Humor and Health on April Fool's Day

>> Sunday

AL SIEBERT, author of Survivor Personality, says according to his research, a good sense of humor significantly helps survivors cope with extreme stress. “Mental efficiency is directly related to a person’s general level of emotional arousal,” he says. “People are less able to solve problems and make precise, coordinated movements when strongly worked up. Laughing reduces tension to more moderate levels and efficiency improves.”

Anyone in a prolonged stressful situation can attest to this basic principle. Gerald Coffee, for example, was a POW in Vietnam. His captors treated him with unbelievable brutality. At one point he was taken to a “shower.” He hadn’t bathed at all in three months. This shower was littered with garbage. It was small and the walls were covered with slime. The water was cold, came from a rusty pipe, and only trickled out.

As he was trying to wash off, he felt depressed. He hadn’t held up under torture as well as he expected of himself. His head was down and he felt tired and sad and deeply disappointed in himself.

Then he looked up and saw someone had scratched a message on the wall that said, “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera!”

Coffee laughed out loud. The message was so out of place, it was funny. But Coffee also laughed because, he says, he appreciated so much “the beautiful guy who had mustered the moxie to rise above his own dejection and frustration and pain and guilt to inscribe a line of encouragement to those who would come after him.”

Humor can have a powerful affect on your mood and your ability to cope with difficult situations. The man who inscribed the Candid Camera line improved his own mood, and the moods of men who came after him, raising their spirits and making them more resilient.

In experiments, researchers have found humor also improves your cleverness. Imagine someone gave you a box of tacks, a candle, and some matches and told you to stick the candle to a cork board in such a way that the candle doesn’t drip wax onto the floor below. Could you do it? Whether or not you could do it, Alice M. Isen and her colleagues found, might depend on whether or not you’ve just seen the humor in something.

Before they were given the problem to solve, students were shown either a comedy film of bloopers or a film on math (which was not funny at all).

After watching the math film, 20% of the students successfully solved the problem. But 75% of the students who watched the comedy film were able to do it. That's a big difference! The solution is to pour the tacks out of the box and tack the box to the board, and then put the candle in the box.

Isen said, “Research suggests that positive memories are more extensive and are more interconnected than are negative ones, so being happy may cue you into a larger and richer cognitive context, and that could significantly affect your creativity.”

Let's use this insight. Let's raise our level of resilience and cleverness. On April Fool's Day, it is traditional to play practical jokes. It's been a custom in several countries for centuries. It may have its roots in the Hilaria festival of ancient Rome. I'm not making this up.

A good laugh is good for you, and a good practical joke is good for a laugh. I invite you to (safely and in good taste) have some good laughs today. And to get you started in the right direction, enjoy these compilations of practical jokes:





Read more about the value of humor and how to improve your sense of humor: See the Funny.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English).

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The Surprising Story of Saint Patrick's Humble Beginnings

>> Saturday

One morning a sixteen-year-old boy was kidnapped from his house by a band of knife-wielding thugs and taken to another country, there to be sold as a slave. The year was 401 a.d.

He was made a shepherd. Slaves were not allowed to wear clothes, so he was often dangerously cold and frequently on the verge of starvation. He spent months at a time without seeing another human being — a severe psychological torture.

But this greatest of difficulties was transformed into the greatest of blessings because it gave him an opportunity not many get in a lifetime. Long lengths of solitude have been used by people all through history to meditate, to learn to control the mind and to explore the depths of feeling and thought to a degree impossible in the hubbub of normal life.

He wasn’t looking for such an “opportunity,” but he got it anyway. He had never been a religious person, but to hold himself together and take his mind off the pain, he began to pray, so much that “...in one day,” he wrote later, “I would say as many as a hundred prayers and after dark nearly as many again...I would wake and pray before daybreak — through snow, frost, and rain....”

This young man, at the onset of his manhood, got a “raw deal.” But therein lies the lesson. Nobody gets a perfect life. The question is not “What could I have done if I’d gotten a better life?” but rather “What can I do with the life I’ve got?”

How can you take your personality, your circumstances, your upbringing, the time and place you live in, and make something extraordinary out of it? What can you do with what you’ve got?

The young slave prayed. He didn’t have much else available to do, so he did what he could with all his might. And after six years of praying, he heard a voice in his sleep say that his prayers would be answered: He was going home. He sat bolt upright and the voice said, “Look, your ship is ready.”

He was a long way from the ocean, but he started walking. After two hundred miles, he came to the ocean and there was a ship, preparing to leave for Britain, his homeland. Somehow he got aboard the ship and went home to reunite with his family.

But he had changed. The sixteen-year-old boy had become a holy man. He had visions. He heard the voices of the people from the island he had left — Ireland — calling him back. The voices were persistent, and he eventually left his family to become ordained as a priest and a bishop with the intention of returning to Ireland and converting the Irish to Christianity.

At the time, the Irish were fierce, illiterate, Iron-Age people. For over eleven hundred years, the Roman Empire had been spreading its civilizing influence from Africa to Britain, but Rome never conquered Ireland.

The people of Ireland warred constantly. They made human sacrifices of prisoners of war and sacrificed newborns to the gods of the harvest. They hung the skulls of their enemies on their belts as ornaments.

Our slave-boy-turned-bishop decided to make these people literate and peaceful. Braving dangers and obstacles of tremendous magnitude, he actually succeeded! By the end of his life, Ireland was Christian. Slavery had ceased entirely. Wars were much less frequent, and literacy was spreading.

How did he do it? He began by teaching people to read — starting with the Bible. Students eventually became teachers and went to other parts of the island to create new places of learning, and wherever they went, they brought the know-how to turn sheepskin into paper and paper into books.

Copying books became the major religious activity of that country. The Irish had a long-standing love of words, and it expressed itself to the full when they became literate. Monks spent their lives copying books: the Bible, the lives of saints, and the works accumulated by the Roman culture — Latin, Greek, and Hebrew books, grammars, the works of Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, Homer, Greek philosophy, math, geometry, astronomy.

In fact, because so many books were being copied, they were saved, because as Ireland was being civilized, the Roman Empire was falling apart. Libraries disappeared in Europe. Books were no longer copied (except in the city of Rome itself), and children were no longer taught to read. The civilization that had been built up over eleven centuries disintegrated. This was the beginning of the Dark Ages.

Because our slave-boy-turned-bishop transformed his suffering into a mission, civilization itself, in the form of literature and the accumulated knowledge contained in that literature, was saved and not lost during that time of darkness. He was named a saint, the famous Saint Patrick. You can read the full and fascinating story if you like in the excellent book How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill.

“Very interesting,” you might say, “but what does that have to do with me?”

Well...you are also in some circumstances or other, and it’s not all peaches and cream, is it? There’s some stuff you don’t like — maybe something about your circumstances, perhaps, or maybe some events that occurred in your childhood.

But here you are, with that past, with these circumstances, with the things you consider less than ideal. What are you going to do with them? If those circumstances have made you uniquely qualified for some contribution, what would it be?

You may not know the answer to that question right now, but keep in mind that the circumstances you think only spell misery may contain the seeds of something profoundly Good. Assume that’s true, and the assumption will begin to gather evidence until your misery is transformed, as Saint Patrick’s suffering was, from a raw deal to the perfect preparation for something better.

The above was excerpted from the amazing book, Self-Help Stuff That Works.

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