The role of humor in caregiving

“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” So quipped comedian Victor Borge. And indeed, studies bear him out. Laughter, especially when it’s a shared joke, creates a bond between people that generates a feeling of intimacy. Humor reduces tension and lowers stress. It also helps people to think more creatively and come up with more flexible solutions.

Caring for an aging family member can be pretty serious business: doctor’s appointments, errands to run, finances to juggle, critical decisions to make. Add to this the tendency of family members to have differing perceptions and opinions, and there is ample room for conflict.

The good news is that we are built to laugh. Kindergartners average 300 laughter episodes a day. Adults, by contrast, are stunningly deficient, with typically only 17 chuckles in 24 hours.

Tips for interjecting humor

Used with care, you can certainly improve relations with a bit of humor. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Is everyone in on the joke? Is the funny comment something all of you will appreciate? The bonding occurs when the joke is shared. If it’s not funny to everyone present, then it’s more likely to alienate than bring you closer.
  • Is there a hidden agenda? Some people use humor to express dissatisfaction. These little jibes actually hurt and build distrust. Be sure your intent is to share fun. Ridicule or sarcasm will only backfire.
  • Could you offer an apology? If your comment doesn’t generate laughter, are you ready to say, “I’m sorry! I guess that wasn’t funny.”? If not, think twice before speaking.

The next time you feel tensions rising, consider a light-hearted joke. Perhaps do something silly. Or, you might make a joke about a peculiarity of yours. An unexpected shared laugh can derail a conflict and help get everyone back in sync.