Bright Idea: Learning to Laugh in the Face of Adversity

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Photograph of costume glasses with a clown

Whether you’re a youth worker feeling overburdened or you’re working with a young person who's feeling angry, fearful, or depressed, adding humor into your day can benefit you both.

So says Allen Klein, author of The Healing Power of Humor and Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying, who often carries around a red clown nose in case the situation calls for it.

Laughing provides both psychological and physical benefits that help people better cope with any situation, Klein says. “Psychologically, noticing humor even in stressful situations allows people to gain more perspective and not feel so caught up in what’s happening in their lives. Physically, laughing gives all the systems a workout and relieves tension.”

And laughter is contagious, he says, so once a youth worker points out something funny, it can lighten the mood for everyone around them, including youth.

Developing a positive attitude and the skills to use humor productively may not happen overnight. Klein offered some tips and considerations for incorporating humor into youth work.

Laughing Matters

Klein developed an acronym based on the word “LAUGH” to help folks remember how to find humor every day.

  • L is for “let go” of whatever is angering or distressing you. Take a couple of deep breaths and recognize that you have the power to rise above whatever is bothering you. This enables you to become more aware of how you view a situation and to think about changing your attitude.
     
  • A is for “attitude.” We can’t control what happens to us, but we can respond to our experiences with a positive attitude. The way we respond is more important than the actual events, Klein explained.
     
  • U is for “you,” because only you can change your attitude or let go.
     
  • G is for “go do it,” or use what you find in the previous steps to give yourself a more positive and hopeful perspective, and
     
  • H is for “humor eyes and ears.” “Humor is all around us all the time, but we don’t always notice it,” Klein says. Look around and notice something you didn’t see before, like a bumper sticker, for example, that may make you laugh.

The Power of Humor

Klein urges youth workers to recognize that humor is a very powerful thing that can both help and hurt. “Develop a rapport with young people first, listen to see what they joke about, and be careful not to poke fun at sensitive topics,” he told us. But you don’t have to worry about staying current with the latest jokes to incorporate humor successfully. Instead,  “the most effective opportunities for humor are often right in front of our noses,” Klein says.

You can also ask yourself or have youth ask themselves, “What funny things have happened while I was homeless?” or “What funny things have happened in the shelter?”  Sometimes you don’t see it until you ask yourself to find something funny.

You can even suggest that youth try to find one funny thing each day, Klein suggests. “When people realize they can tell a joke about themselves and make others laugh, they see ‘If I can laugh about this, maybe it’s not so tragic.’”

For more ideas on using humor in your work with youth, visit the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor website, or read Klein’s articles online.

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