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The Science and Art of Motivational Humor" just got published in http://www.dcjobs.com/library.asp?pagemode=1&aid=2826&ra_id=156 or Click here: DCJobs.com - Resources & Events: Articles .  This version is easier on the eyes.  Feel free to share shamelessly.  ;-)



Humor Therapy or Laughing in the Face of Stress:
Creatively Managing Stress and Conflict and
Building Team Cooperation through Humor


In a 24/7 world that's cycling from "do more with less" downsizing to ever faster upgrading while periodically spinning out of control, being able to step back and laugh at life's challenges and absurdities is vital for survival.  The pressure to manage stress and to sustain individual and organizational productivity and morale has never been greater.  Have no fear…Mark Gorkin, "The Stress Doc" ™ is here with his dynamic and interactive, inspiring and fun-filled presentation and small group exercises.  Learn to channel stress and frustration as well as embarrassment into playful communication, safe sharing, cooperative/creative action and team building.  Gain fresh perspective on using empathy and humor to encourage and sustain morale, productivity and effective team relationships.


1. Recognize stress signals and the connection between “letting go” and “burning out”

2. Develop resilience through Natural SPEED and the “Six ‘F’s of Loss and Change”

3. Have fun while learning purposeful communication tips and techniques for disarming power struggles and building trust

4. Discover eight basic functions of humor along with playful applications

5. Learn how to "Transform Fear of Exposure into the Fun of Embarrassment"

6. Use fun "team discussion and drawing" program exercise to:
a) identify workplace sources of stress through safe and energizing group sharing
b) recognize and empathize with others' challenging environments; not feel so alone
c) discover how the Doc's renowned creative small group exercise reduces stress, stimulates creative expression, builds team motivation and morale...and it's great FUN!
d) engage in group problem-solving exercises to develop individual, team and organizational strategies for dealing with above sources of stress and conflict.

7. Discover the real "Serenity Prayer" and the "Secret of Wisdom"

Seek the higher power of Stress Doc Humor: May the Farce Be with You!

Don't miss your appointment with the Stress Doc!

Mark Gorkin, "The Stress Doc" ™,
a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is an acclaimed keynote and kickoff speaker and "Motivational Humorist," as well as a team building and organizational development consultant working with Fortune 100s and major associations to an array of federal and state government agencies.  Mark, America Online's "Online Psychohumorist" ™, is the author of Practice Safe Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger.  See his award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com -- called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 301-875-2567.


The Stress Doc defines and sheds light on higher purpose, motivational humor as a creative, stress-reducing tool for these highly charged times.  And to use a tool effectively and creatively, it helps to know both its form and functions.

The Science and Art of Motivational Humor:  Definition and Functions

In crisis-driven, 24/7, relentlessly upgrading and unpredictably downsizing (or reorganizing) world, it's no surprise that individuals, teams, divisions, and even entire companies can become "stress carriers" or high stress environments.  A critical challenge for the organization is helping personnel, and especially the foundational task and support system -- the work team -- maintain both productivity and morale in these "do more with less" times.  How can the HR professional along with all levels of management as well as formal and informal leaders help:  (a) fight the "burnout blues," (b) prevent a "lean-and-MEAN" attitude from becoming the department or company mantra, and (c) disarm an "us against them" environment that invariably breeds hostile competition or in-house territoriality?

Tough issues for sure…still, have no fear (well, maybe a little) the "Stress Doc" is here to champion an underutilized conflict-resolving and performance-enhancing intervention tool.  So what is this magical and methodical instrument for preventing your company's "esprit de corps" from turning into an "esprit de corpse?"  It's deceptively simple:  HUMOR!

Humor Clarified and Defined

However, this humor, what I call "motivational humor," is a lot more than just a good joke starting off a team or staff meeting.  It's not having a humor day, where management puts on clown noses or wigs.  Nor is it firing loud sounding toy guns to act out "playfully" disagreement or to distract momentarily during a tense problem-solving meeting.  While all these actions may temporarily lighten a work atmosphere, I'm interested in more imaginative and involving interventions that truly arise from live issues and conflicts, while they are occurring.  And this instrumental humor should have both short run and, potentially, ongoing impact.  Motivational humor is:
(1) healing -- releases frustration and opens up communication channels within and among work teams
(2) harmonizing -- busts or gently blows away those trust barriers between "superiors" and "subordinates"
(3) harnessing -- generates energy, creativity, and coordination or team synergy both short run and ongoing.

To better understand this action concept, let us capture its semantic foundation.  According to The Random House Dictionary, "humor (is) the recognition and expression of the incongruities and peculiarities in a situation or conduct."  A capacity for humor, especially positive motivational humor, often reveals an ability to appreciate and play with life's absurdities; to poke good-natured (and sometimes a bit more pointed) fun at others and, especially, to laugh at our own flaws and foibles.  In fact, for the pioneer of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, humor is the highest psychological defense mechanism.  Such mature humor and the capacity for self-effacing laughter, reflects the encouragement of our efforts and a patient tolerance of our "so-called" failures.

Eight Functions of Humor

Humor also has many essential bio-psychosocial functions, eight of which I've captured in an acronym.  Humor is good for what AILS you:

A = Arousal and Affiliation.

