Thursday, February 17, 2011

Humor in Not-So-Funny Times

"If you can find humor in anything, you can survive it."
-- Bill Cosby
A cartoon I once saw in the New Yorker magazine chose to illustrate with humor the results of cutbacks. Pictured were Mutt (without his longtime companion Jeff), the three horsemen of the apocalypse, and Snow White with the six dwarfs. It might be amusing to laugh at cutbacks in cartoons, but can you laugh at adversity in the real world?

I contend that not only can you laugh at adversity, but it is essential to do so if you are to deal with setbacks without defeat.

When you do find humor in trying times, one of the first and most important changes you experience is that you see your perplexing problems in a new way -- you suddenly have a new perspective on them. As a result of this new vantage point, you may also see new ways to deal with the problems.

Throughout history, great leaders have known the power of humor. During one troubled period of his presidency, Lincoln told his cabinet, "Gentlemen, why don't you laugh? With the fearful strain that is upon me night and day, if I did not laugh, I should die. You need this medicine as much as I do."

Laughter can help relieve tension in even the heaviest of matters. For example, during the Cuban missile crisis, Soviet and American negotiators became deadlocked. There they sat in silence, until someone suggested that each person tell a humorous story. One of the Russians told a riddle: "What is the difference between capitalism and communism?"

The answer? "In capitalism, man exploits man. In communism, it's the other way around."

The tactic worked; with the mood relaxed, the talks continued.

There is another amusing tale that I sometimes tell in my workshops which illustrates how a little humor can help ease a troublesome situation. It comes from the Jewish tradition. The story says that the world will come to an end in three days. In three days, everything will be covered by water and everyone will drown.

After hearing this, the Pope goes on television and says, "Don't worry, if you all turn to Christ, you will be saved."

The head of the Zen community also goes on TV and says, "Don't worry, if you put your faith in Buddha, you will be saved."

Then the head rabbi of Israel appears on TV and says, "Don't worry folks, we have three days to learn how to swim under water."

Some people who have experienced natural disasters can relate to the story above. During flooding the Midwest, for example, a restaurant hung this sign up: "Waitress wanted. Must be able to swim under water." After the southern California earthquake, one mother wanted to make sure her son understood what had happened earlier in the day. She asked him, "What did we have this morning?" Her son replied, "Cheerios and corn flakes."

The northern California earthquake elicited some humor, too. When the porch roof collapsed, one youngster came running out of the house yelling, "I didn't do it! I didn't do it! I didn't do it!"

Humor can be one of our best survival tools. Victor Frankl knew this when he was incarcerated in a German concentration camp. Humor gave him hope for the future and something to look forward to each day.

It can do the same for you. At work, when you are forced to do more with less -- or in life, when difficulties or disasters strike -- humor can give you the upper hand. You may not be able to change a situation, but with humor you can change your attitude about it. As Frankl noted, "The last of human freedoms is to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances."

Your attitude is like a box of crayons that color your world. Constantly color your picture gray, and your picture will always be bleak. Try adding some bright colors to the picture by including humor, and your picture begins to lighten up.

Today's business and health care climate may not be pleasant. Cutbacks, pay cuts and layoffs do not make anyone's job easy. But that does not mean that the humor need stop.

Humor can help you cope with the unbearable so that you can stay on the bright side of things until the bright side actually comes along.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Happy Allen Klein's Day

