Sunday, February 15, 2004

Humour at work
Kunal Khurana

Cracking jokes with colleagues helps relieve work pressure
Cracking jokes with colleagues helps relieve work pressure

INDIANS are said to be very serious as a race. The pressures of day-to-day survival, a deep-seated rooting in philosophy and the anxieties of catching up with the rest of the world have apparently left little room for humour in their lives. It is even said that Indians have forgotten to laugh.

But is it really so?

Look around, and you will see advertising hoardings with funny, corny one-liners vying for attention. Rib-ticklers like Munnabhai MBBS and Fun2shhDudes of the Tenth Century have become surprise box-office hits of the season. Laughter clubs are sprouting up everywhere. Through e-mails and on SMS, jokes constitute up to 80 per cent of messages exchanged.

Sample this: How does a commentator describe a nude girl taking part in India’s most popular sport? Answer: " No cover, no extra cover, no slip, two silly points, two fine legs, deep gully and little grass on the pitch." Or take the AIDS awareness campaign being broadcast in the otherwise staid All India Radio (AIR): "AIDS can be deadly. Avoid sex with strangers. If needed take the help of friends and relatives!"

"Indians are rediscovering humour," observes Deepak Kejriwal, a sociologist who runs a laughter clinic in Mumbai. "And it is not just sex jokes that are coming up in the open because of the air of permissiveness around. People are finding humour in politics, business, matrimonial ads, in food, movies, music, arts...."

"Humour is in the air," adds Merle Menezes, creative director with an advertising agency. "When you fool around, good creative thinking happens, funny scripts pop up that could be used as the copy or as a script for an ad film. Humour is a strong element to get the public hooked."

Corporate houses are using humour to good effect at the workplace. ‘Happy hours’ are allotted for employees to mingle around and pull one another’s legs. Some offices have put up soft boards for the staff to pin "jokes of the day". An ad agency in Delhi, in fact, has converted one of its toilet doors into a graffiti board.

There are anonymous e-mail groups in many IT firms through which employees vent their feelings about their colleagues. "The idea is not to laugh at others, but to laugh with others, " Sujit Kalra, a human resource manager points out.

"Humour breaks hierarchical barries and builds rapport between employees," says Nirmal Sahni, another HRD man. "When there is a college atmosphere in the workplace, people look forward to coming to work. It enhances overall performance and helps in managing stress."

Apart from being stress busters, there are five distinct medical advantages that arise from jiggling the funny bone:

  • Laughter aids relaxation. A 10- minute laughter session creates a 10-20 mm drop in blood pressure.

  • The act of laughing exercises 786 muscles in the body. These muscles tighten and relax in rapid succession, much like a yogic therapy.

  • Laughter improves the level of endorphins, which are natural painkillers for the body. It helps reduce the intensity of pain from arthritis, spondilitis and migraine.

  • A person prone to humour looks younger. Increase of blood supply nourishes the facial skin and makes it glow.

  • Laughter strengthens the immune system. It helps increase the count of natural killer lymphocytes (white cells) and raise antibody levels.

"Many people have reported of having controlled diabetes and blood pressure after joining laughter clubs," says Dr Umesh Sehgal, who conducts classes in laughter yoga in Delhi. "There is a great deal of truth in the saying that laughter is the best medicine."

Sehgal points out that the International Laughter Club was set up in the USA after the healing powers of laughing was established in Anatomy of an Illness, published in 1978. US journalist Norman Cousins was the victim of a painful spinal disease and he found that by watching humorous films on video, the agony from the ailment could be alleviated.

Today, even sermons are delivered from the pulpit with a dash of humour. As pastor Shekhar Kallianpur of Juhu, Mumbai points out: "I use humour while teaching, in deliberations, in talks I give. The Bible says that laughter is the medicine for the soul." MF