Up until the 20th century, humor got no respect in society. The kid with the musical talent was sent to the music room, the one with a flair for art to the art room, but the kid with a good sense of humor was sent to the principal’s office.
Humor – once viewed negatively and condemned – is actually healthy and has real medical, psychological and social benefits. Scholars, such as Chair and Professor of Religious Studies John Morreall, have explored what humor is and why it’s valuable.
On Tuesday, Oct. 2, Morreall continues the William & Mary Faculty Lecture Series. He will present his talk, titled, “What’s So Funny? The Nature and Value of Humor” at 7 p.m. in the Sadler Center’s Chesapeake Room. The presentation is free and open to the public.
“We are excited to continue the lecture series and celebrate the intellectual life of the College by showcasing the excellence of William & Mary faculty,” said Provost Michael R. Halleran, the driving force behind the establishment of the series. “Professor John Morreall is a distinguished scholar on the topic of humor and his research highlights this highly important and fascinating social and cultural phenomenon.”
Through the Faculty Lecture Series, a William & Mary professor will address the community on a topic of general interest at least once a semester. Last spring, John Swaddle, professor of biology, launched the series with a talk about vector-borne diseases and how ecological land management could prevent humans from getting sick. Chuck Bailey, chair and professor of geology, will continue the series with his lecture in spring 2013.
Morreall says that physically and mentally, humor is the opposite of stress. Laughter lowers blood pressure, increases blood circulation, reduces muscle tension and pain and boosts the immune system.
Humor also creates psychological distance between the stressful situation and the person. This disengagement fosters mental flexibility, blocking negative emotions and allowing us to think our way through problems instead of feeling our way through them.
“That’s why people with a better sense of humor are more creative and are better at coping with change,” said Morreall.
In his October 2 lecture, Morreall will explain how humor is also useful in improving relationships and communication in our personal lives and in business. Companies such as Southwest Airlines have put play and humor into their work culture and have seen great results, he said.
According to Morreall, “humor is a social lubricant,” and it can defuse conflicts, reduce defensiveness and create rapport and good morale.
“So why isn’t it used more in the corporate world?” he asked. “Because our culture has a workaholic mentality from the ground up. Work is our highest value, and anything we associate with play is viewed as not accomplishing anything.”
Morreall, who’s an internationally recognized authority on humor and its benefits, has published five books and over 50 articles on humor. Under the name Humorworks, he’s done over 500 programs for business, medical and professional groups.
With all its benefits, Morreall cautioned that humor is also inherently dangerous.
A fair warning to those attending the lecture. You’re sure to learn a lot – and laugh, too.
Tickets are not required but due to limited space the College asks that anyone planning to attend please RSVP using the online form at www.wm.edu/lecture.