Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The emotionally loaded quarter of the year (HICA)

A couple of weeks ago I was heartened to see a TV commercial for a store that promised they would not put up Christmas decorations this year until after Thanksgiving. Sadly, they stand alone amid the commercial whoop-dee-doo of the season with their noble decision to "celebrate one holiday at at time".

The holidays give many of us the HICAs: a heebie-jeebie mish-mash of emotions with the ominous realization Here It Comes Again.

Every year, around this time of the year, for more than ten years, I have been publishing variations on a humorous and serious article about how to stay sane, maintain emotional balance, and beat the holiday blues & blahs.

From October through News Year's the holidays pile up. Many of us get tied in emotional knots caught up between commercial rat-race exhortations, memories, social pressures, family "shoulds" and limited financial resources. 

Included with a more or less psychological explanation of holiday blues, common-sense advice, some tongue-in-cheek observations, and to show that it is actually possible and appropriate to find the lighter side of all this, I included a dozen or so one-liners and eventually built a list of nineteen guidelines.

Here are a few of the jokes:

• You can't blame Native Americans for being upset.  To the world, Columbus was a great explorer.  To the Native Americans, he was a subdivider.

• I love Halloween.  It's the only night of the year rock stars look natural.

• It's all right to scare people at Halloween, but this year I think kids are overdoing it.  I saw one of them dressed up as a heating oil bill.

• Last Halloween there was a knock at the door, I opened it and there were my three kids dressed up as the scariest thing I could ever imagine --my three kids!

• To me, Thanksgiving is a very important time of the year. It's my stomach's busy season.

• My wife and I always have an equitable division of labor on Thanksgiving.  She shops, cooks, sets the table, serves, cleans up -- and I tell her who's winning the game.

• Santa Claus makes a list of who's naughty or nice.  I just hope he grades on a curve.

Here are the guidelines.

1) Join a laughter circle or laughter club.
2) Tell people how you feel.  Do not isolate yourself.
3) Give yourself and everyone else permission to feel less than perfect.
4) Talk openly to a trusted friend or family member.
5) Get some exercise.
6) Avoid excessive use of drugs or alcohol.
7) Do something you're good at.
8) Function within your routine.
9) Do something nice for yourself.
10) Look at your unhappy feelings logically.
11) Stay away from depressed or emotionally upset people.
12) Give yourself some quiet time.
13) Maintain contact with your counselor or support group.
14) Keep your holiday expectations realistic. Expect the intensity of holiday togetherness to breed some irritability, and take it in stride.
15) Give added attention to the things you enjoy.
16) Don't take on more responsibility than you can comfortably handle.
17) Skip the commercialized pressures. Don’t go into debt for gift-giving. Give what represents the real spirit of the season: your time, attention, and caring.
18) Negotiate to get a reasonable amount of whatever you need (time, attention, support). At the same time, be flexible about the way things are done. Build some change into family rituals.
19) Engage in prayer or meditation that suits you. Try it both alone and in community.

Click here to read all of the advice, all of the jokes and all of the guidelines, and please pass it on.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hitting home runs

The idea that the frequency of merely getting on base might just be the single most important statistic in the game was drawn ever so clearly for me in the film, "Moneyball".

I have spent way too much of my life waiting to hit the grand slam that wins the World Series, believing that it was the only thing that counted. I expected that  one day I would hit 'the big one' and then be bathed in glorious contentment, satisfaction, and the admiration of my family and friends, thereafter. I could not have been more wrong.

I see now that I have not kept score on myself either accurately or realistically. By under-valuing the importance of just getting on base, I diminished my accomplishments and the joy that I might have had all along.

I am making up for that now with a new perspective. I have lowered my standards appropriately.

I realize that I am really good at getting on base.

Yes, I have made a lot of outs, and swung at some mighty bad pitches,

Notwithstanding the occasional home runs and the even rarer grand slam, there have been many, many more walks, singles, doubles, and triples than I ever gave their proper due. I've gotten on a few times by being hit by pitches, but, fortunately, never been beaned.

I’m reviewing a lifetime of stats now, hoping to re-live as much as possible every on-base at bat, delighting in them all, watching the game films in slow-motion, savoring every step around the bases.

A recent epiphany brought me another kind of clarity as I partied into the night with a group of workshop attendees. Haunting memories of last year's medical Odyssey melted away somehow and moved from an irrational, PTSD-type of apprehension, to the background. Over. Done. Past. And passed. It was the gift of insight into a personal milestone.

To paraphrase Ernest Thayer with a different ending for the Mudville nine:
"Oh, right here in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing right here, and here now hearts are light,
And here one man is laughing, and hearing children shout;
There is great joy in Mudville — Stevie Wilson's back on base."

Looking back over a lifetime of getting on base I am determined to enjoy taking my sweet time rounding my way towards home.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Laughter therapy's healthy respect for humor & comedy

A recent audio report focuses on the curiously curative potential of humor and comedy in the face of cancer. Laughter therapists should find it useful.

For important reasons World Laughter Tour (WLT), draws distinctions between therapeutic humor and therapeutic laughter. WLT methods and theoretical foundations are almost exclusively about laughter, mirthful laughter. But, how could laughter therapists, i.e., Certified Laughter Leaders (CLLs), be fully effective without at least a basic knowledge of both humor and laughter?

It would be wrong-headed and misleading for an enthusiastic appreciation of the power of laughter to imply a disdain of humor.

In a 1996 documentary about laughter clubs getting started in India, a laughter club member in Mumbai declares, “Laughter alone is the solution!” But, respectfully, I have always disagreed. To me, his zealous enthusiasm for laughter is too narrow of a viewpoint.

Laughter and humor are allies that overlap

Therapeutic humor entails different challenges from therapeutic laughter; it has its own theories and methods.  Still, there is the place where humor and laughter overlap, and that place is essential to laughter therapists. That’s one of the reasons I advocate for them to try at least one year’s memberships in AATH (Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor) and ISHS (International Society for Humor Studies).

The theme of this blog is that laughter and humor are therapeutic allies. Separate in some ways but inseparable in other ways. Over the years, the WLT course of study has included more and more information about this alliance.

To add breadth and depth the curative potential of laughter (and humor), we integrate a six-step program of attitudinal healing as a vital part of our process. The International School of Laughter (France) includes extensive coursework in Playful Sophrology. Fully effective laughter therapy blends many complimentary practices.

Laughter therapy blends many complimentary practices

This combination plus the dynamic/organic process of developing the method, has fostered a distinctive and highly credible brand of laughter therapy, drawing from numerous schools. I am excited that even more will be added soon and in the coming years as we become aware of the true depth and breadth of both our mission and our method.

The fact Public Radio aired a report on comedy & cancer is subtle evidence that the pioneers in this field, in their own special way, are making significant inroads into illuminating and improving the human condition.


Friday, October 7, 2011

a SHIFT to a higher consciousness

Listen up and pass it on.
Finding happiness requires playing life like an accordion. The sweetest music requires compression and expansion of the bellows, in the right amounts at the right times.

Sometimes condensing ideas to their simplest forms is helpful. For example, my blog of 5/17/11, tells the story of how all the wisdom in the world could be condensed into a single word. The word is maybe.

And while that may be true, most of us will need a more complete map for our journey to territories like health, happiness, joy, and contentment. To get there, I suspect, most of us would need a few more details, guideposts, landmarks, and road signs. We'd appreciate an expanded map.

Generous helpings of humor and laughter result from Good-Hearting Living
Expanding from the wisdom and truth of maybe, I added a half dozen guideposts to help point the way. They are the practices of attitudinal healing that comprise the program of Good-Hearted Living(tm): paying compliments, being flexible, gratitude, kindness, forgiveness, and chocolate. You can click on the link in this paragraph for a one-page summary of how it works (condensed). Or, buy the book (expanded).