            Several year’s ago, I received an email from someone I had never met before. I almost didn’t open it because I didn’t recognize the address. Then, I nearly deleted it because I thought it was one of those spam emails from Nigeria. You know the kind: All I had to do was send them money, and they would transfer millions into my bank account.   
            I was especially skeptical because the first sentence read: “I’m just writing to inform you that my girlfriend and I have named a holiday after you.”  Sure, I thought. And how much will that cost me? But I read on:
“I’m hoping that you won’t be offended as it is a very nice holiday, one that symbolizes the love that we have for each other. It’s just that the day is named after you, nothing more.”
I get lots of loony email. Most are annoying but this one sounded intriguing, so I kept reading:
“Allow me to explain. My girlfriend and I work together in a business with very long hours. On our first Valentine’s Day together, we worked past midnight, and so missed the holiday. Rather than get depressed, we decided that from then on, we would celebrate the next day (February 15th) as “Allen Klein’s Day.”
How could I not read further after being chosen for such an honor?
“Yes, I know it is sort of a pun—perhaps the lowest form of humor—but it was a pun between us, and we don’t mind laughing at puns in private. Go ahead, say the words out loud, ‘Valentine’s Day’, ‘Allen Klein’s Day.’  Get it?”
“Anyway, as the holiday named in your honor is fast approaching, I thought I’d do a quick web search to find out the true identity of its patron. And, as luck would have it, you happened to be the first—and therefore in my book, only—Allen Klein I found.”
“Honestly, sir, I know the whole thing is a bit strange, but I just figured you had a right to know if a holiday had your name on it. I wanted you to be privy to the fact that come February 15th, two young lovers—complete strangers to you—will kiss over candlelight, raise a glass, and toast in all sincere sweetness to each other: ‘Happy Allen Klein’s Day.’”

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

25 Quotes on Humor

Laughter - a gift we can give ourselves and others.
by Dr. Stephanie Sarkis
Psychology Today online, January 16, 2011

Humor really is our saving grace, and it helps keep us psychologically healthy...

"Laugh as much as possible, always laugh. It's the sweetest thing one can do for oneself & one's fellow human beings." - Maya Angelou

"A good laugh makes any interview, or any conversation, so much better." - Barbara Walters

"He who laughs, lasts." - Mary Pettibone Poole

"A good laugh overcomes more difficulties and dissipates more dark clouds than any other one thing." - Laura Ingalls Wilder

"There is nothing like a gleam of humor to reassure you that a fellow human being is ticking inside a strange face." - Eva Hoffman

"Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it." - Bill Cosby

"A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It's jolted by every pebble on the road." - Henry Ward Beecher

"It is a curious fact that people are never so trivial as when they take themselves seriously." - Oscar Wilde

"When humor goes, there goes civilization." - Erma Bombeck

"A sense of humor... is needed armor. Joy in one's heart and some laughter on one's lips is a sign that the person down deep has a pretty good grasp of life." - Hugh Sidey

"A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done" - Dwight D. Eisenhower

"I think the next best thing to solving a problem is finding some humor in it." - Frank A. Clark

"No mind is thoroughly well organized that is deficient in a sense of humor." - Samuel Taylor Coleridge

"Comedy is acting out optimism." - Robin Williams

"A well-developed sense of humor is the pole that adds balance to your steps as you walk the tightrope of life." - William Arthur Ward
"Humor can alter any situation and help us cope at the very instant we are laughing." - Allen Klein

"Humor is just another defense against the universe." - Mel Brooks

"Humor is laughing at what you haven't got when you ought to have it." - Langston Hughes

"Humor is perhaps a sense of intellectual perspective: an awareness that some things are really important, others not; and that the two kinds are most oddly jumbled in everyday affairs." - Christopher Morley

"If you could choose one characteristic that would get you through life, choose a sense of humor." - Jennifer Jones

"Humor is something that thrives between man's aspirations and his limitations. There is more logic in humor than in anything else. Because, you see, humor is truth." - Victor Borge

"Humor is the affectionate communication of insight." - Leo Rosten

"Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air and you." - Langston Hughes

"Next to power without honor, the most dangerous thing in the world is power without humor." - Eric Sevareid

"The more I live, the more I think that humor is the saving sense." - Jacob August Riis

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Laughter is the Key to Healing

Reprinted from with permission

Welcome to Kala’s Quick Five, where I chat with fascinating authors, artists, teachers and researchers and ask them five questions about their work. My guest today is Allen Klein, the world’s only Jollytologist. Allen has a masters degree in humor (from St. Mary’s College in Minnesota-and that’s no joke!) He is also an award-winning speaker and best-selling author whose first book The Healing Power of Humor is in its 36th printing and ninth foreign language translation. He has written 17 books that all focus on humor as a means to deal with everything from traffic jams to tragedies, and his writing has appeared in four editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul. His new book is: Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying: Embracing Life After Loss.

