The Healing Power of Laughter and Play
When I work with doctors and nurses, I caution them that while they may be convinced of the healing powers of laughter and play, the concept may not be so easy to communicate to their patients. I tell them that they should go back to the hospital and say to their patients, “You’re going to need to play more in order to hasten your recovery.” And I tell them their patients will probably look at them in disbelief and say, “Play? I can’t play now. Wait until I feel better!”
Healthcare workers, like workers everywhere, are more productive when they have a chance to have some fun at work, and blow off some stress in a productive way. Here are four creative ways healthcare executives have found to help their people have fun at work.
Charleton Memorial Hospital in Fall River, Massachusetts asked its employees to bring in pictures of their pets. Everyone had a lot of laughs trying to guess which pet belonged to which owner, and in some cases it wasn’t that difficult, since the two of them practically looked identical! One of the nurses brought in a picture of his thumb and forefinger squeezed together. He put it up on the bulletin board along with all the other pet pictures, and when puzzled colleagues asked him what the photo was all about, he replied, “That’s a picture of my pet flea!”
Linda Sims, Associate Hospital Director at Ochsner Foundation Hospital in New Orleans, had a gumball machine installed in her office for use by her visitors. She also put a pile of pennies next to the machine, so the treat was free to anyone who wanted one. “Most importantly,” reports Linda, “It gives anybody who needs it a good excuse to drop in on the boss and have a little informal chat.”
Linda Koliber of the Wellness department at Chrysler Motors found “a low tech answer to a high tech stress problem.” Linda put an inflatable punching bag in her office, and soon had a steady stream of visitors who wanted to take out their frustrations on it. “Sometimes the security people will walk into my office,” says Linda, “head right for the punching bag, thump it around wildly, head back for the door, and all they’ll say to me is ‘thanks’ on their way out.”
Ron Hoffman, a pharmacist in Los Angeles, found a unique way to schedule breaks into his everyday work routine. Ron has an “Invisible Goldfish” tank in his store, next to which he posts daily feeding times for his non-existent pets. At “feeding time” he invariably draws a high-spirited crowd of customers and employees from other parts of the store who come to witness the invisible feeding frenzy. It takes a little imagination, but for them it works.
Matt Weinstein is the founding president of Playfair, Inc., an international team building organization that pioneered the study of fun at work. Matt is the author of the international best-seller Managing To Have Fun. His latest book is Gently Down The Stream: Four Unforgettable Keys To Success. He can be contacted at www.Playfair.com.
Ever since the publication of Norman Cousins’ influential book Anatomy Of An Illness As Perceived By The Patient, there has been renewed public interest in the healing powers of laughter and play. In his book, Cousins describes how prolonged laughter helped him recover from a debilitating disease of the nervous system. If stress and negative emotions can make us ill, Cousins reasons, why can’t laughter, love, and positivity help us heal?
Cousins devoted many years to studying laughter and the mind-body connection. Cousins (among others) believed that endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, are produced during laughter. That endorphin release would account for the pain relief, and the feeling of being naturally “high” that most people experience after a period of prolonged laughter. Although Cousins’ contention— that endorphins are released during laughter— has never been conclusively proved, there is incontrovertible evidence that hearty laughter can affect cellular development. Dr. Lee Berk at Loma Linda University Medical Center in Loma Linda, California has proven that spontaneous lymphocyte blastogenesis occurs during laughter and play, which means that during times of prolonged laughter, t-cells, an important part of your immune system, are produced in much greater numbers.
But that’s not the way it works. You don’t play when you feel better. You feel better when you play!
Having Fun In Healthcare