Health and illness are serious matters. But sometimes information about these matters is easier to understand and accept when accompanied with a dose of humor. Here are some ways to do just that:
- Gauge the other person’s sense of humor. Humor includes jokes, riddles, word play, visual gags, and silly objects or cartoons. Consider the other person’s age, culture, language, and other specifics when choosing which, if any, type of humor to use. One way to gauge humor is by noting how that person reacts to funny pictures in the room or silly pins you wear. Try also to notice the other person’s style such as whether he or she enjoys visual cartoons or engages in word play, such as puns. All these ways can serve as signposts about where you can go in humor with this person.
- Bridge from humor to teaching. When teaching new concepts or treatment techniques, you might want to use humor in your introduction or as a way of keeping people interested and engaged. For example, you might heighten a teenager’s interest in proper nutrition by first showing a special “food pyramid for teens.” When teens see refined sugar, fat, caffeine, and salt as the four major food groups, they can laugh at how ridiculous this is and be more receptive to learning what’s healthy.
- Showing humor. If you’re not comfortable telling jokes or being silly, you can show humor in quieter ways. For example, you might have amusing photos on the wall of the waiting room, or offer magazines that include great cartoons. If your dress code permits, you might show your humor by what you wear—such as colorful neckties, silly pins, or doodads on your stethoscope. In print, too, you can include a dose of humor with clever illustrations or ridiculous examples. But make sure to also explain what’s correct, not just silly.
- If in doubt, don’t say it. Humor should be used in small doses and not detract from treatment and care. Certainly there are times when humor is not appropriate, such as when people hear bad news, are angry, in pain, or very upset. People may first need to cry before they can laugh.
These tips about humor and healing are adapted from Helen Osborne’s award-winning, best-selling, recently-updated book, Health Literacy from A to Z:Practical Ways to Communicate Your Health Message, Second Edition (Updated 2018).
More Ways to Learn:
- “The Healing Power of Humor & Play (HLOL #36),” a Health Literacy Out Loud podcast interview with Izzy Gesell.
- The Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor
For permission to include Health Literacy Consulting Tips in your organization's newsletter, please contact Helen Osborne by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at: 508-653-1199.