Karyn Buxman is a neurohumorist (living at the intersection of the brain and humor), author, researcher, keynoter, coach, and TEDx speaker. For the last 30 years, she has worked with clients like NASA, the Mayo Clinic, Cigna, and 800+ others to empower with healthy humor. She runs custom retreats at her HumorLab in San Diego, and focuses on high performers in the ROI of laughter. She is quick to distinguish that humor ≠ comedy. Her next book, Funny Means Money: Strategic Humor for Influence & World Domination is due to be published by Forbes Books in winter 2020.
Key links mentioned in this episode:
Tune in as Karyn shares…
- what it means to be a neurohumorist
- the relationship between humor and health
- Norman Cousins’ story, and how it inspired her research
- the range of people she works with – from patients to professionals, employees to employers
- that she is working on a new book for Forbes Books – about humor and influence
- that humor is a whole-brain process that fires off a cascade of neurotransmitters
- that humor has the power to heal, connect, and enlighten
- that humor is a holistic complementary process in healing – it reduces inflammation, which is known to exacerbate disease
- the cardiovascular benefits of laughter – it is an aerobic exercise
- that laughter can increase the healing properties of the blood – studies have shown that it increases the presence of IgA and T-killer cells, as well as an increased general immune response (in both the short-term and long-term)
- that laughter = better blood pressure
- that the regular practice of healthy humor lowers bad cholesterol and increases good cholesterol
- that healthy humor can aid in the release of tension, as well as increase one’s tolerance to pain
- that humor lowers cortisol, and can lower blood glucose among pre-diabetic and diabetic patients
- that laughter can reduce the occurrence of kidney disease among diabetes patients
- that humor can influence epigenetics
- that what we do in medicine isn’t working across the board – and if we know laughter and healthy humor works, it’s worth adding into a holistic health regimen
- that humor decreases anxiety, and increases creativity
- the close relationship between laughter and tears – and why both are healthy
- that humor can allow us to express anger and frustration in a socially-acceptable way
- that just thinking about humor can have the same effect on the brain that humor does – it has an anticipatory effect
- Victor Borge’s quote: “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people” – and Karyn’s addition, “Laughter has no accent” – it can connect one and all
- that laughter releases oxytocin, which is a bonding hormone
- the importance of communication, and how bad for the physiology isolation can be
- that exhibiting humor increases likeability, which is important for influence and connection
- her personal connection to invisible illness: through her sons and her mother
- that laughter can help us change our relationship to illness: from victim to victor
- the 2% solution: 2% of 24 hrs is 10 min. Can we dedicate that time to healing?
- her tip to share humor every day: print some funny postcards and send one a day to a friend
- her belief that some insurance providers are beginning to see the value of being well (in other words, preventive care)
- the importance of collaboration … and of being the squeaky wheel
- the importance of intentionally choosing humor
- the distinction between humor and comedy
- that if we seek humor, we can rewire ourselves to see it everywhere
- consistency trumps commitment – make an agreement with yourself to seek humor for 10 minutes each day
This episode is also sponsored by Embr Labs, creators of the Embr Wave.
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Lauren: All right guys, thank you so much for joining us today. I am here with Karyn Buxman, who is a neurohumorist — and she’s going to tell us about that —and she’s a speaker and an author. So Karyn, thank you so much for joining us!
Karyn: I am delighted! Thank you for the invitation.
Lauren: Oh, my pleasure! So, can you start us off by telling us what it means to be a neurohumorist — and give us some background on your work?
Karyn: I know what the listeners are thinking … oh my, another neurohumorist!!
So, I live at the intersection of humor and the brain. And absolutely am giddy over all that we have found at this wonderful intersection.
I’ve actually been researching the brain and humor for 30 years now … I started, of course, as a child! But I was in grad school, and my advisors finally supported me when I said I wanted to look at the relationship between humor, health and communication. So little had been done back then. People had heard of Norman Cousins … if they hadn’t, they were familiar with his story. He is a gentleman who suffered a debilitating illness which technically is called ankylosing spondylitis, and his doctors told him that it was degenerative and ultimately could be terminal. With the help of some close friends and the approval of his physicians, he actually checked himself out of the hospital, and across the street into a hotel — where he still was able to get fluids and nourishment. I think vitamin C therapy was also an important part. But the biggest difference in his treatment with all others was the fact that he was friends with Allen Funt. And for those who are really young listening to this, and they’re going, who the heck is Allen Funt? … he produced a show called Candid Camera. And if you’re going, what the heck is Candid Camera …YouTube it, Google it!
Lauren: It’s like Punk’d, for the younger generation!
Karyn: Yes. It was very, very funny at the time. Now we look at it and think, oh, that’s kind of slow. But at the time …. hysterical!
So he watched funny videos that Allen Funt would bring him, and found that 10 to 20 minutes of belly laughter would bring him two hours of pain-free sleep. And he continued this, and over time, his counts dropped, the inflammation in his body dropped. He reduced his pain; he got better and better until he actually cured himself of the disease.
And then wrote a book about it, Anatomy of an Illness. And years later, went on to repeat his self-experiment with a book called The Healing Heart — when he suffered a very serious heart attack and the doctors said, “Your heart’s never really going to fully recover, and you’ll always be an invalid.” Given the same process, he showed them! His landmark book, I think though, is a book that he went on to write years after that, which really is such a foundational piece in the field of psychoneuroimmunology. And that book is just filled with lots and lots of information — at a consumer’s level, at a lay person’s level — on how to experience improved health. By doing things that, particularly at that time, and even now, are considered alternative, hopefully more complementary, but means of dealing with and treating an illness. And so all that to say that at the time, it was something that was very different. People started asking me to share my findings. Oh, my gosh, I was so excited. I was all ready to share it, my first academic presentation about the P value of less than 0.05!
I discovered that people thought I was funny. Who knew?
So I started getting the request more and more, and it was kind of snowballing. So I had to make a decision: Am I going to continue to teach at a college, or am I going to speak? And knowing nothing about being self-employed … do not try this at home! … I just quit my job, and said, ‘I’ll do this for a year. If it works, I’ll do it for another year. And if it doesn’t work, I’ll go back.’ And that was 28 years ago. This has taken me around the planet. And I have worked with children, I have worked with adults, I’ve worked with the elderly, I’ve worked with healthy people, I’ve worked with unhealthy people.
I’ve worked with rocket scientists, literally, at NASA, showing them that humor is not rocket science! I have worked with financial planners, I’ve worked with CEOs and presidents; and I’ve worked with housekeepers, and maintenance men. The beautiful thing about this is that it’s applicable to all people, all ages.
And a little bit later, we can talk about the fact I’m working on a new book that’s going to be out this October. It’s about humor and influence. But in putting together this book for Forbes Books, we built tools and processes and assessments. And what I realized was that these tools and processes remain the same regardless of your desired outcome. How you might implement them might be a little different, given your filters. But whether your desired outcome is better health; whether your desired outcome is more money; whether your desired outcome is a better loving relationship with your spouse, or your children; whether your desired outcome is a greater connection to your vision of spirituality, your God, whatever that might be for you … it’s very much the same process. I’m so excited about this. We now have tools in the lexicon. And so this is my life’s work; this is what I’m going to do until I’m all used up and until I’m too fatigued to throw my luggage in the overhead baggage compartment! When I don’t appreciate TSA fondling me anymore!
