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Your sense of humour: A skill that lasts a lifetime.

© Catherine Ripplinger Fenwick

Humour skills, like any other skills, can be learned and improved. Like everything else we learn, our humour skills become better with practice. First we need to acknowledge that we can and want to improve our humour skills, then make a commitment to doing something about it.

Most adults really don’t laugh enough. Laughter is a form of mental and physical fitness. Think of it as internal jogging. Research shows that the physical act of laughing benefits most major systems of the body. A good laugh brings in extra oxygen, stimulates blood circulation, gives the heart muscles a good workout, stimulates production of endorphines and relieves stress. Psychologically, laughter counteracts fear, anger and depression. Spiritually, laughter engenders hope. People under great adversity often find lots to laugh about.

I believe that inside each of us there is a little kid who wants to come out and play. For some people, it’s as simple as letting that little kid come out. For others it’s not so easy. Research indicates that adults laugh, on average, between 10 and 15 times in a day compared to 300 to 400 times a day for little children. A lot of adults have forgotten how to play.

Laughter and play are good indicators of a healthy sense of humour. So what happens to us in the process of growing up? Where does all that laughter go? As we get older we are expected to act our age, whatever that means. We take on responsibilities, go to school, get a job, get sick — not necessarily in that order. We suffer losses, big and small. There are many reasons for why we lose our humour.

Here are several suggestions for how you can get it back. Make a list of the things that make you laugh. Who are your favorite comedians, clowns, funny people? If you haven’t laughed in a long time, think about the things that brought you joy in the past, then go out and start doing those things again. Keep doing them until your joy returns. Make time in your life for joy, play and laughter.

Your home life offers an endless supply of humorous material. Our lives are just as funny as the lives of Irma Bombeck, Bill Cosby or Dave Barry. The difference is they have become astute observers of the funny side of life and write about it. Television, movies, books and songs provide an abundance of laughable material. Check out the video section of your local video store or library.

You could throw a joke party. Invite people you know who love to laugh and have everyone come prepared to share their favorite funny stories. My A.T. and T. rule for using jokes and other funny stories is; they must be Appropriate, Tasteful and Tactful.

Healthy humour invites everyone to laugh. Laughing with people is compassionate, but laughing at them is rude, immoral and unethical. Healthy humour is based on caring and empathy, builds confidence, brings people closer together and is mutually supportive. Provide paper and pencils so people can record the stories they want to add to their own humour files. Since I have connected to the Internet, many people send me their "jokes for the day."

Create a laughter first-aid kit. This can include anything that gives you a lift or makes you chuckle. Write a laughter contract with yourself. "I will do one thing each day to bring more joy and laughter into my life. Today I will _____________________." Share happy memories and funnies stories with others. Make a conscious choice to find the extra-ordinary in everyday events.

Look for the funny side of life. Enjoy what you do. Create an atmosphere of caring, support and fun in your work. When you are having fun you work more effectively and efficiently. Turn coffee breaks into humour breaks. Take 10 to 15 minutes, particularly during the most stressful parts of your day, to read the funnies, play a game, do crosswork puzzles, or share something wonderful with a friend or colleague.

Be a clown, take a few risks, liberate your funny bones and your playful inner kid. Become more childlike (I didn’t say childish, there is a difference). Children are naturals at laughter and play. Spend time with some, they’ll teach you a lot about healthy laughter and play.

Healthy humour is an important part of our life journey. Laughter needs to be encouraged like a child, given room to grow like an adolescent, and be respected like an elder. It is a skill that lasts a lifetime.


Cathy Fenwick is a therapist, author and educator. She develops and delivers workshops and keynotes on how to get more healthy humour into your life.

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