Kala: Allen, welcome to Kala's Quick Five. You teach workshops using humor to deal with changes, challenges, and stressful situations. Examples include Humor for Workplace Wellness, and Motivational Humor Presentations for Healthcare and other Professionals. How can one use humor in the workplace effectively without going too far and upsetting someone?

Allen:  You are right. Humor in the workplace can be a tricky thing, especially in today's culture and harassment issues. Still, I think it is possible to lighten up the work environment. First, stop, look, and listen for what kind of humor is acceptable where you work. What do people kid around about? What kind of humor ticks people off? Does the supervisor or the boss set a tone for appropriate humor?
Once you know some of this than you can introduce some light-hearted things everyday. For example, put up a ha-ha bulletin board where workers can post a cartoon a day, funny signs like, "Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it," or their baby photos for everyone to guess who it is.  Or, you could introduce props on your desk to lighten the day like a jar of bubbles, Groucho glasses, or clown noses that can be used when meetings get too serious.

Kala: You lost your wife to a rare liver disease when she was 34. Near the end, as your wife lay dying in the hospital, you both received a lesson in the therapeutic value of humor. Tell us how you both connected and stayed strong during this time.

Allen:  My wife had a copy of Playgirl by the side of her hospital bed and suddenly opened to the male nude centerfold. She insisted that we put it up on the wall. “This is too risque for a hospital” I told her. “Nonsense” she replied, “just take a leaf from that plant over there and use it to cover up his private parts.” I did that and things were fine for the first two days but by the third day the leaf began to shrivel up and reveal more and more of what we were trying to conceal.
After this every time we saw a plant or leaf we both laughed. Our laughter may have been brief and fleeting but it brought us closer together, revived us, and helped us rise above the painful process of her terminal illness and eventual death.

Kala: You've worked as a home health aid, hospice volunteer, and director of The Life-Death Transitions Institute in San Francisco. During this time, you gathered your experiences and put them into a book, Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying: Embracing Life After Loss to help others in their journey through loss and grief.  The book is described as a compassionate guide to the bereavement process in which you share the tools and encouragement necessary for transforming loss into a passion for living life to the fullest.  What was the most powerful lesson you learned while working in hospice and assisting with transitions to the other side?

Allen:  The biggest lesson I learned from working with dying patients is that death is a natural and necessary part of life. Image, for example, that there were no death. Would you ever get anything done? Probably not because time would never run out. In addition, how would this world feed, shelter and support an ever increasing, never ending, and constant population growth?  Nature shows us with the four seasons that each one is important and how what looks like death in Winter is new growth in Spring.

Kala: Ok, Allen, what's a Jollytologist and are you the world's only one? Can others apply to join in on the fun?

Allen:  Guess what Kala? I made the word, "Jollytologist" up. Since I studied the therapeutic value of humor for years, technically I'm a "gelotologist." (Gelos is a Greek work meaning laughter.) But since most people don't know the word Gelos, I change it to Jolly. Of course, anyone can join in the fun. According to my thinking, anyone can become anything they want. Since I've coined the word "Jollytologist," others have become a Joyologist, a Happyologist, a Funologist, etc. But one word of caution...don't call yourself a "Jollytologist" because it is Trade Marked.

Kala: Death is a natural part of life that every living being will experience here on earth. What has your work taught you most about the death process and about living?

Allen: I have learned that loss can be one of our greatest teachers. In fact, I'm convinced that we need major setbacks in our life to learn about our strength, our power, and our spirituality. We human beings are funny creatures. We don't learn much when things are going well. We seem to need a nudge now and then to learn life's lessons. It is why my book, Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying, has five stages for going from loss to laughter. First we begin with Losing someone or something dear to us. Second we start Learning from that loss.  Third we can move on by Letting Go.  Then, as we put the our loss in the background, we begin Living our life once more. And finally, once we live our life fully, we start Laughing again.

Kala: Allen, thank you for joining me here on Kala's Quick Five.