When I was a practicing psychotherapist the school of psychology I followed was W.W.: Whatever Works, an eclectic and pragmatic approach that was very successful. I learned that "crazy" comes in two basic forms: bad and good.

Crazy bad is shorthand for conditions of emotional distress and mental illness that makes some people dangerous and prevents people from being fully functional, highly effective, and truly happy. Crazy good often results in negative judgements that some others put on us when we are merely being creative and individualistic, our unique selves, pursuing higher consciousness, doing no harm, but not doing what they think we should be doing.

Attached to the pursuit of the therapeutic alliance between laughter and humor are some values about the world being a better place and people treating each other in a kinder, fairer, more humane way. If peaceful co-existence, a greener world, a more loving and laughter filled world are crazy ideas, then I would say that are crazy good ideas.

Now, as the world seems to be tilting more toward crazy bad, we need a SHIFT to more crazy good.

That shift will require an expanded map. More details. More landmarks. More road signs.

Here is one written by Rabbi Howard L Apothaker. It was presented during Yom Kippur services as "An Acrostic 'Days of Awe' Prayer" - actually a series of prayers from A-to-Z, "from Awe to Zeal, for returning to our most humane conduct." With gratitude to Rabbi Apothaker, I offer it here, slightly paraphrased, as an expanded set of alphabetic guideposts to help us balance ourselves and thereby contribute to a more balanced world.

Please join me on the path of a SHIFT to a higher consciousness...

From animosity to affability,
From bigotry to blessing.
From cruelty to caring.
From deception to devotion.
From enmity to engagement,
From faultfinding to forgiveness,
From greed to generosity,
From hostility to heartfulness,
From injustice to integrity,
From jingoism to judiciousness,
From Klanishness to kindness,
From lewdness to love,
From maliciousness to mercy,
From nastiness to niceness,
From obstinancy to openmindedness,
From prejudice to peacefulness,
From querulousness to quietude,
From ridicule to respect,
From selfishness to sacrifice.,
From trash-talk to tact,
From violence to values,
From warfare to welcoming,
From xenophobia to examination of self,
From yelling insults to yielding ground,
From zero-sum to a zeal for cooperation.

True mirthful laughter and humor will be the greatest therapeutic allies when they are linked to a higher consciousness. Let us seek to accomplish that alliance and fulfill its potential, in Rabbi Apothaker's words, "For all peoples, for every person, at this time, through all time, in our time; and for all human convictions and creeds."

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Gelopedia: Some antics, semantics, and the language of laughter & humor

I have always maintained that one of the key requirements of an effective Certified Laughter Leader (a laughter therapist, or an expert in laughter) is to be cheerful. “I can’t be happy every day,” said opera star Beverly Sills, “But at least I can be cheerful.”

That, plus my fascination with the importance of semantics and the role of general semantics in happiness, explains my excitement about the most recent entry in Gelopedia.

Exhilaration: "Exhilaration" was introduced as an emotion construct aimed at integrating the various responses occurring at the levels of behavior, physiology, and emotional experience (Ruch, 1990a).”
“Of Latin origin (hilaris means ‘cheerful’) and is used here in its original sense to denote the process of making cheerful or the temporary rise in cheerful state.”

“…an emotion construct denoting a temporary increase in a cheerful state that is observable in behavior, physiology, and emotional experience, and that occurs in response to humor, but also to other stimuli.”

“Although conceptually different, exhilaration and the state of cheerfulness should be studied together, since it can be hypothesized that there is a reciprocal relationship between them. A cheerful state facilitates the induction of exhilaration, and an accumulation of exhilaration responses may lead to longer-lasting changes in the level of cheerfulness.”

“Within taxonomies of emotion categories, exhilaration may be seen as a facet of the positive emotion of happiness (or joy). Within the family of positive emotions, exhilaration may be the one most strongly aligned with laughter; whereas empirical studies of happiness rarely report its occurrence, laughter is an inevitable response category in humor studies.”

From Exhilaration and Humor, Willibald Ruch, In M. Lewis & J. M. Haviland (Eds.) (1993), The Handbook of Emotion (Chapter 42). New, York, NY: Guilford Publications, 605-616.

Readers are encouraged to submit additions to Gelopedia to keep it dynamic and organic; a living document. Send nominations to info@worldlaughtertour.com

Click here to get Ruch’s paper

Click here to get the gelopedia

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What does a Rigologist look look like?

Bonjour, mes amis! C'est moi, le Rigologist!

With my teacher Corinne Cosseron
An old joke has a very nervous 13 year-old Bar Mitzvah boy thinking so much about the presents he is about to receive that instead of saying "Today I am a man," he distractedly starts his thank-you speech to the congregation with, "Today I am a fountain pen!"

Well, today, thanks to our good friends and colleagues Corinne and Fred Cosseron, I am Rigologist! I am not nervous, and I did receive two magnificent gifts: le beau chapeau rouge (beautiful red hat) you see in the photo above, and the masterful teachings of Corinne and Fred, who came from France to share wisdom, inspiration, and technique with me and eleven compatriots in Columbus, August 15-19, 2011.

From the website of the International School of Laughter (ISL): RIGOLOGY® and RIGOLOGIST® come from the French word “RIGOLO”, that means “funny” or “amusing” in child talk. « RIGOLOGY® » means  « the science of laughter and joie de vivre» « RIGOLOGIST® » is « the professional expert in laughter ».

A unique and very special workshop in Laughter is the Best Medicine
Pam and I organized the World Laughter Tour, Inc. (WLT) production of a 5-day course in Rigology. The curriculum highlighted the major topics covered in five weeks of education and training typically taught in France by Corinne and Fred Cosseron, founders of ISL, and their expert staff. It was conducted for the first time ever in the United States at Columbus, Ohio. Twelve professionals earned the title of Rigologist.

Working collaboratively brings the world closer together. Laughter is universal. Studying it together and having an open exchange of ideas connects us all with greater tolerance and better understanding of the human condition.

A baker's dozen of Rigologists at USA workshop
Rigology, Steve Wilson and Corrine Cosseron  
Independently, Corinne and I have ventured around the world exploring and synthesizing the techniques that stimulate joyful living.

I am impressed by the parallel developments in the ISL (France) and the WLT (USA) certification in therapeutic laughter. Our methods overlap in some areas, diverge in others, and are very complementary. It is surely a zeitgeist, a sign of the times and great minds thinking alike! Both methods teach techniques of laughter and joyful living to health care and social workers as well as people working in education and businesses, and also to the public at large.

The ISL course included highlights of Playful Sophrology®, a technique developed in Bogota, (Colombia) using Indian cooperative games, clowning techniques especially oriented toward hospital care, various humor exercises from different countries, games for all  ages, playful exercises associating dance, rhythms, sounds, singing, touch, massages, hugs, and more. Participants engaged in guided imagery to find their "inner smile", laughter meditation to clear the mind, and street clowning (not the circus type) to give away laughter and free hugs.

"From all corners of the world, unlimited imagination for celebrating provides a catharsis to help us digest events that are somewhat painful and which we all must sometime face," Corinne explains. "All People recognize the universal therapeutic power of laughter, smiling, and positive feelings in general."

Based on a synthesis of these findings, the course offered a toolbox combining many different techniques from all over the world. ISL co-founder Fred Cosseron said, "The goal is to offer to the grumpy westerners we have become, an array of efficient, quick, playful and funny tools intended to bring back laughter and joyful living  wherever it has disappeared − that is, everywhere!"