Hearty laughter provides dopamine-like stimulation when bored and endorphin-induced relaxation when tense.  I believe humor expert, Dr. David Fry, noted that laughing with gusto is like turning your body into a big vibrator, giving vital organs a brief but vibrant internal massage.

Affiliation.  One manifestation of "emotional intelligence" is a capacity for a humor that both heals and harmonizes, that reminds us of our common humanity.  As the early 20th century disabilities pioneer and universally-acclaimed humanitarian, Helen Keller, observed:  "The world is so full of care and sorrow it is a gracious debt we owe one another to discover the bright crystals of delight hidden in somber circumstances and irksome tasks."  On a more pedestrian level, healing humor not only reflects an ability to walk in another's shoes, but especially to feel the other's bunions!

I = Incongruity and Imagination.

As mentioned, humor allows us to go beyond rigid "black or white" and "all or none" thinking; it enables us to generate imaginative and even paradoxical possibilities (such as my self-described professional label of "Psychohumorist" ™).  As the quintessential American humorist and satirist, Mark Twain, ingenuously noted, "Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas which before their union were not perceived to have any relation."  Humor that plays with the inconsistent, unexpected, and contradictory helps us think and laugh "out of the box."

Imagination.  Let's keep pushing the humor envelope:  research has even linked humor to innovative problem-solving.  One study revealed that people who had just watched a short comedy film of television "bloopers" were better able to find a creative solution to a puzzling problem than were people who had watched a film about math (zzzzz!) or people who had exercised.  Humor seems to stimulate the right side of our brain allowing us to think more broadly, to forge exaggerated and surprising possibilities, and to see complex and otherwise elusive relationships.

L = Liberation and Letting Go.

Humor often facilitates the discussion of a variety of subjects that may be taboo or off limits, for example, sex, religion, or politics.  Speaking the unspeakable is now possible.  Consider this example of both liberation and its limits.  Living in free-spirited New Orleans in the '80s, I would close my stress programs with, "Laughter is the best tension reliever and sex is second…So if you're having funny sex you probably are in good shape."  Now in the "Big Easy," that always got a hearty laugh.  When I moved to more politically correct, Washington, DC, in 1990 and attempted my "tried and (slightly) blue" closing, the reaction was mixed; a lot more nervous laughter or no laughter at all.

Soon I shifted my closing content, reciting the "Serenity Prayer":  "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know…where to hide the bodies."  This witticism definitely resonated with people daily fighting the bureaucratic beast.  (Obviously, while you might take the boy out of New Orleans, you can't take the sassy, N'Awlins style out of the boy.)

Letting Go.  Humor can help transform the serious into the silly, which may facilitate self-acceptance.  A classic example is 20th century man of letters, Anatole France's, pithy observation staring at his reflection upon turning seventy-five:  "Mirrors just aren't what they used to be."  He is demonstrating the courage both to "let go" of the past and to accept a more vulnerable image of self -- with warts and wrinkles, flaws and foibles.  However, Monsieur France's liberation, while personal, is not so singular.  In general, people are more open to a serious message when it's gift-wrapped with humor.

S = Superiority and Solidarity.

Superiority.  Humor is a potent vehicle for bringing down to earth inflated egos and arrogant individuals.  (Think of Will Rogers, George Carlin or political cartoons.)  Humor and the ensuing laughter may also provide the productive release of frustration and anger.  However, I must raise a cautionary red flag:  depending on a person's motives, humor can have a decidedly hostile edge.  Too often an individual or group uses humor as a weapon of attack or to elevate one's own self-esteem or status at the expense of another party.

Self-Effacing Solidarity.  Still, there's real potential for healing when you can use harmonizing and self-effacing humor to invert the superiority function.  Sometimes humor is used to cajole, playfully tease or tickle a person out of a comfort zone, to have the other join a group’s position or perspective.  (Alas, hazing humor may be more humiliating than humbling.)  Conversely, a motivational humorist may poke fun at his or her own vulnerabilities or imperfections (or to vividly illustrate having been down and out) to help affirm another's sense of self or to aid recovery from setback while reducing polarizing status distinctions.  In addition, laughing at oneself is a protective vest for blunting hostile slings and arrows.  Remember, an ability to laugh at your own flaws and foibles means beating those biased, judgmental, "know it all" critics to the punch line:  "Believe me; I can poke fun of myself a lot better than you ever can!"  And these antagonists have lost their favorite target -- an oversensitive ego.

Here's a personal example.  In my stress seminars, when hair loss is mentioned as a sign of stress my immediate response, using an exaggerated tone, is, "I resemble that remark."  This is followed by:  "You all should have more respect for my (vanishing) hair.  It was recently listed in the World Wildlife Federation's 'endangered species' list."

Finally, I believe there is no better way of inducing a sense of "solidarity" than when fellow sufferers can laugh together and through mutual openness realize a common fate -- the journey along the evolutionary path of becoming "learners not losers."

In closing, perhaps the pioneering film genius, Charlie Chaplin, succinctly captured the basic and broad purpose of humor:

     A paradoxical thing is that in making comedy, the tragic is precisely that which
     arouses the funny…we have to laugh due to our helplessness in the face of
     natural forces and (in order) not to go crazy.

Hopefully, you can discover and design your own Motivational Humor Path and can help yourself and others…Practice Safe Stress!