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More about Kala Ambrose: Kala Ambrose is an award winning author, wisdom teacher,  inspirational speaker and host of the Explore Your Spirit with Kala Show. Her thought-provoking interviews entice listeners to tune in around the globe! Described by her guests and listeners as discerning, empowering and inspiring, she speaks with world renowned authors, artists, teachers and researchers delving into empowering and lifestyle enhancing topics. More info at

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Embracing Life After Loss

Below are the five steps for fully living life again after a loss.
They are excerpted from Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying. (ISBN  978-0-9798755-8-8)

Step One
If you believe yourself unfortunate, 
because you have loved and lost, 
perish the thought. One who has 
loved truly, can never lose entirely.
                                                            –Napoleon Hill, American author

Losing a loved one is not easy. I know I have had many losses in my life. The one that made the most impact on my life was my wife’s death when she was 34. In addition, my mother, my father, my four grandparents, my sister-in-law, several cousins, and both my mother-in-law and father-in-law have died, as well as over 40 friends and colleagues who are no longer here because of AIDS or cancer. 

I don’t think we ever forget the people we lose. So in some sense, they are never gone. But, still, it hurts not to be able to see them, hear them, or hold them again.
Loss hurts. But it can also help us be stronger, wiser, and, if nothing else, more appreciative of every moment we have on this earth.                                           

                                                            Step Two                                                              
Turn your wounds into wisdom
                                                                                 –Oprah Winfrey, American television host

Every time you lose something, you are presented with an opportunity to acquire something new. With each loss, there is a golden opportunity for a new beginning. You may not realize it right now, but your loss is part of your growth process. In fact, your loss can be seen as a gift. 

How could you possibly even think of loss as a gift? You have lost someone who was very dear to you. You have perhaps lost the one person in your life who meant everything to you. You have lost a significant part of who you were. It certainly doesn’t feel like a gift.
And yet, it is. 

Your loss is serving you. It is helping you examine who you are, why you are on this earth, and how to live your life. Among other things, your loss has given you:
–the gift of appreciating life more fully
–the gift of cleansing through mourning
–the gift of love

The best thing you can do after reading this is to open the gift.

Step Three
letting go
The longer we dwell on our misfortunes,
the greater is their power to harm us.
                                                                        –Voltaire, French philosopher
Crying is the body’s way of dealing with loss. It is unhealthy to squelch your tears. What you stifle today may come back in greater force tomorrow. But continuing to endlessly wallow in those tears is not healthy. At some point, you need to get on with your life. 
Today might be the day to take the first step, to let go, to move on.

Step Four
I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, 
immobilized by the gravity of my loss, 
or I can choose to rise from the pain 
and treasure the most precious 
gift I have — life itself.
                                                                        –Walter Anderson, American magazine editor
The loss of someone close to you provides an opportunity for a new beginning and an enriched life. Once you start to work through your grief process, you can begin to fill the vacuum that was created by your loss with an even fuller sense of life.  

Ultimately, in dealing with a loss, the choice is yours. No matter what the situation, you have a choice of how you react to it. You can remain in your grief and turn your face away from life or you can move on and embrace life.

Choose life.

Step Five
Tragedy and comedy are but two aspects 
of what is real, and whether we see the tragic 
or the humorous is a matter of perspective.
                                                                      –Arnold Beisser, American polio-disabled author

It may seem ludicrous putting laughter and loss in the same sentence. How can you possibly laugh after losing a loved one? Yet recent research by Dacher Keltner and George A. Bonanno shows that “the more widows and widowers laughed and smiled during the early months after their spouse’s death, the better their mental health was over the first two years of bereavement.”

Laughter is a great coping mechanism. Finding the humor in anything and laughing about it gives you a break from the pain of loss. It allows for a breath of fresh air at a time when everything seems dark and heavy.

Many of the world’s top comedians intuitively knew this when they experienced a major loss in their life. They turned to humor to cope and eventually perfected their craft and made comedy their career.

Your goal is probably not to become a stand-up comic, but you can take a lesson from these renowned comedians and use humor and laughter to help you to cope with your loss.
Laughter and humor are one of God’s gifts to overcome your trials and tribulations.