So, now there are 2 dozen "Rigologists"® in North America offering to all, and more specifically to health care professionals, social workers, and people working in education and businesses, the techniques for healthy and joyful living whose benefits are now scientifically proven. Plans are in the works to repeat the USA course in 2012.

For more information e-mail info@worldlaughtertour.com

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Great news for laughter-and-humor-o-philes, especially if you are raising kids

I love finding tidbits like this. They reassure and encourage me. They underscore my love of humor and laughter. When our grandkids, all ten of them, react (and they do) to my antics with, "Silly Pop-Pop!" I know I am on the right track.

Some antics in the family
From The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics, by John Pollack, speaking of the digital influence on learning, the inclination and ability to make connections i.e., get the joke, Pollack writes:

"Research has suggested that the single most important predictor of intelligence, academic performance and later social success is how many words a baby hears on a regular basis, as long as those words are spoken by an engaged and present person, not broadcast over radio or TV. So, if encryption theory--the idea that humor requires shared, unspoken information to 'Get' the joke--actually explains the evolutionary advantages of verbal humor, the most verbal among us might just end up getting in the last word for generations to come.

"If such wordplay does offer and evolutionary advantage, a propensity for it might well be hardwired within us. As the late neurologist Max Levin theorized: 'If play were not pleasurable, kittens would never chase each other's tails, and so would lack practice in the motor skills needed for survival. If there were no pleasure in the appreciation of the absurd, if there were no fun in playing with ideas, putting them together in various combinations and seeing what makes sense or nonsense--in brief, if there were not such a thing as humor--children would lack practice in the art of thinking, the most complex and most powerful survival tool of all."

Being picky
From a British Minister of Education: "It is important not to make plans that are too rigid … Everything to do with children must have room to grow … Schools must have freedom to experiment, and variety for the sake of freshness, for the fun of it even … Laughter in the classroom, self-confidence growing every day, eager interest instead of bored uniformity … (Ellen Wilkinson, Minister of Education 1945–1947, Labour Government, concluding paragraph of The New Secondary
Education; quoted in Vernon, 1982).

And, making my heart sing, comes this from Helen Johnson, Director of the Professional Education Research Centre at Roehampton University of Surrey, UK (2005):

"What is laughter? Its sound is easily recognisable. But what can it be said to represent? Aristotle saw the tendency to laugh as a force for good, and clearly laughter reflects an amusement and happiness with life, however fleeting. But in itself it can be a building block to high positive self-esteem and confidence. The playful and laughing child, one who has not been cowed into a sullen acquiescence or provoked into an aggressive rebellion, has the spirit and the means to learn, and that such learning should go beyond the mere assimilation of the familiar (Ken Dodd’s ‘logic’), though rules are important, to the adding of new ideas (Piaget, 1952; Inhelder B and Piaget J, 1958). So humour and laughter are part of the development of the individual child – and support the personal, spiritual and professional development of the teacher. Laughter is about autonomy, but it is also a unifying force. Laughter builds relationships in the classroom and the playground – and in the staff room. These relationships are between child and child, child and adult, adult and child, and adult and adult.

"In summary, it can be said that, as a qualitative performance indicator, laughter reflects the following behaviour:

Management● Laughter helps effective decision-making
● Laughter locates a moral sense in that decision-making

Difference● Laughter sees difference
● Laughter is an ironic process
● Laughter is an expression of the awareness of moral complexity
● Laughter is an expression of cognitive or emotional or social dissonance

Political position● Laughter is a political act
● Laughter is an expression of plurality
● Laughter trains pupils to be citizens
● Laughter is dissent
● Laughter is unifying

Human development● Laughter sees the gap between the norm or standard or target and the reality of life
● Laughter gives the individual autonomy, self-esteem and self-confidence
● Laughter builds relationships with others

Educational processTherefore, laughter is an educational process.

"It has been argued that one such indicator of culture and organisational climate and its impact on the performance of the school is laughter. (Its importance is based on it being a significant precondition and support of learning; being an indication that learning is taking place; and that it is a learning act in itself). On that basis, it is suggested here that each school should have a laughter rating.

"This is important; as research has long shown (West, 1992) that parents choose a school where their child will be happy." (Italics added by SW, who is very happy about all this.)

Grafito incognito
Soulful family
Family nose

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Psst! God Doesn't Expect Us to Do Everything (pass it on)

In my healthy lifestyle program, Good-Hearted Living(tm), Wednesdays are for gratitude. I am grateful for the friend who sent this to me today (a Wednesday).

God Doesn't Expect Us to Do Everything
         by Charlie W. Shedd
   Grandpa was working on the gate when a small boy appeared.  He puzzled a while as small boys will.  Then he asked, "Whatcha' doin', grandpa?"
   To which the aged sage replied, "Sonny, there are five kinds of broken things in this old world."
   "There's the kind which, when they are broken, can never be fixed.
   "Then there's the kind that'll fix themselves if you leave them alone.
   "There's also the kind which are none of my business.  Somebody else has got to fix them.
   "There's the kind which, when they are broken, you should never worry about.  Them only God can fix.
   "And then there's the kind I got to fix.  That's what I'm doing.  Fixin' this gate."
   Wouldn't it be fine if my grandchildren could also learn this from me  --- God doesn't expect us to do everything.

Regardless of where you stand on the question of God, I think there is a good lesson here. Pass it on.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pre-script for Patient Communication: Your words are powerful

"A kind word often goes unspoken, but never goes unheard."

November 2010, Columbus Ohio: My surgery for a perforated bowel was as much of a surprise as it was an emergency. There was no time to prepare but in a very important sense my preparation had already been underway because I used a particular surgery preparation method for my hip replacement a few years earlier.

I feel certain that because I had practiced the program for an earlier, planned surgery, my brain was already unconsciously "mapped" for the emergency episode.

Thanks to my nursing entourage: wife & Wonder Woman Pam, Deborah Harbinson, and Susan Stewart, this has also been true for my subsequents surgeries. There were no surprises, no emergencies, lots of preparation, and tons of support from friends and colleagues.

Both Deborah and Susan are RNs and Certified Laughter Leaders (CLLs), and Deborah is also certified in a method created by Peggy Huddleston, RN, called Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster

If you or a loved one is facing surgery, I highly recommend that you learn and apply this method. If possible, give the patient a month or more of lead time to practice and prepare.

The audio relaxation and imagery program is excellent; it was powerful for me. Huddleston claims it will reduce anxiety before surgery, lead to using less pain medication, and help you recover faster. I used then both before and after each planned surgery, and I am convinced that it works!

My favorite imagery is the "pink, fuzzy blanket". It is so comforting to imagine being wrapped up like that. And it helped to feel the support of friends who referred to it in e-mails, text messages, and get-well card. Some even sent actual blankets!

My other favorite part of the program is writing a script for the doctors and nurses to say while I am going under the anesthesia. The unconscious mind responds to statements made within earshot of the patient. You want only positives, and lots of them, going in through the auditory channels.

Happy to report: My health care professional teams have always been cooperative and supportive.
Here is the script I used for my most recent trip to the operating room:


TO: My dear Dr. Zochowski, my anesthesiologist, and the super OR staff:
I am looking forward to the surgery you will do for me on Tuesday morning.
Part of my preparation is using the program created by Peggy Huddleston, RN, “Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster.” I used this a few years ago when I had a hip replacement, and believe it was helpful. It makes use of  goal-setting, visualization, progressive relaxation, and a short script for the OR staff. That’s where you come in. I earnestly request that you and the nurses and any other professionals present during the surgery take a minute or so to speak the script below.
As I am going under the anesthesia, please say:1) “Following this operation, you will feel comfortable and you will heal very well.” (Repeat 5 times.)
Towards the end of surgery, say:2) “Your operation has gone very well.” (Repeat 5 times.)
3) “Following this operation, you will be hungry for chocolate protein shakes. You will be thirsty and you will urinate easily.” (Repeat 5 times.)
4) “Following this operation, your bowels will ‘wake up’ smoothly and comfortably. At home, you will resume your program of exercises for recovery and health.” (Repeat 5 times.)
THANK YOU for what you are doing for me!.