Lauren: I always appreciate that person! (laughs)
Karyn: Yeah, sometimes it gets lonely on the road! (laughs)
Lauren: Absolutely! (laughs) Well, you also have a TED talk that we’ll link to on the website. It’s an awesome TED Talk; it’s under 20 minutes so it’s really easily digestible. And really, the focus of that talk is about the intersection of health and humor, which is exactly why you’re on the show today. We know that your mission is to improve the world through humor and laughter, and to heal the humor-impaired, as you say on your website. Which is fantastic. Can you talk to us about the role that humor plays in health with particular regard to invisible and chronic illness? I know we’re going to get into your personal experience of that. But just from your findings and your research, where does all of this intersect?
Karyn: Wonderful question … thanks, Lauren. You know, going back to the brain … and you’ve seen the the TEDx talk, and for those who are listening, I’d love for you to go take a look at it …
Humor is a whole brain process. And when we experience humor, what we’re doing is firing off this cascade of neurotransmitters — which affect every body system, every single body system. It helps us physiologically, it helps us psychologically, it helps us socially and even spiritually. I like to remind people that humor has the power to heal, it has the power to connect, it has the power to influence, and it has the power to enlighten.
And so for people who are dealing with unseen or invisible disabilities, it’s a holistic process. And it helps people — physiologically, psychologically, and socially. So help me keep on track here … let’s take a look at this …
Karyn: So first, let’s look at physiologically. Because research has shown that humor has the power to do so many things for us. It’s a combination of humor and laughter. This sounds a little bit picky, but you can have humor without laughter, and you can have laughter without humor. I love the sweet spot where we have both. Laughter is merely the physiological response of humor, but it does have some interesting effects on its own. So when we’re experiencing humor and laughter, all the body systems are affected. Let’s just kind of go through them for the people here.
For one, it’s your cardiovascular system … humor and laughter, when someone is experiencing this, it increases the heart rate; it actually increases the blood pressure a little bit. But then it brings it down below normal.
There is this refractory period, or this period after you’ve experienced humor and laughter, where you do have that kind of below-normal, and then it comes back up to your normal range again. But this is actually an aerobic exercise. For people who have ever experienced laughter yoga, or laughter for no reason, this is one of the effects that they get. If you see a group of people laughing, and they’re doing it for more than a minute or so, their faces pink up because of the increased circulation; they’re taking off their jackets and their sweaters, and they’re breathing a little bit harder because they’re increasing their respiratory rate. And so this is a wonderful thing.
And we also find within the vascular system that it affects the makeup of our blood cells. It actually shows an increase in immunoglobulin.
And this is kind of leaking over … leaking over, that’s a nurse term! Body fluids, death and dismemberment!
Lauren: That’s what we’re here for today, no?!
Karyn: That’s what we’re here for! So this is the immune system as well.
We see increase in things like immunoglobulin A, which is really important for the respiratory system. We see an increase in killer T cells, which are the cells that are constantly going throughout our body and looking for the cancer cells that could harm us, or other kinds of cells that can harm us, and chomp them away, kinda like PacMan. It shows an increased immune response, a positive immune response.
We have seen this on a short term, within minutes and hours; we’ve seen it on a medium range term where it might be for days or weeks. And then we’ve even seen it long-term, where it goes on for months even. Particularly when people are practicing this consistently — and that’s something that we’re going to definitely come back to a little bit later in our discussion here. And so cardiovascular-wise, it’s doing wonderful things … I’m all over the place here …
Lauren: But it’s so exciting, that’s the thing. The thing that I’m really getting from you is that it’s so easy to get really deeply into the details and go off on a tangent — because there’s so much rich information that we’re getting from the science of this.
Karyn: From the science. We’re definitely going to get into application, but I also want people to know … this isn’t something that Karyn Buxman made up. It’s something that we now know — because of science, and and I’ve written all sorts of different things about it. One of the books that I wrote was called, What’s So Funny About … Heart Disease?. It’s not a joke book. This is a book for people who want to cope with their illness and do so in a different manner than maybe what they might have had in mind. But the person who wrote the preface for my book, or the introduction, was Dr. Michael Miller, who is this genius in Baltimore and has done research on the cardiovascular system. This is going to be a little technical, hang here with me …
Karyn: He found that people who experience laughter increase an elasticity in the endothelial lining of their blood vessels.
So what that means, for you, is that your blood vessels are stretchier. And what that means for you also is better blood pressure, because when your blood vessels get harder, that volume is being forced through a vessel that doesn’t give — and your blood pressure goes up.
What he also taught me, and I don’t know how I didn’t learn this in nursing school, but the reason people lay down plaque in their vessels — which leads to heart disease, and stroke — is because that is our body’s way of soothing the inflammation in our vessels. So whether it’s through stress and we raise our cortisol, whether it’s through the stress of diet, the stress of emotion, whatever it is … we are soothing our vessels by laying plaque.
So if we can decrease our stress, if we can decrease our cortisol, decrease our inflammation … it lessens the body’s need to lay plaque down in our vessels.
Lauren: And so that’s exactly what humor and laughter will enable us to do, to prevent these concerns that actually cause longer-term negative side-effects?
Studies have also shown that practicing healthy humor lowers your bad cholesterol, LDL, and increases your good cholesterol.
And that’s just the cardiovascular system, okay?!
Lauren: And there’s so many knock-on effects that these small systems have on larger symptoms, be it an invisible illness or very visible illness. But really, it all comes down to inflammation and general health, that the more you laugh — and I like that you said “healthy humor” — the more that you pursue healthy humor, the more of an ability you have to allow your body to heal itself … is what we’re getting at here.
Karyn: Yes. And like you said, it’s totally integrated. We can’t just say, ‘Oh, well, I’m only going to focus on my immune system; I’m only going to focus on my muscle system.’ Because they’re all interrelated.
We’re holistic; this is why I love psychoneuroimmunology — because for a long time, the medical field, in particular, thought that the mind was separate. We’re just going to look at the body. And it doesn’t matter what the person’s thinking, it doesn’t matter what they’re experiencing. We’re just looking at what’s wrong with them physically. Now we know you can’t tease that apart. It’s all related.
In a nutshell, that’s what happens in our cardiovascular system. And if you get that right, then you’ve got some good things going for you. We can move into the respiratory system … we’re bringing air deep into our lungs; we’re forcing it out at speeds that have been clocked up to 70 miles an hour!
Lauren: No way!
Our blood becomes better oxygenated.
When I’m with crowds and I’m helping them to laugh, intentionally, one of the things I listen for is coughing — because what we find, some people … maybe they have a cold, maybe they have bronchitis … again the immunoglobulin A is going to come into effect. Maybe they are smokers. Don’t do that!
Lauren: Don’t do that at home, kids! Don’t do that anywhere!
Karyn: Or … this sounds really crazy, but this is the thing … people, when they get stressed or when they are tense, a lot of times they hold their breath.
Lauren: Oh, I catch myself constantly going, ‘You’re not breathing!’ You know when you realize it, is when you’re taking a photo with someone, and they say, ‘Pose for the photo,’ and you realize that you’ve stopped breathing for the five seconds it takes. This happens to us constantly.
