Christian Hageseth III, M.D.(1992), board-certified psychiatrist and author, understands this risk well.  In the Journal of Nursing Jocularity, he informs the Nursing professional of their need to understand the “anatomy and psysiology of humor “(p.43), if they wish to practice it. Hageseth says we tend to imitate the humor we’ve previously witnessed, which often has negative consequences. Because the humor that worked in one situation doesn’t transfer as well to others, we may be puzzled by blank faces or uncomfortable quiet (p.43).

Even worse, humor may be something they decide to ignore (p.43). Hageseth (1992) explains, “They fear negative consequences and thus unnecessarily deprive themselves of a healing, mature psychological defense mechanism” (p.43). This concerned psychiatrist offers a guideline to reduce the risk associated with negative humor:

What determines whether a humor attempt is negative or not are the four elements for successful humor (or for any successful communication for that matter).  They are:

1. RELATIONSHIP

2. RAPPORT

3. SETTING

4. TIMING

Pay attention to these four and your humor will be successful. Fail to account for any one of these and your humor is likely to fail – it is likely to hurt another person’s feelings (1992,p.43)

I would agree.  This is a great guideline for achieving responsible humor, and for living life.  I conscientiously strive for successful, negative-free humor, for ‘stuff’ that makes me want to laugh at the absurdity of life.  You can do this, too.

But suppose you’re inexperienced in the art of creating humor, an unsure novice in getting laughs. Perhaps, you’re fearful of appearing foolish.  Most of us are, with Patch Adams, being an over-the-top exception. I’ve met the man, he’s loony!  Allen Klein (1989) obviously understands this:

There are many deterrents to laughter: embarrassment, pain, anger, rejection, worry, anxiety, risk, fear, criticism, and more. The list is long, and it started when we were young. Many of us remember being told, ‘Wipe that smile off your face,’ ‘Stop smirking,’ or ‘Settle down.’  Often we were asked, ‘When are you going to grow up?’ We learned that there was something wrong with laughing. Laughter meant that we were immature. Seriousness Represented godliness; laughter was more the work of the devil (pp.23-24). Wow. Now THAT would explain the hellish torment I experienced for thirteen, long years in Catholic School with the infamous Sister Mary Holywater!

No wonder, bouts of laughter – especially uncontrollable laughter, where we may be unable to return to our serious selves – scare some of us so much. Do you recall Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers singing, “Don’t be afraid to lose control?” In the beginning, looking and acting like a silly fool makes one feel uncomfortable, but once you rev-up those amazing endorphins, you’ll be SO glad you lost control, and played the fool.

If you are ready to learn to laugh, Patty Wooten (1996), can help you get started. In the journal, Holistic Nursing Practice, Wooten suggests searching for “people with that special flair for seeing the funny side of a situation,” (p.4) and she encourages us to “use the talent available to aid in the quest for laughter and comic release” (p.4, http://www.JestHealth.com). But you don’t need to seek out Robin Williams to see the ‘funny side.’ There are tons of funny folks out there. “Stay in touch with your ‘inner clown’”(p.4), Wooten requests.

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