Humor and laughter help maintain well-being by reframing stressful events (Perchtold et al., 2019). Humor can be used to communicate difficult issues, which can help clients cope with emotional and physical suffering, sickness, and loss (Dziegielewski et al., 2004). A 2017 study showed when clients laughed for 30 minutes, there were significant physical and mental benefits (Manninen et al., 2017).
Research has shown that using humor and laughter directly after experiencing a stressful situation produces a reduction in stress hormones and creates lasting, positive feelings. In fact, when practicing humor, muscles become more relaxed, breathing changes, and the brain releases endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers (Whelan, 2010). This means having a sense of humor and being quick to laugh can have both psychological and physiological benefits (Cousins, 1979).
In addition to reducing stress, practicing humor can strengthen relationships, provide comfort, fight depression, reverse negative thinking, and challenge unproductive, preconceived ideas (Goldin & Bordan, 1999) including feelings of isolation and loneliness (Curran et al., 2021). Humor can also change the regular patterns created by past traumas, which can produce a shift in perspective and a desirable transformation for the client (Landoni, 2019).
Therapeutic humor can also increase social engagement (Coronel et al., 2021) and strengthen trust and psychological safety within groups and communities (Taylor et al., 2022). The resulting laughter can serve as a social reward that reinforces behavior, conveys affiliation, and can help to improve communication (Wood & Niedenthal, 2018).
Well-known practitioners like Viktor Frankl and Rollo May frequently used humor in their counseling practices. They recognized that humor takes on the form of storytelling, where counselors have clients explore the absurdity in a situation. Once clients recognize that all human behavior can be absurd, any specific frustration has less power. In these cases, humor allowed their clients to leave the sessions transformed and more content (Gladding, 2011). We also know that practicing humor during therapy is useful for building rapport and a therapeutic alliance, reducing defensiveness and increasing openness (Hussong & Micucci, 2021).
So, let's start writing! When we write down our thoughts and feelings, we tend to understand them more clearly. And if we struggle with stress, depression, or anxiety, creating a journal of those narratives, especially if we are wrapping them in humor, can be beneficial. It can help us gain control of our emotions and improve our mental health (Watson et al.).
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Cousins, N. (1979). Anatomy of an illness as perceived by the patient: Reflections on healing and regeneration. New York: W.W. Norton.
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Dziegielewski, S. F., Jacinto, G. A., Laudadio, A. & Legg-Rodriguez. L. (2004). Humor: An Essential Communication Tool in Therapy. International Journal of Mental Health, 32(3), 74-90.
Gladding, S. (2011). The Creative Arts in Counseling. American Counseling Association.
Goldin, E., & Bordan, T. (1999). The Use of Humor in Counseling: The Laughing Cure. Journal of Counseling & Development, 77(4), 405–10.
Hussong, D.K., Micucci, J.A., The Use of Humor in Psychotherapy: Views of Practicing Psychotherapists. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health. 2021, Volume 16., No. 1, 77-94. https://doi.org/10.1080/1540138.2020.1760989
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Perchtold, C. M., Weiss, E. M., Rominger, C., Feyaerts, K., Ruch, W., Fink, A., & Papousek, I. (2019). Humorous cognitive reappraisal: More benign humour and less “dark” humour is affiliated with more adaptive cognitive reappraisal strategies. PLoS ONE, 14(1), 1–15. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0211618
Taylor S., Simpson J., Hardy C., The Use of Humor in Employee-to-Employee Workplace Communication: A Systematic Review With Thematic Synthesis. International Journal of Business Communication. January 2022. https://doi.10.1177/23294884211069966
Watson, L. R., Fraser, M., Ballas, P. Journaling for Mental Health. University of Rochester Medical Center. Retrieved from https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentID=4552&ContentTypeID=1#:~:text=Journaling%20helps%20control%20your%20symptoms,and%20identifying%20negative%20thoughts%20and
Whalen, P. K. (2010). The emotional and physiological structure of laughter: A comparison of three kinds of laughs (Antiphonal, Duchenne, and Voiced) and individual differences in the use of laughter in middle-aged and older marriages. UC Berkeley.
Wood, A., Niedenthal, P., Developing a social functional account of laughter. Soc Personal Psychol Compass. 2018; 12:e12383. https://doi.org/10.1111/spc3.12383