Karyn: It does. I actually had somebody in one of my presentations … she sent me a snapshot of a placard she has on her desk, on her computer, and all it says is: “Breathe, my dear.” It sounds so simple. But one of my colleagues, highly educated, an expert in psychoneuroimmunology — she saw specialist after specialist after specialist, because she thought she was experiencing some kind of strange disease that she described as ‘waking apnea’. Because she would be doing things throughout the day, and then all of a sudden, she would catch herself sucking in air. They did respiratory studies, they did breathing tests, they did all these panels and studies. And then finally, when she went to yet another physician, he sat down and said, “Tell me what’s going on in your life.” And she told him she had a parent with Alzheimer’s, a husband with cancer, a daughter with an illness … and just on and on and on. She had an eye disease. And he said, “I think what this is, is that you get so tense during the day that you’re holding your breath, and you’re not aware of it. And this is your body gasping for air.” And by gosh, that’s what it was.
Lauren: And it’s so interesting you mention this particular anecdote, because here’s a great example of a doctor really doing a good job. Really saying, let’s look at the whole person and not just what’s symptomatic.
Karyn: Yes, it makes a big difference. So, respiratory-wise, you may experience some coughing. If you have asthma, I would check with a physician before I did 15 to 20 minutes of laughing solid! But, let’s work slowly up to that.
It is exercise! And really, the only other people that I think this is not a good fit for are people who have just had abdominal surgery. You don’t want to split those stitches!
That’s a real bummer. That’s nothing to laugh about! So respiratory-wise, very helpful. Musculoskeletal system … this is why a lot of people experience pain or more pain than they would normally feel, because they tense their muscles. They have a lot of muscle tension. How many people listening to this have ever had a tight neck, or tight shoulders?
Lauren: I’ve got it right now!
Karyn: Well, by the time we’re done talking, I want you to compare! (laughs)
Lauren: Agreed! I will participate in this experiment as well!
Karyn: They’ve done studies, and people who have muscle relaxation experience less pain, less tension, less knots … that kind of stuff. Temporomandibula joint …TMJ, is something that is very prevalent in women who are working and have families. I was working, I had small children, I was going to grad school full-time, teaching full-time, family full-time; I went to my dentist because I was having pain in my jaw. He asked, “Do you know anybody who grinds their teeth?” And I said, “No.” And he said, “You do!”
Lauren: Look in the mirror, is what he said!
Karyn: During the day, you’re being nice and dealing with everyone and going er, er, er and you’re grinding your teeth. And you go to bed at night. Er, er, er. And then you wake up the next morning and think, I can’t open my mouth!
Lauren: Yeah. And then that leads to chronic pain issues. And migraines and stuff for a lot of people, too.
Karyn: Yes. So this can help decrease headaches and other things associated with muscle tension. Even just pain itself … I think actually through a couple of different ways … one is possibly through distraction. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Especially if it’s something you have no control over. You know, you’re in a waiting room in the doctor’s office, and he’s running behind. There’s nothing you can do about that. How can you distract yourself, or reframe? That’s one of the things I teach people. And so, distraction is good. But even beyond distraction, one study that they’ve done … the way they induce pain for people is non-violent, nobody was harmed in the making of this experiment … but they have them put their hand in ice water. At some point, that becomes uncomfortable, and the longer they can hold their hand in the ice water, the greater their pain tolerance.
And so they found that both adults and children were able to experience greater pain tolerance after they’d experienced humor.
Lauren: Wow! What you’re telling us here is groundbreaking information. I think we know that, in general, it’s good to have a good laugh — just like it’s good to have a good cry sometimes. It’s sort of what we’re taught from the word go. But this is scientific data that is supporting the actual fact that laughter is healing. And not just for small issues in the body, but also for something like chronic pain. Adding that into a treatment regimen is going to really support you.
Karyn: It’s not because the Reader’s Digest says “it’s the best medicine”. This is why I have stayed with this work for 30 years, even when people said, “There’s got to be a better way to make a living!”
Lauren: Is there, though? You’re laughing for a living!
Karyn: This is so exciting to me, what we’re discovering. And there’s still lots more to come here. Pain management is something that’s really, really very helpful for people — whether it’s a seen illness or disability, or an unseen. That’s the cardiovascular, the respiratory; we’ve talked about the immune system. Let’s talk also about … this is physiological and psychological … in terms of alertness.
People experience more alertness after they have experienced humor. They experience more creativity, they experience more focus; lots and lots of benefits. Those have to do with the brain, and we’ll talk a little bit about that later. But in terms of inflammation … inflammation in the body exacerbates cancer, it exacerbates Alzheimer’s, it exacerbates autoimmune disorders. All of these things are tied in. And so one of the effects of humor, also, is to lower cortisol. When we lower cortisol, it’s like dousing out the fire … lowering it at least for periods of time so your body has an opportunity to heal itself.
People with skin diseases — eczema, psoriasis. People who experience diabetes … again, if we can lower their cortisol …
Lauren: Cortisol being the stress hormone.
Karyn: The stress hormone. And it is the major bad juju in terms of creating that inflammation throughout our body. And so we really want to get a handle on that. When I wrote What’s So Funny … About Diabetes?, one of the studies that I came across — and this was one that I did also mention in the TED Talk — was the fact that …
[Humor] lowers blood glucose. Now, this is for people who have diabetes, or who are pre-diabetic; it doesn’t lower the blood glucose of someone who’s healthy and has a normal blood glucose level. But the other thing that we saw decreases in is proteins, the renin-angiotensin in our blood was also lowered. These are the culprits in creating chronic kidney disease.
And so this is why people who have diabetes often end up needing renal transplants, kidney transplants or whatever. It also has to do with different things to do with circulation. But again, humor can help with those. And then one of the crazy things that is just so wonderful is that they did a study — and in a repeat study, it’s not just one — that …
Persons with diabetes who practiced humor also saw positive changes beyond the level of DNA. They saw it at the genetic level.
Lauren: Oh, wow!
Karyn: Yeah, that just gave me chills. What we’re talking about here is epigenetics. What if you are a young adult with diabetes, and by practicing your medical regime but adding humor to it, what if you could change your epigenetics?
Lauren: That’s unreal. But it’s real!
Karyn: It is real. And, you know, with the level of persons experiencing diabetes now at an all-time high — right now, it’s one out of 10, and by 2050, they are estimating it could be one out of three — what we’re doing isn’t working.
We need to be looking for ways outside the box. And why not add this to your regime? You have nothing to lose. Maybe it won’t change your genetics. But maybe it will. And in the meantime, you’ve created a healthier, happier you and a better quality of life.
Lauren: Well, and that’s where we tie into the psychological element as well.
Physiologically, we can say that for every body system that is negatively affected by stress — which is pretty much everybody’s system — we can now see a positive effect with humor and laughter.
And so to explain and convince people to start making this part of your daily routine, can be a game changer. So we’ve looked at the physiological. Let’s look at the psychological for a minute.
Because in terms of psychology, humor will lower anxiety. It decreases stress, it increases creativity. It increases focus.
One of the things that we find, when we look at the brain … going back to that again … One of my colleagues, Dr. Lee Berk; he is one of the leading researchers up at Loma Linda here in California. He studied the brain — and this was on live people! And he put people into two groups, actually three; I think one group … they did nothing, maybe just, you know, read reading material or whatever. But one group watched Saving Private Ryan; if you haven’t seen that, it’s a very stressful movie.
Lauren: Yes, very stressful!
