By Dr. Kevin Soden
Perhaps no one knows the importance of humor in the lives of Americans better than the editors of Reader’s Digest, the magazine read by 40 million in the U.S. alone. Reader’s Digest has been one of the most popular magazines in the country with people of all ages for over half a century and one of the key reasons for the magazine's success is its ability to help readers laugh at life. Sections like Humor in Uniform, Laughter is the Best Medicine and Life in These United States resonate with RD’s readers. Jackie Leo, the bright, thoughtful and energetic former editor of Reader’s explained to me why she thought humor was so important to her readers. “We all need humor to help reduce the stress in our lives. Our readers have told us over and over how important humor is in their lives and how these various sections of the magazine help them to identify with others in similar situations and how it helps them to cope with some of the crazy situations that life sends at them.”
Just how important is humor in helping women deal with the stress of daily living? In a 2006 Women and Stress survey I conducted with Frank About Women (a prominent marketing-to-women consulting firm), we found that 96% of the women surveyed reported that humor was somewhat or extremely important in dealing with stress or stressful situations.
As an ER physician for 25 years, I saw people in pain and fearful of what might be happening to them. This was especially true when children were hurt or had problems. I know that humor helps reduce anxiety so I would wear funny hats or glasses with a big nose attached. It never failed to get a smile and helped children relax and be less fearful.
Let’s face it. We can’t escape certain situations. Despite our best efforts, life throws us curve balls and we have to deal with them whether we like it or not. Researchers have studied people who were thrown into some of life’s worst situations – natural disasters, wartime, concentration camps and serious unexpected health problems like cancer. These are the four common characteristics they found among those that got through these problems better than others:
- Altruistic – Care about the welfare of others
- Draw support from friends and community
- Pray to a Higher Power
- Have a sense of humor
Bill Cosby knows what it takes to be a survivor and knows that humor is the key to getting anyone through difficult situations. Cosby says, “If you can find humor in anything, even poverty, you can survive it.”
Maybe there is no better example of the importance of humor to our health and/or survival today than its use in those battling cancer. It’s hard to believe there can be anything funny about cancer but humor is a tool that many use to help themselves and their families. In 2006, three cancer-themed comic books were published to help those dealing with cancer see the absurdities in all they go through. There’s even humor on websites dealing with cancer (See www.planetcancer.org). Humor helps to put family and friends of cancer patients at ease by letting them know that it’s alright to laugh. It also helps patients cope with all the embarrassing and uncomfortable treatments that are often required with chemotherapy and radiation.
When I give talks to groups, I often talk about my family and the role that humor plays in helping us get through the hassles and stresses that are a part of normal living. I like to show pictures of my wife and my five children and then tell a few funny stories. One of Meg’s favorite comments about me is that “I’m the answer to her prayers. I’m not what she prayed for but I’m what God sent her.” (I think that’s a compliment.)
Humor is an essential survival tool for everyone. We can’t escape certain stressful situations in life so we have to learn how to deal with them. The most effective tool at everyone’s disposal is humor. It not only helps stimulate our immune systems but reduces our stress and decreases our risk of heart attacks. In order to find humor, you have to look for it. If you do, you will find it everywhere. By using humor, you can laugh your way to a better, happier and healthier you.
About Dr. Kevin Soden
Dr. Kevin Soden has been a medical journalist for more than 20 years and can now be seen each day as the host of Healthline and Whole Body Health on Retirement Living Television. He was a national medical reporter for NBC News and has appeared regularly on NBC's "Today Show." Dr. Soden has been awarded an Emmy, three Telly Awards, and an International Freddie Award for his work as a medical journalist and TV host. Recently, Dr. Soden's documentary, Polio Revisted won the TV category for the 2008 Awards in Excellence in Health Care Journalism from the Association of Health Care Journalists. Healthline was also the winner of the 2008 CableFax award as the best fitness/health series on cable.
Kevin currently serves as the worldwide Medical Director for Texas Instruments and the Cardinal Health Corporation and teaches as a courtesy Professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine. His other awards include the 2001 National Award for Excellence in Medical Reporting from the National Association of Medical Communicators. He served 23 years as an ER physician and was also the founder of the oldest, largest, physician-owned managed care organization in the Carolinas.
In 2003, Kevin published "The Art of Medicine: What Every Doctor and Patient Should Know", a critically acclaimed book focusing on doctor-patient communications and how to improve the doctor-patient relationship. He is also the primary author of a consumer medical book "Special Treatment: How to Get the High-Quality Care Your Doctor Gets" published in September, 2003. He is soon to publish his third book, "Women, Stress and Happiness: 10 Steps to Having It All and Saving Your Life."
Dr. Soden graduated with honors from the University of Florida College of Medicine and is one of the original inductees into the University of Florida Medical Wall of Fame. He also has a Masters in Public Health from the Medical College of Wisconsin and a Masters in Personnel Administration from Florida State University.
Kevin has 5 children, ages 40, 31, 30, 9 and 8 (these are not typos and he is crazy) and lives happily and relatively stress-free in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife, Dr. Meg Humphrey.