We had copies of the script in the pre-op area, handed them out, and reviewed the instructions. Following Huddleston's advice, I also had a copy of the script pinned to gown in the middle of my chest. It was a very friendly experience that helped to put my mind at ease. I always let them know I am grateful for what they are doing for me, not what they are doing to me.

When I was wheeled into the OR and transferred to the table, the staff immediately began saying all those reassuring things to me. I remember smiling and feeling reassured. The nurse to my right, held my hand and even ad-libbed her own, sincere assurances. The anesthesia too hold gently and the surgery was a terrific success.

More On Patient Communication
Edward Leigh, a good friend and a cancer survivor, has created The Center for Healthcare Communication. (CHC). Eddie is also a Certified Laughter Leader. (If you see a pattern here of many of my friends being health care professionals as well as Certified Laughter Leaders, I believe it is a reflection of our shared humanistic orientation to our practices.)

CHC is a results-oriented organization focused on using evidence-based information to create productive healthcare organizations. They work with a variety of healthcare organizations, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, healthcare associations and medical practices.

Mission and Vision
The CHC mission is to increase patient satisfaction/safety and decrease communication-related medical errors. They accomplish this by:
  • Establishing an open and empathic environment for patients and their families.
  • Providing superior training, coaching and consulting services.
  • Creating a productive and positive environment for people to work.
  • Finding the best practices, refining them and incorporate them into other organizations.
  • Providing resources to help healthcare organizations achieve excellent patient care
Their approach is comprehensive in that they work with everyone in the system (doctors, nurses, administrative professionals, etc.) to create a thriving healthcare environment.
Anyone facing surgery, and everyone who is part of a healthcare professional team, would do well to be sure they are in synch with the CHC philosophy and methods.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Therapeutic Laughter: A humanistic orientation

The World Laughter Tour, Inc. logo

A Would Laughter Tour, Inc, Laughter Therapy Photo Album


In the World Laughter Tour (WLT) model of therapeutic laughter, great care is given to creating a particular psychological environment in which the therapeutic laughter activity will take place.

Being quite familiar with activity therapy in general as well as the specific applications of music, art, and recreation as therapeutic modalities, and with the help of astute scientists and practitioners in the field of applied and therapeutic humor and laughter, I was able to develop a therapeutic prototype based on a humanistic orientation toward what variously might be referred to as “sense of humor abuse” or “a deficiency of authentic laughter”. It contains psycho-educational activities, attitudes and techniques with which to effectively work with those who seek a therapeutic or remedial experience.

The presumption of trauma
The WLT therapeutic laughter program assumes that virtually everyone suffers from some degree of humor/laughter trauma. With rare exception, and most of the exceptions are people who have had or practice a therapeutic laughter type of program, I have never met a person who was satisfied with the amount of laughter in their life. It is common to hear, "Of course, we could use more laughter at work (or at home, or wherever). Who doesn't need more laughter?"

I believe that this serious and nearly ubiquitous condition of laughter deficiency prevents people from getting the most enjoyment out of life, interferes with constructive human relations, and keeps us from being as healthy and happy as possible. In previous writing I have addressed the likelihood that there is a natural minimum RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) of laughter, which I estimate to be about fifteen minutes in the aggregate.

Trauma to one’s humor/laughter apparatus can be inflicted by abuse, by accidental injury, and in the normal course of human life events. We will look at the abuse type of trauma in some detail in this writing.

The accidental traumas would include the ingestion of various substances including alcohol, manganese, anesthetics, and narcotics; and could include brain injury, tumors, and other neurological conditions including dementias. Life event traumas that affect, i.e., compromise, humor and laughter would include misconceptions and misinformation, grief, PTSD, physical illness, mental illness, addictions, and other significant life stressors. I believe these can often be successfully addressed by laughter therapy.

Elsewhere, about twenty years ago, I have written about the conditions resulting from this trauma under the coined term “Sense of Humor Abuse”. I defined this abuse as (1) the continuation of harmful, painful, unwanted actions toward the victim even after the victim has implored for them to stop; (2) inflicting damaging actions upon the victim even if the victim does not ask for them to stop, but taking ill advantage of a difference in strength or power of the perpetrator over the victim; or, (3) the perpetrator teaches the victim false, erroneous information and/or beliefs that weakens the victim’s ability to develop adequate emotional and physical defenses and, hence, inadequate functionality as a mature adult.

Now, with a deeper understanding of the science of laughter, and a lot more experience with the results of laughter therapy, I can expand on and update my thinking about the process. For one thing, I would add that the method being developed addresses significant deficiencies in authentic, true, mirthful laughter.

This new therapy is a necessity based on the assumption that many cultures precipitate widespread emotional trauma by prevalent toxic humor and toxic --including erroneous-- attitudes about laughter. These traumas manifest in many ways. We assume that almost everyone who would seek or benefit from the therapeutic laughter experience has experienced one or more types of this trauma, and would find it advantageous to have a suitable remedial experience. I will give just a few examples here.

Laughter/humor trauma often begins with the victim in childhood. It may be inflicted by a peer or adult. It can cause people to reach the point where, among other symptoms, they express that they have “lost their laughter” or “forgotten how to laugh”; they stifle their uninhibited joyful, mirthful laughter for fear of criticism; and, they do not develop humor and laughter as resources for a healthy, balanced life. These are just some examples.

Almost every person who attends a therapeutic laughter session remembers being on the receiving end of sense of humor abuse (a figure of speech that we will have to work with for now), such as:
“You laugh too loud.”
“You snort… or cackle… or sound like a horse laughing.”
“Stop your giggling and settle down!”
“Grow up!”
“Laugh before breakfast and you will cry before supper.”

The victim gets, often repeatedly, ego-deflating criticism, blame and even punishment for laughing. Humor/laughter abuse may also show up in the familiar blame-the-victim scenario associated with teasers, ridiculers, and other abuses delivered as insults or ‘zingers’. The abuser hides behind rationalizations of blame by which the victim may be admonished as:
“You can’t take a joke.”
“I was only kidding.”
“You are too sensitive.”
“You have a lousy sense of humor.”

Having felt the mortifying sting of rejection or the implication of being flawed, the victim typically attempts to modify something about their laughter, which may have been perfectly natural and genuine for them. In hopes of find acceptance and love, they adopt a false laugh by modifying the pitch, tone, timing or frequency of their own laughter. They practice this false laugh until they forget that there ever was an original, authentic, natural laugh. Such false laughter can never induce the mirth nor have the powerful physiological correlates of authentic laughter. The victim arrives at adulthood with less than adequate ego defenses and resources for happy, fully functional maturity. The therapeutic laughter experience contributes to correcting this condition.

Getting the laughter therapy cart and horse in the correct order
We would not withhold cough medicine and give it only when the patient has earned it by stopping coughing. The medicine, especially in our program, often mistakenly looks like the reward but should not be withheld until the cure is effected.

In the WLT method, Certified Laughter Leaders (CLLs) expose participants to the therapeutic potential of mirthful laughter through a systematic, repeatable, and educational program. More or less, the fun comes first, last, and if we can manage it, in a manner of speaking, always. Such experiences turn out to be emotionally corrective.

