New class to teach benefits of laughter’s medicine

“Humor Therapy in the Promotion of Wellness” professor, Dr. Bill Andress.
“Humor Therapy in the Promotion of Wellness” professor, Dr. Bill Andress.

March 29, 2010
By Darla Martin Tucker

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – ( What is a ‘paradox’? Answer: a couple of physicians. And what is the meaning of ‘illegal’? Answer: a sick bird.

These comical conundrums, dubbed ‘daffynitions’, are examples of the varied assignments students of a new humor therapy class will complete during spring quarter in a quest to develop and use humor as an effective coping mechanism for life’s stresses and ultimately to boost health. The class, titled “Humor Therapy in the Promotion of Wellness,” meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3– 4:50 pm starting on March 30 at La Sierra University. It is the first class of its kind at La Sierra.

The class’s professor, Dr. William Andress, created a first humor therapy course back in 2005 during his tenure at Oakland University near Detroit. Andress went to work for Oakland University after a teaching stint in the Philippines for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. At Oakland, the university developed a new program called “Wellness, Health Promotion and Injury Prevention.” “They were looking at ways to enhance the program,” Andress said. “As I looked at gaps in the curriculum, I decided to put forth a proposal for a course that not only would enable students to develop some life skills, but at the same time would enable me to cope more effectively with the stress that I was experiencing at the time.”

“The more I got into this the more I thought, now this is on the cutting edge of stress management,” Andress said. After developing the class, Andress found a ready group of research subjects among his students enabling him to study the benefits of humor therapy. Initial findings were presented at the American Public Health Association’s annual conference in 2006. Andress continued to collect research data and brought his studies and developed course with him to La Sierra in 2008. He will present further data in July at the National Wellness Institute’s annual conference.  

The new La Sierra humor therapy class incorporates eight steps for developing a heightened sense of humor and bettering one’s life through laughter as a diffuser of stress and negative perspectives. The steps are included in one of the class’s textbooks, “Health, Healing, and the Amuse System.”

Dr. Paul E. McGhee, internationally known humor expert, author and scientist wrote the text as well as an accompanying class textbook, “The Lighter Path to Resilience and Health.” McGhee has extensively researched the benefits of humor on psychological and emotional wellbeing. He designed the eight-step process to help individuals analyze their own sense of humor and develop skills to use humor as a coping mechanism on the job, in relationships and throughout life.

According to McGhee, the incorporation of humor into a workplace may help a company boost its bottom line through improved morale and productivity. The book’s first three chapters cover the benefits of humor in the workplace, humor’s positive impacts on health and its ability to reduce stress. “There is no more effective tool than humor to quickly reduce tension, and re-energize efforts to get the task completed,” writes McGhee in the third edition of “Health, Healing, and the Amuse System.”

McGhee’s eight steps are: surround yourself with humor you enjoy [and] determine the nature of your sense of humor; learn to adopt a playful attitude, overcome terminal seriousness; laugh more often and more heartily, begin telling jokes and funny stories; play with language puns and other verbal humor; find humor in everyday life; take yourself lightly, laugh at yourself; find humor in the midst of stress; and integrate the seven steps, using humor to survive and cope.

Study of the eight steps in Andress’s La Sierra class will involve exercises designed to help students understand and develop their own unique sense of humor and measure the therapeutic effects of humor in their lives. They will document their activities and findings in a “Mirth Diary.” For example, in partial fulfillment of Step 1, students in Andress’s Oakland University class were required to keep a ‘humor log’ in their diaries in which they noted their favorite television sitcoms, movies and comics and track how they felt before and after viewing or reading each. They came up with ‘daffynitions’ and new uses for common objects; for example, a Frisbee could also function as a decorative garden stepping stone, a hat or a tire rim, wrote one student.

In Step 4, the students noted funny news headlines in their diaries. “Lobbyists offer legislators cash at ethics session,” and “Save the whales trip cut short after boat rams whale,” wrote one student. They were also required to smile at themselves in a mirror for one minute, five times a day and laugh at themselves in the mirror three times a day. One student documented feeling “silly” at first in carrying out this assignment, but acknowledged the activity helped her feel better.

For Step 7, the Oakland University students participated in a 10-day mental health challenge in which they practiced and documented the effects of transforming negative thoughts and experiences into positive ones by asking themselves, “what can I learn from this?” and other questions.

Step 8 wraps up all the other steps and helps students put their new-found skills into practice. In many cases, such skills can make a significant difference in individual’s abilities to handle stressful situations. Students in Andress’s Oakland University class reported various changes in their lives after completing the laughter therapy course, including more consistently happy attitudes, fewer headaches, a more positive work environment and even a successful job interview that the student credited to an optimistic outlook and sense of humor.  As one student from Andress’s class put it, “Before this class I basically acknowledged my stress but didn’t do anything about it because I eventually thought it would pass on…. Adding laughter, exercise, and getting the right amount of sleep each night have helped me a great deal this semester getting over all my stressors.”


PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University
Riverside, California
951.785.2460 (voice)


  • Last update on  March 29, 2010