Mindy Greenstein Ph.D.

The Flip Side

A Good Laugh

Jokes and their relation to resilience.

Posted Aug 27, 2011

Humor is serious business. How serious? Eminent psychiatrist Viktor Frankl once gave someone humor homework-the man had to tell a funny story every day. Both Frankl and his "patient" were inmates of Auschwitz at the time!

When life throws its weight at you-which it's bound to do sooner or later-humor helps you rise above your circumstances, even if only for a few seconds.  It allows a necessary distance for us to view our suffering from a different perspective.  And it also gives us hope during times of despair, that there will again be times when we'll laugh, not because we have to for self-preservation, but because we'll want to. Even physiologically, laughter-even the anticipation of laughter- can lower stress hormones and boost health-protecting hormones like beta-endorphins. When I had cancer five years ago, friends sent me the best joke emails. One guffaw was sometimes enough to lift my spirit for the rest of the day.

The problem with writing about the psychology of humor is that it's easy to take all the fun out of it.  So, instead of going on, I'm going to end with a link for a site that gave me my biggest laugh this week. As I sit here, waiting for a hurricane to hit, I'm sure glad those beta-endorphins are kicking in.  Enjoy.

* Click here for my new book (one of O: The Oprah Magazine's 10 Titles to Pick Up in May; with Foreword by NY Times columnist David Brooks): The House on Crash Corner and Other Unavoidable Calamities —about the sad, hilarious and meaningful ways we deal with the crises in our lives.