Fun, mirth, attentiveness, support, encouragement and proper information are the heart of the experience in the laughter therapy circle, along with the invitation to examine and adopt a healthier life style through healthier attitudes. This is done systematically and is quite advantageously repeated until the participant can carry on the process independent of the formal laughter therapy session, with self-education and, perhaps, occasional returns for ‘booster shots’.

The adage says that “all work and no play” makes Jack dull because it is an unhealthy, unbalanced lifestyle. A full, rich life echoes with laughter, and is anything but dull. Conventional wisdom has it that fun, relaxation and laughter are rewards that come after being earned through hard work. This is also known as “saving the best for last.” WLT takes the unconventional position that the remedial experience is, of necessity, mirthful and uplifting, i.e., it is one of eating dessert first.

The ability to participate in and create spontaneous, uninhibited, joyful, mirthful laugher with others and for one’s self is one of the most important characteristic goals of the therapeutic laughter method. Fun and laughter and loving support are both the “medicine” and the sign that it is working.

People who fear laughter
I will sometimes refer to those who have been traumatized by sense of humor abuse as people who fear laughter. It is a figure of speech I will use for now, recognizing that it deserves further elaboration down the road. It is not the laughter that they fear but the awful repercussions they have come to associate with laughter.

They need to be heard, listened to, protected from further trauma, and given remedial corrective emotional experiences.

Creating a laughter therapy environment
Albeit quite fun, the WLT CLL has training, education, and support for creating the environment most likely to engage the participants in corrective emotional experiences. Techniques, including specific attitudes and group leadership, are used by CLLs to help participants be amenable to enthusiastic participation.

Programming is largely about imparting accurate information and ego support and encouraging participation that gives each person their own ‘data’ upon which to judge the values of the experience. The CLL often begins by pointing out that many different activities and aspects of laughter have been described or proven to be beneficial; gradually, over time, these benefits are enumerated. Typically an activity may be viewed by adults as silly, or as a diversion. The CLL explains and demonstrates that these ‘therapeutic devices’ are actually exercises in life-skill development, in socialization, in stress reduction, and a supplement to their education, or other healing processes in which they may be engaged: physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.

Above all, the process of the therapeutic laughter activity must be managed so that it does not damage anyone, for example by deliberately highlighting a known weakness. Beyond this, it needs to be able to release tension, minimize frustration, and accommodate to the group’s cognitive development and also to any norms of the group, start gently, finish gently and only go on for as long as conditions are favorable.
A CLL Training Class

The CLL training has three over-riding objectives. Successfully completing the basic training course, the CLL will be better able to
•  Use information from many sources including Gelotology (laughter science), Positive Psychology findings, knowledge of ancient practices, and modern clinical, counseling, healthcare, educational, consulting, corporate, and volunteer work.
•  Help their clients use life energies to choose and modify their life and work directions, and bring mirthful laughter to life.
•  Identify emotional and attitudinal factors that improve health and increase happiness & life satisfaction for clients, patients, residents, and students.

Based on the anecdotal evidence provided by more than 6,000 people already trained in laughter therapy, I believe that a well-founded, systematic, humanistic therapeutic laughter program can successfully address concerns of humor/laughter trauma and health & happiness, and bring about improvement in a wide variety of conditions. I eagerly await and encourage the gathering of scientific evidence as well.

The Audacity of Laughter: a salute to the laughter troops

1. boldness or daring, especially with confident disregard for personal safety, conventional thought, or other restrictions.
2. effrontery or insolence; shameless boldness
3. Usually, audacities. audacious acts or statements.
Synonyms 1. nerve, spunk, grit, temerity, foolhardiness.
2. impudence, impertinence, brashness.

Starting with cave dwellers and proceeding through jesters, wits, and witty fools, there has long been an unconventional cohort of people who have the temerity to assert that the world can be a better place if only we can generate enough laughter and humor. They are not claiming that laughter alone can cure the world’s apparently human-influenced ills: famine, war, hatred, disease, etc., but they do ardently believe that human beings have the power to bring about some pretty significant improvements.

Not only do they have confidence in their belief that they can make a difference in the right direction, but they dare to offer their contributions through laughter and humor. They have done it in the face of rejection, resistance, and opposition and, talk about temerity, they even did it at times when laughter was considered extremely un-fashionable, or when they have to break laws to do it. Take Lord Chesterfield, please! (c. 1770): "I would heartily wish that you may often be seen to smile, but never heard to laugh while you live. Frequent and loud laughter is the characteristic of folly and ill maners...In my mind, there is nothing so illiberal, and so ill bred, as audible laughter."

Seemingly undaunted, they have had the grit to proceed and persist in helping us keep the funny side up.

People have enlisted in this laughing legion from all walks of life, some accidentally, some intentionally. Some seem to be “naturals” while others work hard at developing a talent or craft or strategy. Their initial motivations are quite varied and sometimes difficult to fathom, but they have two things in common: the desire to evoke mirthful laughter, and the nerve, the chutzpah, to fly in the face of traditional and conventional thinking, even defying some religious beliefs that laughter is merely an immature waste of time, juvenile, puerile, trivial, trifling, and unholy.

I like these people and salute these laughing troops. I am one of them. I consciously joined this laughing army in 1984, making it my life’s work.
Some scientific, anthropological laughter theorists contend that we humans have been laughing for about 4 million years; it’s a social thing. In fact, they tell us, we probably laughed together before we had language and could talk to each other. Now, that’s pretty funny.

"I've got a million of 'em! Don't forget to tip your waitress."

The Philogelos is collection of Greek jokes that were being told 3,500 years ago. And, can you imagine an even earlier prehistoric, pre-linguistic knock-knock joke?
Ungh grmph?
Ooglish urp?
Ooglish hurmph kblemr!
(Yuk! Yuk!)

Through the ages we have gone by many names and played many roles:
Clown (Class, circus, or hospital)
Traveling salesman
Husband, wife, mother-in-law

I salute the kindred spirits who have the audacity to provoke laughter, to embrace laughter, to cherish laughter, and to believe that we can make a difference with laughter.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Very punny, without apology

Energizer Bunny arrested - charged with battery.
A pessimist's blood type is always b-negative.
A Freudian slip is when you say one thing but mean your mother.
Shotgun wedding: A case of wife or death.
I used to work in a blanket factory, but it folded.
If electricity comes from electrons... does that mean that morality comes from morons?
Marriage is the mourning after the knot before.
A hangover is the wrath of grapes.
Corduroy pillows are making headlines.
Is a book on voyeurism a peeping tome?
Dancing cheek-to-cheek is really a form of floor play.
Banning the bra was a big flop.
Sea captains don't like crew cuts.
Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?

It has been said that the most typical response to a pun is a groan. They may be delivered in the short form illustrated above, often called "groaners", or they be even more groanful when they appear as punchlines at the end of long, drawn-out tales known as a "shaggy dog stories."

An apocryphal story has it that as a young boy George Bernard Shaw was an incessant punster. One day, his father was so irritated by all the punning that he put George into a closet and threatened to not let him out until he had made a very great pun. Whereupon, according to the story, young George immediately implored his father to, "O-pun the door!"

Where are you on the pun spectrum? Some people love this kind of word play; others hate it; still others are indifferent. Some just don't get the jokes. Some people seem to be natural-born and even habitual punsters.  I love them and admire the well-constructed pun. I don't typically think them up until someone or some thing gets me going, then I can usually bounce them back and forth fairly readily.

