Louise, a crusty journey-woman social worker had three pairs of glasses hanging from tiny chains around her neck and a sharpened yellow number two pencil plunged into her beehive hairdo. How unlikely that this woman would teach us how to use humor in social work.
“I laugh at myself,” she began. “Just the other day a mother brought her daughter in to get help with a speech impediment.
Does your daughter always stutter like that, I asked?
No, the mother answered. Only when she tries to say something.”
Then, she went on:
“Or the little old lady who was having her electric turned off.
Did you get a final notice in the mail, I inquired?
Yes, she said. Does that mean they won’t bother me anymore?”
And then topped that one with:
“And how about the troubled mother who couldn’t handle her teenage son anymore.
With all sincerity she asked the boy - James, do you think I’m a bad mother?
Slumped in the chair with hooded eyelids the boy mumbled - my name is Paul.”
Humor Can Heal
Louise’s colleagues at her agency report that her client’s love her. We can see why. In Louise’s world, humor offers a welcome break from troubling emotions and brightens the monotony of long days in the office. Laughing with others generates a sense of connection and counters beliefs about being a burden or that life has lost its meaning.
For patients looking back on their lives, humor helps them to make peace with regrets and missed opportunities and to better accept their imperfections. Laughing at something that is painful or frightening can loosen its power; stepping back and viewing one’s circumstances from a humorous angle can reinforce a healthy coping resource and introduce an element of mindfulness.
The Medical Benefits of Laughter
(Mayo Clinic, 2019)
In a study of the medical benefits of the physical act of laughing, the Mayo Clinic reported the physiology of laughter:
- Enhances the intake of oxygen, stimulates the heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the brain’s release of endorphins.
- Activates, then relieves the stress response, resulting in a feeling of relaxation.
- Reduces the tension and physical symptoms of stress by stimulating circulation and increasing muscle relaxation.
- Improves the functioning of the immune system by increasing positive thoughts that can cause the body to release neuropeptides that help fight stress and illness.
- Relieves pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkiller.
Louise couldn’t resist leaving us with this final memory:
“A client with a marital problem told me - My wife is suffering from a drinking problem.
Is she an alcoholic? I asked with pencil poised to jot a note.
No, I am, he said.”
Louise sees the humor in the human condition. Her gentle view lightens her load. She told us she was inspired by advice from Ghandi who said that he was careful to adopt:
A humorous appreciation of the quaint human spectacle.