt with the association for Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor or has done research on the uses of humor in educational, business or therapeutic settings will have come across Mary Kay Morrison. Her work on humor is substantial and she herself seems to be ubiquitous. So my disclaimer basically says simply that I’ve been aware of what’s been happening with humor studies during the last 25 years.

I’m delighted that Mary Kay Morrison has been able to put her wisdom and knowledge onto the page.

Now it’s time to talk about my favorite parts of the book:

• Morrison’s signature line is “The more rules, the less fun.” I think it should be printed on T-shirts and hung on banners over entrances to major corporations. Morrison emphasizes the interplay between creativity, humor, flexibility and success. In her chapter on leadership, for example, Morrison discusses the fact that increasing numbers of businesses are emphasizing stress reduction as a way to make their environments more productive and to help their workers become more engaged. “Addressing the stress levels of employees is becoming more of a priority for leaders. The health of employees plays a significant role in productivity and in insurance costs. There is a growing need to find ways to counteract both personal and work-related demands on staff,” argues Morrison. How does Morrison connect this to the idea of more rules, less fun? “If fun is thought of as anything that makes learning engaging, exciting, and challenging, it seems that the focus on rules and regulations is counterproductive. Unnecessary regulations and policies decrease or eliminate fun” (191). When you think about it, that’s a fairly seditious and interesting way to look at what needs to change in our lives. We need to have more fun.

• Fun is something we need to take seriously and our need for humor and play in life is not something we should take lightly. Morrison underwrites her call for increased levity in both our work lives and home lives by drawing on research from neurobiologists as well as yoga masters, especially drawn to what happens during times of crisis. (She quotes Jay Leno’s bit on the color-coded terror alert system: “This thing is so confusing. Yesterday the alert went from blue to pink; now half the country thinks we’re pregnant.”)

• Morrison emphasizes using humor as, what she calls, a “change agent.” Using Humor to Maximize Living has a slight workbook feel to it because there are sections that are designed to open up conversations and help the readers, “purposefully implement humor as a change agent in their workplace.” At the end of each chapter, for example, there are powerful practice-strategies for leaders and a series of questions called, “Café Conversations” to spark discussion. Some of these include a discussion about humor is used in hospital settings, how humor can be used as a way for bullies to manipulate others, or how humor is used by the brain to hook and retain information.

• Morrison’s book fascinatingly refers to studies of all kinds, including one done by Hob Osterlund. Hob was Principal Investigator for the COMIC (comedy in chemotherapy) Study, a gold-standard randomized controlled trial that measured impact of humor on symptoms from cancer and chemotherapy. It demonstrated significant reduction in overall symptoms in subjects who watched comedy while receiving chemotherapy.

Hob is also producer of the Chuckle Channel ( which offers programming for hospital closed-circuit televisions and Ivy Push as its host. Humor may complement pharmacologic therapy in a oncology practice.

In addition, Morrison refers to findings from the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology (PEP) Lab at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and to the positive psychology movement where “Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychological Association, uses the term positive psychology to identify what makes people thrive.”

Finally, Morrison offers discussions of the significance of brain scans right next to reproductions of cute cartoons. The book is a grab bag for all kinds of research, observations and suggestions for how to put more fun in your life.

What’s not to enjoy?

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