MY ADVICE: If you are a punster, don't expect peals of laughter from your audiences. You would do well to learn to expect and be pleased with groans more so than laughter; and if you also get rolling of the eyes accompanying the groans, that is a bonus sign of appreciation for your well-delivered pun. Just say, "Thank you!" and take a bow.


Yours Truly featured in Oprah's blog

In Oprah's July 11th Spirit newsletter she has an article on laughter followed by Dr. Oz's contribution. I am delighted to have been a source for the information in this report.

Here is the link:

Click here to lo learn more about how to bring the remarkable spirit-lifting and other benefits of mirthful laughter into your life.

The Time Bank

True mirthful laughter is both a therapeutic ally and signal of health. Remarkably, for human beings, it is both like a medicine and also the sign that the medicine is working.

Barbara Hee is a popular Certified Laughter Leader (CLL) in Philadelphia. She sent the following piece to the communications network of CLLs, who are always sharing inspiration and encouragement with a cadre of dedicated pioneers leading the world to health, happiness and peace through laughter. It reminded me of the saying, "Yesterday is like a cancelled check, you cannot spend it anymore; tomorrow is like a promissory note that may or may not be paid off; today is cash, spend it wisely."

Imagine that you had won the following prize in a contest:  Each morning your bank would deposit $86,400.00 in your  private account for your use. However,this prize has rules, just as any game has certain rules. The first set of rules would be:
          Everything that you didn't spend during each day would be taken away from you.
          You may not simply transfer money into some other account.
          You may only spend it.
          Each morning upon awakening, the bank opens your account with another $86,400.00 for that day.

The  second set of rules:
The bank can end the game without warning; at any time  it can say, "It's over, the game is over!"  It can  close the account  and you will not receive a new one.

What would you personally do?
You would buy anything and everything you wanted right?  Not only for yourself, but for all people you love, right?  Even for people you don't know, because you couldn't  possibly spend it all on yourself, right?  You would try to spend every cent, and use it all, right?

ACTUALLY, this  GAME is  REALITY!   Each of us is in possession of such a magical  bank. We just can't seem to see it.

Each morning we awaken to receive 86,400 seconds as a gift of life, and when we go to sleep at night, any remaining time is  NOT credited to us. What we haven't lived up that day is forever  lost. Yesterday is forever gone.  Each morning the account is refilled, but the bank  can dissolve your
account at any time....WITHOUT  WARNING.

SO, what will YOU do with your 86,400  seconds? Those seconds are worth so much more than the same amount in dollars.       

Think about that, and always think of this: Enjoy every second of your life, because time races by
so much quicker than you  think. So take care of yourself, be Happy, Love Deeply and enjoy life!

Here's wishing you a wonderful and beautiful day.
Start spending.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Chemical mismodulation and other questionable laughter

Laughter and humor are in the news a lot these days because they are being proven to be therapeutic allies, however, humor and laughter are not always helpful. Yes, there are benefits to be derived from the psychological, social, and physiological effects associated with laughter and humor. Yet, as too many people are painfully aware, being the butt of a joke or part of a group that's made fun of can leave lasting emotional scars. Laughter and humor they are not always signs of health; they may be signs of something disordered or pathological. What makes the difference?
Some humor and some laughter is hurtful (toxic). According to  the therapeutic principles, methods, and code of ethics of World Laughter Tour, Inc. (WLT) , anyone engaged in capitalizing on the therapeutic potential of laughter and humor --lay person or professional--  will certainly be less than effective, and is cautioned against doing harm if they fail to distinguish between helpful, hurtful, and pathological laughter, and make the appropriate interventions.
For example, ridicule, zingers and put-downs, are joking that makes fun of or takes unfair advantage of other people’s weaknesses, disabilities, or differences. WLT categorizes these as hurtful, harmful, or toxic; to be avoided. The same is true of sneering, jeering, and sinister, or sarcastic laughter. Some mental and physical maladies have laughter as presenting characteristics; they are signs of an illness (pathology). None of this is promoted or permitted in the context of WLT therapeutic laughter programs.

True-Mirthful Laughter
I first came across this very useful term in the writings of William Fry, Jr., MD. The distinction he was aware of more than thirty years ago is now finding favor among contemporary theorists of laughter and humor. Some go so far as to conjecture that the physical act of laughter in the absence of the emotional state of mirth, i.e., faked or forced or chemically induced laughter, will not have the same associated positive physiology; will not have the same benefits.Hurely, et al, offer another useful concept in this regard, "...the chemical mismodulation of normal neural responses." (Inside Jokes,(MIT2011) p.128)

According to Wikipedia, in the mid-19th century, positive smiling, something akin to true-mirthful laughter, was first identified by French physician Guillaume Duchenne, while conducting research on the physiology of facial expressions, identified two distinct types of smiles. A Duchenne smile involves contraction of both the zygomatic major muscle (which raises the corners of the mouth) and the orbicularis oculi muscle (which raises the cheeks and forms crow's feet around the eyes). A non-Duchenne smile involves only the zygomatic major muscle. “Research with adults initially indicated that joy was indexed by generic smiling, any smiling involving the raising of the lip corners by the zygomatic major…. More recent research suggests that smiling in which the muscle around the eye contracts, raising the cheeks high (Duchenne smiling), is uniquely associated with positive emotion.

"Duchenne laughter" is the name given to stimulus-driven, emotionally valenced; spontaneous. In some research, Duchenne laughter was found to involve orbicularis oculi muscle action, related to self-reports of reduced anger and increased enjoyment, the dissociation of distress, better social relations, and positive responses from strangers, whereas non-Duchenne laughter did not.
In contrast, non-Duchenne laughter is self-generated, emotionless; forced; false; manipulative, e.g., always laughing at the boss’s jokes.

Characteristics of true mirthful laughter
1. It sounds warm and inviting. You want to join in even when you don’t know what was funny originally.
2. There is almost always something in the objective reality which can be observed as the laughter stimulus (or it can be feasibly explained).
3. The laughter erupts spontaneously and is often followed by a [comment about] sense of relief or release, “Thanks! I needed that.”
4. The laughter is not forced or faked in any way.
5. The laughter is not chemically induced.
6. The laughter is at no one’s expense.

Examples of laughter associated with pathology
A. Neurological conditions:
  • Pseudo-bulbar palsy
  • Gelastic epilepsy
  • Various brain-damage disorders
B. Psychiatric conditions:  
  • Hebephrenic schizophrenia
  • Psychotic hallucinations (auditory & visual)
C. Intoxications:  
  • The “happy” drunk
  • Nitrous oxide (laughing gas)
  • Cannabis- (marijuana) induced giggles
  • Manganese poisoning
D. The humor itself is toxic (from Joel Goodman):
  1. It fails the “A.T. & T.” test (is not Appropriate, Timely & Tasteful).
  2. Uses ridicule, sarcasm, or taboo language.
  3. Makes unwanted jokes about serious subjects.
  4. Hostile teasing hides behind “just joking” excuse.
At the present state of our understanding, awaiting further evidence that proves otherwise, WLT has taken the position that it is best to think of “true mirthful laughter" as the positive, helpful, or beneficial laughter, and "toxic laughter" is that which is associated with some pathology or other negative state.
In The Gelopedia, Therapeutic is defined as: Originally, or traditionally, the exclusive domain of medicine. Adopted and expanded in modern times, e.g., from a field called Positive Psychology, therapeutic goes beyond finding cures and ‘fixing what’s broken’ to include strengthening what is working well, improving/maintaining quality of life, building self-confidence and self-esteem, enhancing social skills, teaching coping strategies, blocking fear/panic/anger/depression, uplifting perspective, and reinforcing hope.
Go for the good
Beware of toxic humor and laughter for the damage it can do and the pathology it might portend. For its therapeutic benefits, the laughter you're after should be the true-mirthful kind.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Get a job...sha-na-na-na!