Karyn: Very stressful movie. Then the other group experienced humor, and he gave them a couple of choices. And this is important, because what’s funny for me might not be funny for you. They tried to factor some of that in so that it really was something that they found humorous. What they found when they looked at their brains was, not only was this a whole brain activity, but they also were able to measure brainwaves. Not just alpha beta delta theta. Now, because of our technology, we can also measure gamma waves. And gamma waves … we used to think of that as artifact … back in the day when it was analog, it was like, oh, you know, we don’t know what that is. But it’s not anything. Now we know it really is something. Gamma waves are across your entire brain; it connects all parts of your brain. And when people, who in the past have been seen to have this gamma wave pattern, they are people who are experiencing and practicing deep meditation and deep mindfulness.
Lauren: And we know that there are scientific studies that support meditation and mindfulness for healing as well.
Karyn: Yes. And we know that when people are in that state, from those studies, that they are experiencing being in the flow, being focused, being productive, feeling connected.
And so we are making that bridge that these are the things that people are experiencing with gamma wave patterns in meditation and mindfulness. This is what we are seeing also in people who are experiencing humor.
This is a gateway for us to start doing some really cool research on that. But this is something that really has only been measured for about five years. It’s very new, and in terms of science and research this is really, really hot stuff.
Lauren: Super exciting!
Karyn: It is very exciting. And so for people who are experiencing mood swings, and they’re experiencing crying … I will say, crying is really very good for you. It really is. It’s cathartic, it’s cleansing. It’s just, if you’re crying all the time, it starts to upset the people around you.
Lauren: Well, and if you’re crying all the time, it might even be too much for you. It’s very different from humor, I think, in the way your body processes it.
Karyn: One researcher that I talked to said that the tears of laughter and the tears of crying are similar — but they are different than the tears of when you get something in your eye. Because the tears of crying and laughter contain exocrines. And exocrines are things that build up in your body, that your body needs to rid itself of. We rid it through breathing and we rid it through urination and all the other ways … we sweat it out.
Lauren: Literally waste disposal, isn’t it?
Karyn: It’s waste disposal! And now we find that it can also be through our tears of laughter. One of my homework assignments to people is: Have you seen Steel Magnolias? For the group who says no, all right, pull it up on Amazon Prime or somewhere, and just watch it from the beginning. For the rest of you who’ve seen it before, do as I do about every 28 days. I fast forward to the graveyard scene. I am like Pavlov’s dog. I can’t imagine anything more painful than what she’s doing … Sally Field’s character is standing in the graveyard and she’s beating her chest and she says, “I just feel so bad! I just wish I could hit someone and make them feel as bad as I do!” And Olympia Dukakis grabs Shirley MacLaine and says: “Here, hit Ouiser.” In a nanosecond, you go from crying to laughing.
Even Dolly Parton’s character, Truvy, says: “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” It’s something that’s very cleansing. I do, I think crying is very good for people. Sometimes when people will come to me and say, “I can’t bring myself to laugh. Why can’t I laugh?”, I ask them: “Are you done crying yet?” Because sometimes you just need to cry before you can laugh.
Lauren: They’re closely related, yeah.
Karyn: They’re very closely related. They’re actually on a spectrum. When I poll my audiences, almost everybody has laughed till they cried and cried till they laughed. You just can go back and forth, and back and forth. So, they’re very, very healthy for you. Humor is also a way for us to express anger and frustration in a socially acceptable way. When I’m dealing with health professionals, and coaches and leaders, I tell them to listen beyond the laughter. Because sometimes a joke is just a joke. But sometimes it’s somebody reaching for help. If we don’t respond the way that they hoped we would respond, they still have the ability to save face. But if we listen, and we’re really good listeners, maybe we can discover just what it is that they’re afraid of, or they’re frustrated about.
Lauren: Psychologically speaking, you’re saying that it’s not just about what you’re experiencing if you’re the person who’s laughing or crying, it’s also about how we’re communicating with other people and the emotional responses that we have.
Karyn: Yes. Incredible communication tool. So, dealing with our stress, dealing with our anxiety … Here’s another interesting thing, Lauren … what we’ve known in terms of stress, is that there is what we call an anticipatory effect. It’s early in the month, and you’re looking at your checkbook, and you’re thinking, Oh, my gosh, what am I going to do at the end of the month, when this bill comes? Am I going to have enough money to cover it? You’re not actually at the end of the month, you’re not actually experiencing that – but you’re worrying about it. And your body doesn’t know the difference between the first of the month and the end of the month; it just starts affecting you as if it’s really happening. Cortisol is going up, muscle tension is going up. You’re feeling scared, your anxiety’s going up. All these things — and the event hasn’t happened. Have you ever had an experience where you really got worried sick about something, and it never happened?
Lauren: Oh, yeah. My therapist says to me: Don’t worry about things twice. The advice she gives me is: Worry about it when it happens. And for me, that’s been a real key — unlocking that potential to not feel the stress. It’s amazing how, when I was taught that, it also gave me a sense of humor. And having that humor to break through the muscle tension and the tension in our respiratory system … and everything that you’re saying physiologically that can help us release psychologically. The implications here are huge.
Karyn: They’re huge. So here’s the thing … now we know: There is an anticipatory effect with humor.
Lauren: That’s so exciting! I feel like I may be geeking out on this episode more than I ever have before! (laughs)
Karyn: I’m telling you!
Because all the things we just talked about that humor can do for you … it can do it, just thinking about it!
Lauren: Well, isn’t it that the kind of thing where it’s, like, ‘Oh, you had to be there.’ It’s when you’re laughing at a story or a joke, and you can’t get the words out to tell someone else because you’re just remembering it and it’s making you crack up? And that in itself, what you’re saying … the data is showing us that that’s the anticipatory effect that’s going to have a totally positive effect on our entire body.
Karyn: Absolutely! This is part of what I teach people … how can you develop a repertoire of things that amuse you, that you can tap into, any place, any time.
Lauren: YouTube’s very handy for that!
Karyn: YouTube’s very handy. And that’s really accessible, and that’s part of what I teach in terms of your environment. But even in your head, I must have at least half a dozen stories, that if I’m stuck behind the steering wheel, and I can’t pull up YouTube on my phone … I go back mentally to the time my mom and I were in a store. And she saw a food display in this lovely skillet. And she just knew it was all fake. So she went over and stuck her finger in it. And yolk starts running all over. She’s looking so puzzled at her finger, and the woman behind the displays is looking at my mom, and she goes, “Why did you do that??” And my mom, it dawns on her. That’s not necessarily funny to somebody else, but this was a story that my mom and I used to tell all the time … “Remember the time … !” And we didn’t even have to tell the story. It’s kind of like: “Number 42! Remember the time … !” And we would just begin to laugh.
Just thinking about that memory, anticipating that memory, put us physically and psychologically and even socially in a better frame.
Lauren: I think it’s so great!
Karyn: It’s wonderful. I’m anticipating going to see a comedy show with one of my besties. I have an accountability partner, and every day we text back and forth and send one another humorous things. I’m anticipating something fun happening. It hasn’t happened yet, but already, you know, it’s, like, boom, boom, boom.
Lauren: You were talking about the accessibility of humor, too. You think about the way the Internet has expanded, and social media, and short form video, and memes, and things like that … it’s so easy to get cracked up nowadays. And in fact, I would say that there are more feeds out there, be they through social media or on websites, that are dedicated to humor than there are to anything else. Because in a way, we’re all seeking that kind of medicine, aren’t we?
