Karyn Buxman

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Archive for May, 2012

What’s So Funny About Diabetes: The Power of Storytelling

How likely are you to develop diabetes? The answer to that question can have a lot to do with what community you belong to.  Diabetes is far more prevalent among some groups of people. If you are a Native person, you are 2.6 times more likely to wind up with diabetes than a non-Hispanic White person. Understanding why that happens is a long, lengthy discussion about complex social and health factors. We could do that – but let’s have some fun instead, and talk about how the Native tradition of storytelling is being used to help educate and empower people with the skills they need for better diabetes management.

According to this great article in The Kansas City Star, Rhonda LaValdo and Teresa Trumbly Lamsam were seeking a way to help combat the epidemic levels of diabetes in the Native community.

Story telling is a traditional part of Native culture for many reasons.  Stories entertain, but they also convey valuable information.  You can learn a lot about a people by listening to their stories. Stories build community. It is the narratives that we tell about ourselves, each other, and the world we live in that form the backbone of our culture.  Stories can also educate. They’re great teaching tools. People remember stories.

LaValdo and Lamsam both teach journalism, and they’ve drawn upon their experience as storytellers and instructors to create Wellbound Storytellers. On this website, Native people who have diabetes are sharing their stories about their own personal journey toward a healthier state.

This is a great idea. While I was researching and writing What’s So Funny About Diabetes?: A Creative Approach to Coping with Your Disease I learned from many people with diabetes how much enjoyment and value they found from sharing their own stories and experiences. People who heard the stories also benefited – especially if the stories are funny. Humor has many physical and emotional health benefits.  When we laugh, our blood pressure goes down. Our stress levels drop. Blood sugar control becomes easier, as the simple act of laughing can help minimize glucose spikes after a meal.

We benefit from humor even if we’ve laughed at the same thing before. Humor also builds bonds between people. A strong sense of community and a common sense of purpose are critical to have if we want to change the impact diabetes has among our people. Educating, empowering, and entertaining: storytelling has the power to change how well we manage our diabetes, individually and collectively.  That’s amazing and amusing!

I encourage you to share your stories about life with diabetes (funny or otherwise!) whenever you find an appropriate setting. Websites like Wellbound Storytellers and Diabetes Daily are a great resource.  We help other and we help ourselves with each and every story!

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What’s So Funny About Diabetes: What Makes the Funny Funny?

As a humor researcher, one of the things I’m passionately interested in is the logistics of humor. I want to know what makes something funny. What is it about a joke, silly song, cute cartoon or comedian’s routine that prompts us to laugh?

This isn’t idle curiosity. If we can identify the essential elements of humor, then we can take pro-active steps to introduce those elements into our lives and enjoy more laughter.  More laughter means better blood sugar control, lower blood pressure, and more effective stress management – good news for all of us!

One thing that makes the research challenging is the fact that there’s no one universally accepted definition of funny. We don’t all find the same things humorous. Take a show like America’s Funniest Home Videos – a program composed almost entirely of embarrassing moments, pranks, pitfalls, and painfully bad ideas.  Some people watch a would-be daredevil ride his bike off of the roof into the shrubbery and find the sight hysterically funny – while others wince in pain and discomfort, and find a reason to quickly change the channel.

Why does this happen? The answer is that we’re all different people, and we all have our own unique personal history. Our perception of humor is shaped by that history. Our experiences – and our emotions about those experiences – dictate how we’ll react to material presented as funny.

That means that if you’ve ever ridden your bike off of a roof – or just wiped out in some spectacularly painful fashion – it’s likely that you’ll have a hard time laughing at someone else doing the same thing. It’s too easy to remember the pain, fear, and embarrassment of your own experience. You’re just too close to it.

Human beings are amazing creatures.  We don’t even have to experience the situation ourselves to imagine – often in vivid detail – what it would feel like to be in that spot ourselves.  This is called empathy, and it’s a complex empathetic response at play when we find ourselves unable to laugh at someone else’s pain.

When you’re researching human behavior, it’s important not to let value judgments sneak in to the picture.  We don’t want to label someone a good person or a bad person based solely upon what they find funny. Context matters!

That being said, pain, discomfort, and embarrassment are often rich sources of humor. In What’s So Funny About Diabetes, you’ll read about the need we all have for time and emotional distance before we can find our own embarrassing moments funny.

Sometimes you can slip on a banana peel and start laughing about it almost immediately.  Other time, that type of pratfall can bruise your dignity. You may need a little time before you can find the humor in the situation. That’s okay! Life isn’t a game show, run on a tight schedule.  Your own laugh track can start when you’re good and ready for it.

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What’s So Funny About Diabetes: Learning How To Laugh

Real laughter has always been something that I seem to struggle with.  I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard I almost cried…or had such a deep laugh that my belly hurt.  I grew up in a house where there wasn’t much laughter and feel like I didn’t learn this behavior.  Any thoughts or suggestions?

I get messages like this one more often than you might expect. Many, many people have been raised without humor and laughter playing an important role during their formative years. There’s a number of reasons why this can happen.  Different cultures, and different families, place a different premium on the value of laughter.

This article by Helen Dennis provides a great example:

“My parents were immigrants. Work was a way of life in order to make it in America. To waste time was almost sinful. Play was an indulgence that was not acknowledged and never rewarded. My parents did not have time for it. It is still difficult to divorce myself from these childhood values. My sister continues to ask me if I had a productive day, rather than asking if I had any fun.”

One thing we have learned over the years is that humor and play actually have significant value.  They’re good for us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The ability to laugh and have fun makes us feel better – and we enjoy better physical health as a result!

In What’s So Funny About Diabetes?: A Creative Approach to Coping with Your Disease I share many ways you can increase the amount of humor and laughter in your life. You can use these techniques even if you’ve grown up without the experience of humor. Some of them may feel a little strange at first, but you’ll find that practice makes it easier.

  • Seek humor from those around you. Ask them about their experiences and see if it reminds you of any of yours.
  • Keep a journal of funny stories, past and present. Review it periodically.
  • Spend more time with those who do make you laugh.
  • Start searching for authors, comedians and such that tickle your funny bone. (I listen to/read David Sedaris, Bill Bosby, and Dave Barry–and everyone’s sense of humor is unique. There is so much to choose from.).
  • YouTube is a great place to search for things that make you laugh. If nothing more than looking for “laughing babies” you won’t be able to help yourself from smiling. And their are a plethora of videos of funny children, funny pets and animals, bloopers from your favorite TV shows, comics (professional and aspiring), music parodies, and much much more.
  • Keep an active eye for funny signs. I saw one just this week in a coffee shop that said, “Unattended children will be given an expresso and a free puppy.”
  • Watch for misprints, typos in the newspaper that can have double meanings. (On a food section recently a headline was “Children Make Tasty Snacks.” Are the kids making the snacks or ARE they the snacks?!)
  • Decorate your work space with items that bring a smile to your face whether they be posters, pictures, toys, fun knick-knacks. If you place something like a Koosh Ball or Slinky on your desk, watch how many people feel compelled to pick it up and play with it while in your office.
  • Make a play list of at least 20 things you find fun to do, and keep it handy. Half of the items should be little to no cost. The next time you feel down or “icky”, pull out your list and do at least one item on the list–you will feel better.

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