Role Models
My parents were my earliest role models for a work ethic, which is a very good thing because, while they obviously enjoyed my consistent reply to, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" ("A doctor!"), they were fairly short on experience from which to give me actual career advice. I was the first and only member of our immediate household to go to college. My career has been a matter of fate, divine intervention, trial-and-error, bad decisions, dumb-luck good choices, and a philosophy I picked up along the way.

Born in 1909, Jack Wilson and Shirley Kalter made a comfortable middle-class home for the household family that included my sister, Phyllis (6 years older) and our maternal grandparents, the Kalters (Pop-pop Jacob, from Budapest, and Maman Anne, from Vienna). Like many other depression-era survivors, they became frugal money-managers. They always drove a relatively new car, managed to give us wonderful, summer-long boarding-house vacations in Atlantic City, and eventually could afford to move us to a luxury high-rise apartment in center-city, from which dad could then walk to work.
Atlantic City 1950
During the last 65 years of his life, my father held two jobs. They were very similar functions and responsibilities (be sure the customers get what they ordered, on time) in the same industry (the design and manufacture of high-end men's clothing), but for two different companies. And the last job carried an impressive title. He had grown with the company in that job, and way before computers, had designed and organized all of the paper-and-pencil systems for order fulfillment and inventory management & movement that kept his side of this international business running smoothly; no customer or employee complaints; his employees loved him. He was the only one who knew all of the intricacies of the system he had built and acclimated to slowly over time. When he finally called it quits, it took five people to replace him.

Dad's career advice: "You have to have stick-to-it-ive-ness!" He certainly had it and lived it. He quit school in the third grade to go to work to help support his parents, brothers and sisters. The success he achieved later in life was the result of being a self-made man. At age 8, he was selling newspapers on street corners in the business district of Philadelphia, learning from his fellow street-hawkers to cut the fingers off of his gloves during the cold winter days to be able to make change faster. At the end of the day, if he could bring home fifteen cents for his mother, that was a very good day. I was touched by his stories of poverty and hard work. But stick-to-it-ive-ness did not stick to me the way they expected.

Dad's formula for a balanced life was expressed in his often repeating a proverb from "the old country", Russia, where his father was born, "If a man has only two pennies, with one penny he should buy bread and with the other penny he should buy flowers because the soul needs nourishment." He also observed and passed on to us in an advisory tone, "It doesn't matter how many talents and assets you have in life, or how hard you work,  you need a little bit of luck, too." Now, those thoughts stuck with me.

As the family breadwinner, he rose daily at 5 a.m., shaved, had a breakfast of coffee, toast and six prunes, which he stewed himself weekly. Then he rode two trolleys and the "El" (the elevated train & subway part of public transportation) to work, and returned promptly by 6 p.m. via the same route. The postal creed must have been learned from my dad: neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor dark of night, nor that he suffered from a progressive nerve deafness, could keep him from getting to and doing his job.

Mom, who looks quite the flapper in the early part of the family album, was runner-up harmonica champion of Philadelphia circa 1923. She invariably reminded us of this achievement every time she played harmonica for us; we always accepted her claim but I don't recall ever seeing any substantiating evidence. At about the same age (14) I was the yo-yo champion of our section of West Philadelphia, winning lots of trophies, a vest and sew-on patches, but there's no existing proof of that, either, so it's easy for me to say let's just let the claims stand as fact.

My mother, too, had a phenomenal work ethic. Smart and musically talented, and very outgoing, marriage at 18 and raising a family thwarted her dreams of going to Normal School (that was the name given to the teacher's college). When her kids were old enough, she went to work as a bookkeeper. Also a staunch proponent of stick-to-it-ive-ness, she held that job with one company, where they loved her. In her day she would have been lauded as a steady-Eddie (highly reliable) and a crackerjack (top-notch) employee. Her untimely death of ovarian cancer at 52, was a shock that threw all of us for a loop.

Having lost the only love of his life, my dad went into a dark, grievous depression that lasted more than two years. Years later he told that he had been so far down that he thought he would never come out of it, would never see a happy moment again. He said that it was impossible for him to believe his friends who told him, "Jack, this too shall pass." His salvation was work; keeping his routine and getting to the office every day. "And one day," he told me, "I realized I was not as sad as the day before. It was passing." I know from watching him sob at my mother's grave every time we visited it for the next forty years, that he never completely got over losing her. And, why should he?

Mom and Phyllis c.1938
Dad c. 1951 with a high-tech hearing aid built into his eyeglasses

With these as my primary role models, and no one at home to give me guidance, and with a few helpful platitudes and here-and-there advice, I have managed to stumble into a career. As Danny Kaye recounts his career path as "The Court Jester":
I'm proud to recall that in no time at all,
With no other recourses but my own resources,
With firm application and determination,
I made a fool of myself!

But First, Hauling Ashes
Confucius said, "Choose an occupation that you love and you may never have to work a day in your life." I wonder how long it took him to figure that out. Historically, boys, girls, and other lowly grunts have started their working lives by "hauling ashes". Now, in today's nomenclature, getting one's ashes hauled refers to relief from sexual tension, but  back in the day actually doing a job called hauling ashes meant doing the most menial of jobs, for a pittance, often as the first work anybody would pay you to do, and part of the rites of passage to eventually being worth real wages. In today’s world it often means working in fast food, asking “Would you like fries with that?” Well, I don't think I chose my occupation so much as tip-toed staggeringly into it; I don’t recall that there was any ceremonial rite-of-passage about it; and, I'm still not entirely sure what "it" is.

My earliest jobs, around age 14, were working for a friend of my father's who had a connection with the concessions at various events in Philadelphia: at Convention Hall, climbing up and down the stand hawking "Ice cold orange drinks! Who'll have an orange drink?" at the Warriors (later the Seventy-Sixers) basketball games. Also, hawking pennants and souvenirs at the Army/Navy game, hot chocolate at the Mummer's parade (too damn cold if you ask me), selling hot-dogs at the vacation show, the home & garden show, the sportsman's show, and the dog show. No puns and no buns. I was told to bring bread from home and then I could use it to eat all the hot dogs I could without being charged for them because we were accountable to turn in cash only for the buns used; they could easily count the buns but the hot dogs were by weight, not actually counted. These jobs provided good spending money (paid in often-soggy cash) for a kid, and my first lessons in beating the system, putting one over on the man. I was hauling ashes.

I Hate School!
From age 10 through my teens I demonstrated what can only be called a variegated curiosity. I'm sure it wasn't any actual deficit of attention span, but it caused my parents worry and obvious disappointment as they repeated their refrain of stick-to-it-ive-ness. I am sure they gave up all hope that I had any. Many passions that blossomed for me during those formative years. Some lit up and mesmerized me like shooting stars but burned out quickly; others have lasted a lifetime. Some of my varied interests included: tap dancing, radio serials and quiz shows; Erector(tm) sets, chemistry sets, orange crate skaters, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, bicycles, football, baseball, magic, stage make-up, yo-yos, Tom Lehrer, and guitar (folk singing); Oscar Brand's bawdy songs; American Bandstand; girls.

Cub Scout 1950

Biology at Sayre Junior High School was a disaster for me. The phyla of flora and fauna were a mystery to me. I never admitted it to my parents, but all of my plans for medical school vanished right there. Chemistry at West Philly High School was the same. I loved the demonstrations when the teacher made things explode, and my friend, Myron Mintz, using laboratory equipment (beakers, burners and condensation tubes) built a still in his basement where we home brewed vodka from potato peelings.