Karyn: Yes, we are. This leads us to one of the last things that I want to mention … because we talked about physiological and we talked about psychological … but I do just want to make a quick statement about social. Because many people have heard the quote by Victor Borge: “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” And now we know part of the reason that is. I like to point out to people, especially when I’m working with international audiences, that laughter has no accent. And that this is something that can bond and connect us. But now at the brain level, we understand even a little bit better why that happens.
Because one of the things that’s released when we are sharing healthy humor with another person is oxytocin. Oxytocin is what bonds us; this is what mothers experience when they have their children. But you can experience that with another person. And so it’s bonding you, bringing you closer together. This is so powerful. And whether or not your listeners are feeling isolated because of their disease, or they’re confined to their home, or their bed, or whatever that may be, studies have shown also that social isolation is much more harmful than what we previously thought. Somebody who is seriously socially isolated — that’s the equivalent of smoking more than eight to 10 cigarettes a day. It’s really not good for our system; we are really designed to be more social.
So even if you can socialize through technology. I have friends across the country, and periodically, we now FaceTime or we Zoom or we do something to have that connection. It’s wonderful that we have that. Sending cards to people if you don’t have the technology … finding ways to share humor with other people. One of the things about this also … and this is an important point particularly for leaders, but for anybody … is that exhibiting humor increases your likeability. If you read Robert Cialdini, his book on influence, likeability is extremely important for influence; it’s important for connection. And if we experience humor with another person, we’re influencing them by increasing our likeability. Now, there’s caveats to that, obviously. It has to be a humor that you both agree on. And healthy humor … blah, blah, blah. But what a wonderful way and even reason to connect. Years ago, somebody was saying … because I’m an entrepreneur, and I have to do sales. And I was, like, “I don’t know how to do sales!” They said, “You have to contact people every day.” And I was, like, “And do what? Say, ‘Buy me’?”. People want to buy, they don’t want to be sold to.
Lauren: They want to connect, though.
Karyn: Yeah. And so now I realize, oh, I just stay top of mind by sending them, periodically, something fun. And that brings us closer together. And if I can stay top of mind, they’re more likely to buy from me. If it’s a neighbor, if it’s a friend, if it’s somebody in your church, a relative, whatever …
If you can share some humor, you’re going to increase the connection and decrease your social isolation.
Lauren: I’m thinking as you’re saying this that it doesn’t just apply socially or personally, as well as professionally, but it also applies in the medical system, right? I think about the doctors on my team who I have the best relationships with, are the ones I sit and crack jokes with. I found that we have humor in common. And that almost the minute one or the other of us cracked a joke early on in our relationship, it sort of sealed the deal for us. And we’ve been able to work together so much better and have more open communication because of that. Which is so important, in general, but particularly when you’re someone who goes through the medical system often not being believed.
Karyn: Absolutely. And with humor, particularly if you’re using a little bit of self-effacing humor — and this is for the person receiving the care or giving the care — if you are sharing humor that’s a little bit self-effacing, this shows a little bit of vulnerability, which increases trust. Subliminally, we’re thinking, ‘Oh, this person is safe.’
So if we want to have that relationship of trust, whether it’s with our doctors, our nurses, or whoever it is in our healthcare provider system, this is just one of the means that we can do it. But it’s a means that people often overlook.
Lauren: Certainly that’s a delicate balance when it comes to self-effacing humor, because I think when you’re fighting for advocacy in the healthcare and medical industries, and also trying to connect to someone, it can be a very thin line, can’t it? Being too self-effacing, and not advocating enough for oneself. So you find a way to strike the balance in a healthy way.
Karyn: I’m glad you brought that up. I often tell people that when you’re using self-effacing humor, make fun of your actions, and not who you are.
Lauren: Ooh, I like that.
Karyn: Because …
It’s easier to admit that you made a mistake than it is to admit you are a mistake.
Lauren: Ooh, that gives me chills!
Karyn: Yes. Humor can be a tool or a weapon. It can be a tool to help others, to help yourself; it can be a tool to hurt others, or to hurt yourself.
Lauren: Sure. Well, that’s why you’re using “healthy humor” as a term, as well. And I think that makes a lot of sense. Because there are ways in which humor can go very dark very fast. As with everything … in moderation, but then a ton of it when you find the sweet spot!
Karyn: There you go! That’s exactly right.
Karyn: So, it doesn’t take too long to glance at your resume, and people can see this on your website, to see that invisible illness plays a huge role in your work. You’re on the board of the Invisible Disabilities Association. In 2009, you were the recipient of the Invisible Disabilities Advocate Healthcare Honors award. Can you tell us what drew you to the invisible and chronic illness community, and how that’s impacted your work? Because I know you have personal experience with this.
Karyn: I do, in actually three different ways. The first was with my younger son, who was experiencing a very mysterious illness that went on for seven years — never successfully diagnosed, never really successfully treated. It was this experience, or malady, where he would have a sensation of something itching on the side of his head; that would last 15 or 20 seconds. And then he would get a funny taste in his mouth that he called ‘Bad Bananas’. And then after 15 or 20 seconds, he would just be stricken by this explosive pain that went across the front of his head – that literally would knock him to the floor. And this would last 15 or 20 minutes, and it left him writhing and crying and kicking and screaming. And during the episode, he would be aware of what was going on. But he couldn’t hear anything, because inside of his head was this loud metallic clanging noise. And then as it would start to subside, he would get a tingling sensation on the bottom of his feet. And then he would be paralyzed from the neck down for 90 minutes. In about 20 minutes, he would start to get a sensation in his toes and then in his feet, and then eventually he could start to move his fingers and then his arms. And then at 90 minutes, he could start to move again.
We saw doctors across the country, and they were lined up like kids in a candy store wanting to solve this medical mystery.
Lauren: And how old was your son at the time?
Karyn: At the time when it hit, he was 13.
Lauren: And this persisted then until he was 20.
Karyn: Until he was 20. When he was 13 years old and in seventh grade, he missed six months of school. We had no idea this was going to be so chronic. And people, particularly teachers, started making remarks about how he was just trying to get out of school. What they didn’t realize about my son was … granted, he wasn’t that crazy about classes, although he was a gifted student. He was Mr. Social Butterfly. To miss out on all that was going on with his friends was torture. But we couldn’t let him go to school and have an episode where he would get trampled on the stairs. Our rule was that he had to have at least five days without an episode. Because sometimes they would be a month apart. And then at other times, he would have six to eight a day. And that’s how we would spend our whole day. It was just crazy. When you’re in the midst of it, you don’t realize how crazy it is. When he was in those phases, it was, like … okay, he just had another episode. And he’s probably not going to have one for another 90 minutes, at least, or two hours. “Son, would you like to go out and play outside for a minute?” Or, “I’ve gotta run to the grocery store.” He could have these while he was eating, while he was playing, while he was running around. Even in his sleep, he would be awakened with these.
And so it was torturous. And people would start saying things. And I know they were probably well-meaning for the most part. But they started saying things like, “You know, if you would just be stricter with him, I’m sure he would shape up.”
Because they would see him in between these episodes, and then he was just a normal 13-year-old, 14-year-old, 15-year-old, 16-year-old.
Lauren: This is so typical of the way we get flare-ups with invisible illness. Everything looks fine when you’re not sick.
