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How Humor Makes a Positive Difference, Especially Now

Lean on your funny bone, and you’ll learn that it’s actually your superpower.

The power of humor
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Resilience, creativity and resourcefulness. Don’t those sound like qualities that top most people’s priority list as the coronavirus pandemic surges into yet another season?

According to Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas, authors of the new book Humor, Seriously, those are precisely the attributes that come from making an effort to laugh, to find ways to use humor to push back against the loneliness, anxiety and depression that can leak under the door like a winter gust. 

A virus that has brought a terrifying death toll might make humor feel scarce. Exhibit A: Three friends don’t walk into a bar. I mean really, why would they do such a thing in the middle of a global pandemic? No joke.

“But this is when we need humor more than ever,” Bagdonas told The Guardian newspaper. Laughing makes us feel more connected with others—even if we’re sharing a giggle through a screen—and triggers our brains to release hormones that, she said, “strengthen our emotional bonds” and just plain feel good.

Five years of research conducted by Bagdonas and Aaker connected a well-used sense of humor with decreased levels of cortisol, known as “the stress hormone,” and increased blood flow, muscle relaxation and even, according to some studies, longevity. 

The right way to find the humor in such a serious situation as the pandemic can be tough, said Bagdonas. Consider three factors when considering cracking a joke: truth, pain and distance. She advises, “Examine the truth, ask how great is the pain and is it distant enough?”

So while a joke whose punchline is someone’s illness or death is likely to miss the mark, a crack about how time feels like it’s going backwards for some newly-minted homeschool parents could be just what the doctor ordered.

As Bagdonas puts it, “finding ways to laugh through hardship reminds us that we’re in control of our heart and mind, whatever darkness lies behind the door. And that’s a triumph.”

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