I hated tenth grade, felt like a misfit, discovered that I had quite a knack for playing pinball, and made the greatest, most enchanting discovery of all: I could skip almost all of the tenth grade. I could play hooky frequently, skip school for a day or two at a time, forge my father's signature on an absence excuse note and, except for an "F" in French, never got caught! What was so enchanting was that I rode the trolley from the school to downtown, arriving just as the magic shops were opening for business.

I Become The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Bowman the Magician (1955)
Magic was magical. The magicians who worked there were excellent demonstrators are what make customer buy the tricks, to learn how it's done. Harry Reed ("The Great Hareedo"), at Ben's Magic Shop, and Bill Cordray at Chanin's Magic down the street, sort of took me in, gave me asylum, paid me (in always dry cash) for cleaning up the stock rooms (another form of hauling ashes) and taught me the secrets of magic & illusions. They also taught me the importance of having a stage name. A age 14, I was inducted into the Junior Yogi Club of Philadelphia and I became "Bowman the Magician", the precursor to Joyologist, and Cheerman-of-the-Bored.

I Love School
High School yearbook (1958). The pattern is set.
By eleventh grade somebody flipped a switch. I cannot explain why, but now I loved school and went every day. I still missed the Magic Shops but visited my friends there only on Saturdays. I became president of the high school French Club and created its newsletter, which my first guardian-angel teacher, Janet Swerdlow, helped me name "Le Blageur", French for "The Joker"! Are you starting to see a pattern here?

Early Humor Influences

When an infant laughs in its crib, we don't say, "Gee, that kid's got a great sense of humor!" The ability to laugh and smile is inborn, but a sense of humor is something you develop.

This list is impossible to make complete, and many are lost to memory, but here are some that I remember that amazed me, amused me, thrilled and inspired me. As usual, they are in no particular order. Abbott & Costello, Gene Shepherd, Morey Amsterdam, “The Life of Riley”, New Yorker, MAD Comics, Roger Price, Ernie Kovacs, Max Shulman, Blackstone, Clarence Day, Will Cuppy, Ogden Nash, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Fibber McGee & Molly, "Can You Top This?", Howdy Doody, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Donald Duck, Little Lulu, Popeye, the Marx Brothers, the Ritz Brothers, Red Buttons, Bob and Ray, Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis, Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Martha Raye, Red Skelton, Steve Allen, “Your Show of Shows”, Jack Paar, Jerry Lester, The Three Stooges, The Little Rascals, my bunk-mates at Camp Kahagon in 1952, and my dad's Pinochle pals.

Back to Jobs and Careers
"I never did a day's work in my life. It was all fun." Thomas Edison is supposed to have said that. All fun? Really? All?

For the next two years, my after-school job was as the shipping clerk (actually, I was the entire department) for my uncle Irving's clock-watch-and-electric shaver repair shop. He learned the trade in the Navy during WWII, and had built a thriving business. I punched the time clock, worked a few hours every day, wrapped and labeled every package, and wearing a smartly stylish work apron (a symbol of my status), wheeled the packages on a hand cart to the post office. This was a higher form of hauling ashes; there was an actual bi-weekly paycheck.

Throughout my undergraduate years at Temple University, my brother-in-law, Bernie Torner, gave me a job with a very cool place to hang out. "Electronic Servicenter" (not exactly a stage name, but at least a play on words) sold fine, often imported, "Hi-Fi" audio equipment for custom installation to upper-crust Philadelphians; several customers were musicians n the Philadelphia Orchestra. Stereo was just coming into fashion. The place was just a few blocks from my now downtown classy Philadelphia apartment. Okay, I stilled lived with my parents, but Park Towne Place was a fabulous address, on Benjamin Franklin Parkway just one block from the Museum of Art. I learned about and helped sell amplifiers, tuners, turntables, and speakers. My uniform was now the tweed jacket and striped tie of an Ivy League B.M.O.C. (well, the University of Pennsylvania was a stone's throw from here), and my paycheck was large enough to keep my car (a tiny Fiat sedan) running and allow me to take girls on nice dates. I was hauling ashes but at a much higher level.
1957 Fiat 500
Fast Forward (see if you can spot the stage names as I move from job to job)
A series of jobs followed. Occupationally, I was at sea. my career path became a zig-zag wake behind me. Here's a quick resume; hang on tight. Human Resources intern in the Personnel Research Department of Sun Oil Company (Phila.); human resource intern with the Ohio Highway Patrol; psychology assistant conducting employment testing for an industrial consulting firm (Phila.);  psychologist/director of treatment services at the Ohio Reformatory for Women; the Weeks School in Vermont (delinquent and emotionally disturbed kids); the Connecticut Women's Prison; director of the Nicholas Youth Center (back to Ohio); educational consultant with the Ohio Department of Mental Health; director of Help On Weekends (the H.O.W. adolescent drug treatment program) at Cincinnati Jewish Hospital Department of Psychiatry; Chairman of Mental Health Technology at Columbus Technical Institute, which is now Columbus State Community College; founder of Ohio Professional Counseling Services, large group private practice for counseling and psychotherapy in Columbus, Ohio; created PHOTO-LAFFs, a carnival-type business; professional speaker, author and founder DPJ Enterprise (Don't Postpone Joy), then Steve Wilson & Co.; founder of World Laughter Tour; Director of National Humor Month.

 At first glance it may look like I can't keep a job, but take a closer look and you will see some patterns here. The obvious one is, to the chagrin of my dear departed parents looking down from heaven, that I don't seem to stick to anything for very long. One that isn't so obvious is that I have a very strong work ethic. I didn't start working as early in life as my dad; he had a five or six-year headstart on me. I work hard, with integrity and creativity. After I got the hang of what working a jobs were all about, I pretty much only changed changed when I had a vision that I could do better or be happier. Eventually, changing jobs became more like morphing into the next good thing. I learned that I could love my work if I was willing to follow a few principles.

Peripatetic Career Counseling Eventually Led Me to This

In no particular order, here are some of the most important ideas that I picked up along the way. These are the advice and directives that most likely have brought me through the jobs I've worked at and the career I now enjoy.

  • You have to have stick-to-it-ive-ness!
  • If a man has only two pennies, with one penny he should buy bread and with the other penny he should buy flowers because the soul needs nourishment.
  • Making a living is not as important as making a life.
  • You can't always do what you want to do, but you can almost always stop doing what you don't want to do.
  • In every job to be done, there's an element of fun." ~Mary Poppins
  • If it isn't fun, I don't want to  do it.
  • Permission granted to be unconventional; a mandate for making progress; and, mandatory for my happiness, too, but not everyone is suited for it.
  • If you want to be good at marketing and advertising, take all the psychology courses you can.
  • I'm tired of working for a**holes, idiots and jerks.
  • I want to make and learn from my own mistakes; I'll take the blame and I'll take the credit.
  • Being your own boss means you get to choose any eighty hours a week you want to work.
  • Being your own boss means working half time; you get to choose noon-to-midnight or midnight-to noon.
  • Don’t cheat. Charge a fair price. Strive for a right livelihood.
  • I'm not the hat I wear or the title of the position I fill right now; I am first, last and always a human being.
  • No risk, no reward.
  • No matter what other assests you might possess, you have to have a little bit of luck, too.
  • “Do you know what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he ever wanted? He lived happily ever after.” ~Willie Wonka
  • I have certain essential qualities and talents that can never be lost or taken away from me; these are the tools that enable the Phoenix to rise from the ashes.

Look, mom! Look, dad! Can you see me now? Thanks for the gifts you gave me. What I've stuck to is being me, and it worked out well. I hope I've made you proud.