Karyn: He was devastated. He was just devastated. One of the many places we went to was the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago. They had been contacted by the CBS news show 48 Hours, which wanted to do a special on pain. So they reached out to them, saying, “Do you know of any children that we might interview?” And they said, “We can’t say yes for them. But here’s the contact.” So CBS contacted us, and my husband, at the time … his first response was, “No way.” And I said, “You know, this is really Adam’s decision.” And Adam said, “If this could help someone, even one person, I want to do it.”
Lauren: That’s a really mature decision to make when you’re quite young, as well.
Karyn: Yes. And as an aside, it helped a number of people who contacted us, or Diamond Clinic, or CBS. During this 15-minute segment that they did just on him, we had video footage of him experiencing these episodes. And once they put that on national television, particularly in our hometown, the people who saw it said, “Oh my gosh, I had no idea.” And I said, “Yeah, I know you didn’t.” There was still some judgment by some people.
But you know, that was probably my biggest lesson — the judgment. People couldn’t see what was wrong with him. So they just assumed he was making this up. And that was heartbreaking.
Lauren: Isn’t that a situation, too, where humor could have bridged the gap? Or, in him coping with his illness? Did you guys ever turn to the research that you were doing at the time, and say, “Well, maybe if we take you to a comedy show?”
Karyn: The good news is he ended up actually moving to Chicago and studying with Second City.
Lauren: Oh, how funny!
Karyn: I would say that he inspired me because, I mean, he’s naturally funny. He makes me look like paint drying on a wall. He used a lot of humor. Obviously, we weren’t laughing all the time. But he used a lot of humor with his nurses and physicians. I remember this one physician in particular … like I said, neurologists lined up outside the door, like kids in a candy store. One came in and said, “I’m going to discover this disease, and I’m going to cure it. And I’m going to name it after me.”
Lauren: That’s a bit egotistical!
Karyn: And Adam goes, “And me!” But one guy comes in with a video tripod. This was back 20 years ago. So he comes in with a tripod and his video recorder. And he sets it up, and he turns it on my son. And then he pulls out his pad and pen and starts looking down, never made eye contact again. And he’s asking the same 99 questions that we’d heard over and over again, to my 13-year-old. And then finally at question 100, he had something that Adam and I had never heard before. He said to Adam, “Have you ever experienced deja vu?” And without missing a beat, Adam leans toward him real close and says, “Didn’t you just ask me that??” And Adam and I just hit the floor. We were laughing so hard. The doctor never even looked up. He just paused and said, “Clever.” Move right on. But those were the things … I remember one time, he was 16, and one of the nurses came in and they were doing an EKG, and she had put patches on his chest. And she starts ripping them off. And then she went to rip one off. He yelled; he scared her to death. He goes, “Don’t!” And she said, “What??” And he goes, “I have a hair on my chest. Just one, and you’re about to pull it off.” And so he stopped her, and just very dramatically, gently peeled it off and saved the hair. And I mean, she was just crying. Those are the kinds of things …
Lauren: The connections that you have with your team and with the people around you. It’s just goes to show how important a role humor plays in those situations.
Karyn: Yes. We had a lot of support.
Lauren: Yeah, and did it play a role for you as a caregiver? Because it wasn’t just your one son … you talk about this in the TEDx talk, too … your other son got sick as well. I’m interested to hear the role that humor played in healing, not only for them, but also for you and for the family.
Karyn: While I was in about year five with Adam going through his mysterious malady — which, again, seven years later completely disappeared. We don’t know why, but we’re very happy about that.
But at that time, my older son, who was a sophomore in college at the time, had a pain in his chest and discovered it was cancer.
And so we went through weeks and months of chemotherapy and surgery, and just all sorts of issues that were really painful and very scary for him. And again, whereas my younger son is somebody who’s an extrovert — he was the class clown. My other son … more stoic, more quiet. But if you watch and listen close, you catch all sorts of humor. Before he had been diagnosed with cancer, he had worked with a group of guys, and he and his bestie had been given the names Tonto and the Lone Ranger. For reasons I don’t understand. But, you know, a mom doesn’t ask. At one point, during his chemo, all these guys come over, and everybody’s laughing and cracking up. And when they left, he was smiling bigger than I’d ever seen him smile through this whole ordeal. And I said, “What was going on in there?” And he said, “Oh, they gave me a new nickname.” I said, “Really? What was that?” And he said, “Chemo sabe.” You know, we’re both just crackin’ up. So it was really a very important part of his healing process. And his coping. Two people, very different ways of expressing themselves. But I was so glad that they had picked that up through my studies. I even contacted some of my past clients and said, “Here’s what’s going on in my life. And I just have to tell you, thank goodness, this stuff works. Because otherwise I’d have to call you back and say, ‘You know, all that stuff I told you? A load of crap.’”
And then it went on to help with my mom. She was just this amazing woman, who later developed the thing she feared most, which was Alzheimer’s.
I’m doing a project now for the Alzheimer’s Association, for The Longest Day on June 21. And what I’m telling people is that Alzheimer’s is no joke — but it can be a laughing matter. She said to me on multiple occasions, “I’m so glad that I’ve learned the importance of humor. I’m not laughing all the time. But I can find the humor in things.” And she said, “Your dad’s not there yet.” The reason for that is, that so much of our humor — when we’re adults, and I’m sure this is the case for your listeners — so much of our humor comes from pain and discomfort. We’re not laughin’ about a big fat paycheck, or a great hair day. We’re laughing about the things that make us crazy. She could laugh about the fact that she had people over for dinner — and never turned on the stove. We would all laugh about the mystery meals … did something get put in, or did something get left out?
But you can’t experience humor from pain until you’ve experienced some emotional distance.
Even though she was the person that had the illness, she had that emotional distance; my dad did not. It was just too painful for him to see the humor in it. With that kind of experience, it might take you hours, days, weeks, months, even years — if ever. But if you can give yourself permission, reframe it, and to maybe try playing with your pain just a little bit. That emotional distance can become just so important in your healing — because that allows you the ability to laugh, not at the person or laugh at yourself, but you’re laughing at your illness. You’re laughing at your actions. And it’s empowering.
If you can laugh at Alzheimer’s, if you can laugh at cancer, you’re no longer a victim. You’re the victor.
Lauren: Yes! Absolutely. I think that’s really true. It’s about changing the power dynamic. Not letting an illness define who you are. But really choosing to see it in a different way. So, I always ask people about work/life balance, because I think it plays such a huge part in the day-to-day — whether or not someone’s chronically ill, right? But that idea of just being busy. How do you see that reflected in our approach to health care and wellness? And do you think laughter can teach us a lesson about muddling our way through all of that, particularly if we’re someone who’s trying to get through the day-to-day and has limitations because of chronic or invisible illness?
Karyn: Yes. My husband and I, currently we talk about this internally. And I think at some point, we’ll start putting this maybe in the next book. We call it “The 2% Solution”.
Because really, at work, 2% of your eight-hour day is 10 minutes. Could you allow yourself 10 minutes to take a break, and use some humor intentionally?
There’s so many ways you can use it without being disruptive and without being inappropriate. But I think that in today’s society, we’re rewarded for becoming workaholics. It’s become a competition. It’s so crazy!
Lauren: It’s an epidemic, really.
