Humor improves the mind, body and spirit.  I like writing stuff I think is funny.  Often, the joke is on me.

I don’t mind; self-deprecating humor is highly effective in generating enjoyment and laughter, though Marilyn sometimes tells me my humor is not as funny as I think it is.

Then I quickly have to straighten up, or I will be in even worse trouble if I continue my supposedly humorous streak.  Most of the time she laughs when I make fun of myself or her, and it helps our relationship.

There are occasions when the joke is on Marilyn.  Like when her college roommates who were gone from their apartment called her to say the telephone company was “blowing out the phone lines to clean them” and she should wrap her land-line phone in a towel to prevent dust from invading the apartment.

You’re right, when the jokesters came home, she had wrapped her phone in a towel.  Marilyn enjoys being teased and I seldom spare an occasion.

There is method to laughter.  A deep laugh triggers contractions of the diaphragm that increase the oxidation of blood as it passes through the lungs and the release of the beneficial endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, while decreasing hormones activated by anxiety, adrenalin and cortisol.   

These body chemicals have survival value, for they enable us to relax and to feel a sense of well-being.  Regular consumers of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines acquire the craving for these feelings but become addicted to the drugs’ effects as they artificially act on the pleasure center of the brain with diminishing results and encourage the use of more and more of these substances to trigger the release of dopamine.

Humor is infectious, triggering us to laugh as we observe others giggle.  Almost everyone enjoys a baby’s laughter while watching someone else engage a little tyke in a game of “hide and seek,” tickling or teasing. 

The most watched television shows and movies are often comedies that trigger much mirth.  The ancient Greeks enjoyed comedy plays by Aristophanes.  Some of Shakespeare’s most acclaimed plays were comedies such as The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Only humans and some primates, such as orangutans, chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas, are capable of laughing in response to tickling or something that triggers great enjoyment.  But I’m pretty sure a couple dogs that lived with us took delight in family laughter, or at least could smile in accompaniment.

How much more difficult life would be without laughter.  Humor informs us, expands us, stimulates us to think outside the box, leads to creative endeavors, promotes positive relations and heals us.  

Dopamine and serotonin that are triggered by laughter signal our immune systems to react by replicating antibodies that ward off bacterial and viral infections. 

Humor defuses tension; it buys time to consider issues and options.  Some world leaders, President Obama among them, are particularly adept at restoring perspective through humor, while also getting a point across. 

One of my graduate school psychology professors, an Austrian man of Jewish ancestry who was interned in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII, was spared his life because he taunted his captors daily with jokes that made their lives guarding prisoners less mundane.

The Bible has many references to humor.  Proverbs 17:22 says “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit drains one’s strength.”  Ecclesiastes 3:4 observes “There is a time to weep, a time to laugh, a time to mourn, a time to dance.”

Humor changes as we age.  The first laughter of babies is usually in response to physical stimulation such as tickling or pleasant sensations. 

I remember when our daughter uttered her first robust laugh at six weeks of age as I swept warm water over her little body while giving her a bath.  Marilyn and I took turns cooking dinner but often gave our baby daughter baths together because it was fun for us too.

After physical sensations that trigger laughter, the next developmental stage of humor involves “peek-a-boo,” followed by games like running away or hiding.  Increasingly sophisticated forms of humor follow, such as jokes about taboo subjects like “toots” and unexpected outcomes such as getting away with a misdeed. 

As our cognition advances, cartoons and comedic portrayals such a circus clowns give way to sometimes-not-so-funny put-downs of others, sexual innuendo and the like.  Our sense of humor eventually matures into “Saturday Night Live” and “Prairie Home Companion.”

Our humor is most complex during the prime of our lives.  We take delight in political satire and wit that depends on figuring out cleverly concocted punch-lines.

Higher order thinking declines with aging; the matters that make us laugh reverse in the order they were acquired.  It can be a positive event when our elders poke fun at the food served in the retirement facility cafeteria.

Most of life isn’t a laughing matter, but it helps all of us to take things that way sometimes. 


Dr. Mike welcomes jokes.  Contact him at his website: www.agbehavioralhealth.com