The Simple Pleasure of a Good Laugh
Message from the headmaster
As we head toward a four-day weekend, our much-appreciated October Break, let’s recall the simple pleasure of a good laugh. There is good research about the short- and long-term benefits of laughter to our health. As long ago as 1976 (ancient history to our students), author Norman Cousins swore that watching Marx Brothers movies and reading humor contributed to his successful fight against cancer — and the New England Journal of Medicine took him seriously.1
Since then we’ve learned that this isn’t just magic: there are many physiological reasons that laughter helps us. It makes us breathe more deeply which stimulates our hearts, lungs, and circulation; it releases endorphins; it fires up and then quickly cools down our stress responses, which makes us feel very relaxed. All of these things can help improve our immune systems, relieve pain, and generally help us to avoid feeling blue.2 With darker mornings and shorter days afoot, anything that lightens our moods should make it onto the agenda.
Enter today’s talk in Chapel, where we heard from Dennis Camelio, a long-serving faculty member in the Special Services department who is the source of our “jokes of the week.” These jokes are usually read as part of our announcements by the Student Body President. The usual reaction to them is a groan from the audience and a few appreciative chuckles from those who love a good bad joke. They are always of this kind–a species currently known as dad jokes. Example — “Yesterday I saw a guy spill all his scrabble letters on the road. I asked him, ‘So, what’s the word on the street?’”
This morning Mr. Camelio decided to share a longer monologue from a comedian likely unknown to most of our students, but whose jokes are a step beyond dad jokes because they are actually quite funny, despite being of the “Oh, no! That is terrible!” ilk. We laugh at them because we simply can’t help it. That’s another feature of laughter: like any expression of emotion, it is highly contagious and not entirely controllable. By the end of Mr. Camelio’s talk, the Fuller audience had laughed quite a bit more than they usually do first thing in the morning.
Every day we encounter things — whether here in our own community or in news from afar — that cause us to have feelings of anxiety and concern that are especially hard to process because often we can’t help mitigate them in the moment. There is a reason why our students are seeking quick laughs on YouTube and elsewhere: laughter feels excellent and quells some of that anxiety. But sharing a laugh is even better — doctors are clear on that, too. What a gift that we have a way to come together and provide this powerful medicine for each other, even if there are still some clunkers in there.
So as we take a short break with this long weekend, I wish our community fun, and especially, laughter. Watch a comedy, re-watch Mr. Camelio’s Rodney Dangerfield impression on our YouTube channel, have dinner with friends. Take some time to relax, play, and laugh.
Dr. Sharon L. Howell
1 Washington Post, “Norman Cousins: Still Laughing, Dan Colburn, October 1986”
2 Mayo Clinic, “Stress Relief from Laughter? It’s no joke.”