Karyn: It is. And people say, “Well, I’ve got 700 unread emails in my inbox!” “Well, that’s nothing, I’ve got 1000!” And you win? Seriously? We’re this competitive, like the one who works the most hours and kills themselves the most is somehow better. I have a nursing license still; I haven’t put my hands on a patient in a really long time. But I did do a stint in hospice, and I can guarantee you I never cared for a patient who said, “Doggone it, I wish I’d spent more time at work!” Never, never! This has been a year where I’ve had several people in my life who I’m close to pass away unexpectedly. And I realized that even though I feel like I’m doing it for a good reason, and that I have this worthwhile purpose, I have allowed that to take over so much of my life, and that I haven’t been staying in touch with people. I have to look at, why am I doing what I’m doing? Well, I’m doing it to help make the world a better place. And so that I can help friends and family, or whatever. But if they’re not around anymore, am I going to be able to help them? So, for me, again, this is all about intentionality … what can you do intentionally? One of my favorite books of all time … and I have a Top 100 Reading List that I recommend to people … this one is by Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning. He was not just somebody who was a prisoner in the Holocaust; he was in Auschwitz. Yet he survived and went on to do great things. Humor was a part of the role that played in his survival. And I think the most powerful quote, for me, from him, was this: “Between stimulus and response, there’s a space. In that space, lies our power to choose our response. And in our response, lies our freedom and our happiness.” What do you choose to put in that space? You could put more work in that space, you could put anger in that space, you could put anxiety in that space, you could choose not to put anything in that space and respond as you’ve always responded. Or you can be mindful and intentional.
That space between stimulus and response may be a nanosecond; it may be half a minute. But if you can intentionally put love, mindfulness, compassion, humor in that space, I think that it helps get things back in order.
I know for me, I now not only send humorous things via texts and emails, and memes and Instagram, and Twitter and Facebook, and all those crazy things. But every day … I had a stack of humorous postcards made, Vistaprint, cheap, that I just made myself … and I handwrite a note to somebody every day.
Lauren: Oh, that’s lovely! What a nice practice.
Karyn: So many people ask, “Why did you send this? It’s not my birthday! I’m not sick.” “Because I thought of you.” It’s just that connection. Because really, so much of this is about connection. Putting more humor in your life helps you, I think, to experience all of those other things … the mindfulness and the compassion.
Lauren: It’s a gateway drug.
Karyn: It is. It’s gateway drug. I like that! I’m gonna use that in the next interview!
Lauren: (laughs) So, speaking of drugs … in what way do you see our healthcare system working for patients? As someone who has been in the system for a while, too. And in what ways do you see it falling short, requiring improvement? — And I’m sure this is going to be a long response!
Karyn: This is going to be a long, involved conversation!
In a nutshell, I think that we have people who care about patients. And I think that, in general, our system ties their hands.
My sister’s a physician, and she left one of the clinics that she loved practicing in because they were chastising her for spending more than nine to 11 minutes with a patient. You can do that for some people. But if you’re really a compassionate and caring physician …
Lauren: … And if someone has a complex health problem.
Karyn: It’s going to take longer than nine to 11 minutes, and you shouldn’t punish the physicians, you shouldn’t punish the nurses. The workloads that they have … One of the things that the public hasn’t heard a lot about, but those of us in healthcare are hearing a lot about, is that up until just this last couple of years, the brunt of our healthcare workforce was boomers. They’re in it because they’re altruistic, they care, they love. And now they themselves are starting to enter the healthcare system.
Lauren: As patients.
Karyn: As patients. And now we have a younger generation, that through no fault of their own, has been been socialized that self-sacrifice isn’t the number one thing. And so trying to find people who will work weekends and nights and holidays — a lot of them are saying to their healthcare employer, that doesn’t work for me. Yeah, well, I’m going to tell the patient on the ventilator …
Lauren: It’s interesting that you bring that up, because I was having a version of that conversation with my endocrinologist, of all people, yesterday … the concept that Millennials are now getting a bad rap, right? The Gen-Xers and the Millennials are getting this bad rap, because they’re a different kind of altruistic; they are more interested in creating their own work that’s meaningful to them than in working for someone else’s dream to come true. And I think this ultimately ties into how we’re looking at all of our systems. How it ties into the healthcare system and how it ties into the humanity of all of that, which is where the humor lives, too, isn’t it?
Karyn: Yes. And for those who have some time to really spend time with the patient and to give that quality of care, it’s much easier for them to experience humor with their patients. I will say I recently gave a presentation for a group of a couple of thousand healthcare providers. One of the gals came up afterwards and hugged me and said, “I haven’t laughed for 25 years. I don’t have time anymore.” She’s an indigent part of the population who has very little resources. And so she just puts herself out there. She is a boomer and she’s somebody who’s self-sacrificing. And I’m not saying that certainly isn’t good for people either … but where that happy medium is …
Insurance companies, the one thing that I will say, I’m hopeful and maybe encouraged with, is the fact that finally, insurance companies are starting to see the value of people staying well.
Lauren: Do you see that? I haven’t quite hit that one yet!
Karyn: I am seeing it. It’s not all insurance providers. But there are many insurance providers who are collaborating with employers. And rewarding them if their employees maintain a good weight and don’t smoke, and …
Lauren: Have a gym membership.
Karyn: Yeah, and they reimburse for a wellness visit. It hasn’t been that long ago, for me, that I went for a wellness visit with a new insurance provider, and they said, “Oh, no, we don’t pay for that.” I was, like, “Are you frackin’ crazy?” It’s like, I’m going for a mammogram … well, that’s just wellness, it’s not because you have breast cancer. I mean, those are the kinds of crazy things, that when we get penalized for taking care of …
Lauren: Preventive care, yeah.
Karyn: Now, I also see … it’s not typically hospitals, per se, or clinics, per se, … but I have seen a lot of long-term care, and also cancer centers and things like that, where as they look into different kinds of complementary things that they can do to keep their people well, they’re looking into things like humor, and meditation, and art and music … and how can we bring these other alternatives in to help make people healthier? We still have a real long ways to go. And overall, I just would like to throw our whole healthcare system into next week. Because right now, I think it’s very broken, and I think it may even get more broken before they can fix it.
Lauren: I’m with you there, too. But the good thing is that there are people like us who are having these conversations.
Karyn: That’s right!
Lauren: And working to really repair from the inside out, to repair ourselves and to repair that whole system. So, sort of coming back around to the invisible illness sphere, how do you see us keeping dialogue and awareness open in terms of invisible illness? Do we need an invisible illness comedian now? How do we keep integrating these holistic approaches, and advocating for that kind of care … and keeping people well, and working on these preventive models, rather than the sick care model?
Karyn: I love people like Wayne Connell; he and his wife, Sherri, are the co-founders of the Invisible Disabilities Association. And every year, they have an annual banquet. And he’s been so savvy about not just recognizing people who are doing things right. And not just people who are very, very interested in invisible disabilities. But he brings in others who need to have their awareness raised. And when they can come and experience this, and they can be exposed to, and get caught up in some of the excitement, enthusiasm of what could be … He always has fun themes, and I think it was a year or so ago, his theme was all about humor, healthy humor. I think that one group, by itself, may not be loud enough to get their voice heard. But I know that he also coordinates with people who are with MS and people who have to do with brain disease, and other kinds of unseen immune disorders, and all of these things. So, I think that collaboration is really important. And I think being the squeaky wheel. He uses a lot of humor, but he also is very, very serious. He and Sherri, both, and Lord knows they are dealing with this 24/7. She has MS and she has Lyme disease, and she has chemical sensitivities, and all sorts of things. I’ve learned a lot from them, and seeing how people who don’t know better treat the situation. And even people who do know better, that’s crazy too.
