Encouraging humour no laughing matter
Ha-ha-ha-ing all the way to health

Marise Vachon, Office Journal, August 15, 2005

“When Risa is the cook, there is a glow felt by every-one,” a Hollyhockguest tells me. Risa has a wonderful laugh and a joyful presence and not surprisingly her name means laughter in Spanish.

I am writing this column form the Hollyhock Education and Retreat centre on Cortes Island. I am here for the summer where – under the spell of the many workshops and the beauty of the island – there is an abundance of laughter resonating through the woods, the kitchen, the beach and the majestic garden.

Despite the beauty of the island, working at the resort is demanding. On a busy day Risa must prepare meals for as many as 120 people. After a long day’s work she says she feels energized. She loves what she does and communicates her enthusiasm to colleagues as well as guests. Her laughter is invigorating.

Last spring, at Hollyhock’s annual staff retreat, there was a workshop promoting laughter in the workplace. It was given by Lee-Anne Ragan, co-owner and communication director of Rock.Paper.Scissors (RPS), which has built a reputation for producing hit comedy shows and critically acclaimed corporate entertaining andtraining.

In the corporate world, there can be an impression that business is serious, but according to Ragan, 98 per-cent of CEOs prefer to hire someone with a sense of humour over someone who does not.

We start to laugh before we walk or talk. It is universal. Laughter is alsovital to our well-being. For example,it oxygenates the blood, increases energy levels, relaxes muscles, stimulates both hemispheres of the brain, strengthens the immune system and lowers blood pressure.

Ragan provides seven reasons forusing humour in the workplace:

* Team building.
* Reducing stress and promoting well-ness.
* Informing and teaching.
* Improving a particular business practice.
* Facilitating change.
* Encouraging innovation and creativity.
* Increasing communication and de-creasing conflicts.

She tells the story of a client who used humour to facilitate change. The company had just gone through a major expansion. As the staff numbers grew, there was a need to provide an avenue for connection. In their newsletter they created a new feature called “Separated at Birth” where a well-known celebrity and a staff person were pictured side-by-side because of their resemblance. It became a favourite topic and allowed the staff to become familiar with each other.

Another promoter of laughter in the workplace in Vancouver is David Gradirer. Last month he led a Comedy Boot Camp for a corporation where he trained six of their executives to be stand-up comics. It was a year-end event and they put a show together that featured breakthroughs and challenges the company had just experienced. The event gave everyone a chance to relax, reflect and laugh at situations that were at the time stressful.

According to David, the psychological benefits of laughter are better researched than the physiological benefits. When people go through difficult situations, humour can ease trauma.

In Chinese medicine, laughter is connected with the heart and the heart is said to be the residence of Shen,our spirit or inner self. A path with heart has joy and enthusiasm, a joy not dependant on external circumstances. There is a sense of being tuned-in, connected with an inner guidance. While good hearty laughteris great for the heart, too much or inappropriate laughter can be a sign of heart imbalance.

For more information on Granirer’s work visit www.psychocomic.com. Rock.Paper.Scissors has a humour int he workplace award. For their online application and list of past winners visit www.rpsinc.ca.

To quote Joseph Campbell: “In the absence of hearty laughter, run!”

Marise Vachon’s approach to wellness includes yoga and bodywork. She can be reached at marise@thewellne

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