So, staying out there, making sure that you’re doing the best you can and finding other members of your tribe, bringing more people in and making your voice louder and louder and louder. Because eventually we’re going to be so loud that we can’t be ignored.
Lauren: Well, we’re all starting to find each other more easily. So that’s a good thing.
Karyn: It is a good thing.
Lauren: Well, Karyn, I like to wrap up my interviews with a Top Three List. And I think this will be fun for you. I was wondering if you could give us your top three tips for someone who suspects they might be entering the world of chronic invisible illness?
Karyn: Well, first of all, I guess I would tell them … find you and listen to your podcast! But I’ll give you my top three humor tips …
Karyn: In terms of, what do you do? And how do you cope with this? And how do you deal with this? Because we can cope with things short-term, and humor is great for that. I, though, like to help people be more resilient. And to do that, to build your bandwidth, it means making deposits before you continually make withdrawals. If you’re constantly withdrawing from your bank without making any deposits, pretty soon they’ll close your account. And they frown on that. They don’t go, “Oh, keep doing that. We think that’s a great idea!”
Lauren: It’s not good for your credit score, and it’s no good for your body’s credit score!
Karyn: Right, exactly. So we want to raise your body’s credit score.
First and foremost, I would say: choose humor intentionally. Going back to stimulus response, there’s a lot of things you can put in that space. But to start recognizing that humor is one of your choices, to intentionally put it in that space …
— because my guess is every person listening to this experiences humor by chance. And it’s great when that happens. But how many of them are experiencing humor by choice. And being intentional every day. I would say that if you would just add 10 minutes a day of intentionally choosing humor, that it could be a game changer. And the second thing that I would recommend is to see funny — and I’ll explain that a little bit.
Lauren: Ironic, given the unseen-ness of invisible illness!
Karyn: Yes. And here’s what I mean by that … because so many people think when they hear that, I’m advocating humor; they think I’m advocating comedy.
Lauren: And it’s different.
Karyn: It’s different. There are three purposes of humor, in my opinion. One is entertainment — that’s the one that everybody thinks of all the time. A second purpose of humor is to influence.
And the third purpose of humor is for wellbeing — your health, your resilience, your spirituality, all of those things fall under that. And so it’s not about being funny. If you practice reframing and seeing and hearing and looking for and listening for humor every day, you can become funnier without trying. It just becomes part of your nature. But there’s so many things that people overhear or that they miss, because their assumption is, well, you don’t understand; there’s nothing funny happening in my life. And my response to that is, if that’s your belief, that’s your reality. And as long as you continue to believe that, that’s not going to change.
Lauren: It’s the same as, what we imagine we create, isn’t it?
Karyn: Yes. It is! And this goes back to a brain thing, again. I think it’s a spiritual thing, but I think it’s also a brain thing. It’s your reticular activating system. This is a little finger-like projection in the back of your brain that’s a filter. And when you pay attention to something, it says, Oh, that’s important to her; I’ll make sure she sees or hears more of that. You buy a red car, and your brain says that’s important to you. And now on the highway, you see all these red cars, and you’re thinking, when did everybody buy a red car? Or somebody in your office is pregnant, and all of a sudden, you look and then throughout the building, it’s like, oh, everyone’s pregnant! Baby Boom. This is your filter.
And if you tell your brain, it’s important for me to see and experience more humor, your brain will help you find that.
So don’t give up if the first day you don’t experience it. Don’t go, ‘Oh see, I was right!’ Because if you do it, and you experience it, now you have synapses firing. And if you experience it again, they fire again and wire a little more.
Lauren: This is neuroplasticity at work.
Karyn: Neuroplasticity at work! And Hebb’s Law says that neurons that fire together wire together, and the more you do it, the easier it becomes until you can’t not experience it around you. So don’t worry about being funny. Look to see how can you experience more humor. And then I’m going to jump to one that might surprise people. I would say, become a student of humor; I think it’s that important.
Lauren: And that doesn’t mean going and taking a comedy class necessarily.
Karyn: Right! No. There are so many organizations and papers and magazines and journals. And a nonprofit organization that’s very near and dear to my heart … and I get no financial compensation from this group, but I just love their work. That’s the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor — aath.org. They work with people in all walks of life to help them experience and apply more healthy humor. And so there’s people out there; there’s laughter clubs, there’s other kinds of things. People like myself, and many of my colleagues, we have ongoing resources. And we do that because we’re so passionate about it. But we are really, I think, very much in the pioneer stages. If you become a student of humor, you’re going be riding that wave of so many more things that are beneficial, and different ways to experience it.
Lauren: Absolutely. And one way to do that … because you were talking about putting your deposits in the bank, right … it’s even as simple as saying, ‘All right, we’re going to set the 10 minutes aside today.’ Or, ‘I’m going to start making a playlist of things that crack me up.’ Or, when something funny happens … my mom and I had something happen to us yesterday, and we’ll say one word to each other, and we both know, it’s a funny thing. Just write it down. I know if I think of that, it’s a funny thing, you know. So having those resources that are not just resources that are available through organizations like AATH, but also that you have your own personal store of those, right?
Karyn: If you increase the odds … I call this stacking the deck … what can I do to stack the deck? I can put more things on my phone. More apps. I can bookmark things, I can have more things in my home, in my office.
Lauren: Follow funny accounts on social.
Karyn: Right! Surround yourself with people who are funny.
There are two kinds of people — those who bring joy when they enter a room, and those who bring joy when they leave a room. Don’t be the latter; don’t surround yourself with the latter.
Because those people come into a room and they suck up all the good oxygen, and then they leave. You want to surround yourself with the people who are uplifting and positive and fun. And you want to do it consistently. I’d say that’s a caveat to all of this. One of my dear friends who’s been one of my mentors in business, said to me once, “Consistency trumps commitment every time.”
Lauren: I would agree!
Karyn: So just make an agreement with yourself that every day, I’m going to do 10 minutes minimum; you can always do more. But every day, 10 minutes. I’m going to get up in the morning and I’m going to listen to something, or I’m going to find something, or I’m going to reminisce and meditate on past experience. There’s no need to buy any equipment. There’s no need to go anywhere. You have all of this accessible to you right now, right here.
Lauren: Well, Karen, this has just been absolutely gorgeous, and a really eye-opening interview. Thank you so much for joining us today. Can you tell us where guests can find you and your work online?
Karyn: Absolutely. I’m going to say the best place right now to go … I’ve developed, actually, a special link for people who are interested in learning more in ongoing – what I call, “prizes of unspeakable value”. And that web link is just HumorForMe. Short, easy. And if they go there … start off right away by downloading a sample copy of the book that’s coming out with Forbes this fall. Not a copy, but a sample — sample chapters and things. And also, if you’re willing and you want updates on research and all that kinds of good stuff that trips my trigger, and hopefully trips yours … if you go there, we’ll make sure that you get that on a regular basis.
Lauren: That is so fantastic. And we’re going to link to everything as well on the episode page. And certainly link to the books, because you’ve written a number of books and contributed to a number of books, including some of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. So we’re going to link to all that stuff and to your wonderful work on the episode page. Thank you so much for joining us. And I know that everyone’s going to get so much out of this. At the end of the day, what have we learned here today, guys? Humor heals! Thank you for teaching us one of the most important lessons we could have learned!
Karyn: Thank you. It’s been my absolute pleasure.