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Dedicated to helping Activity Professionals with the daily operation of their department.
by Debbie Hommel, BA, CRA, ACC, Executive Director of DH Special Services.
The Activity Director's Office
Music: "Alexander's Rag Time Band" furnished by Heart and Soul Music "Providing Quality Music for Nursing Homes"
Laughter and Joy as a Therapeutic Approach
By Debbie Hommel, ACC, CLL

I recently attended a two day workshop on Therapeutic Laughter and how to create Laughter Clubs which
was sponsored by the World Laughter Tour.   I first heard of this approach when I attended an educational
session at a NAAP convention, given by Steve Wilson, the co-founder and President of the World Laughter
Tour.   Steve Wilson, also known as “Cheerman of the Bored”, is a psychologist who has pioneered the use
of laughter in a formal group process.  

“Laughter is too good a thing to be left to chance”
Steve Wilson

It is important to note the difference between the physical act of laughter and the psychological response to
humor.  This program is not about being a comedian or a clown or trying to make people laugh on their
own.  This program is about leading the participant through laughter “exercises”.   There is ample evidence
that indicates the physical act of laughter and the bio-psychological responses that come through laughter
are as beneficial as a regular exercise program.  Benefits include increased heart rate, decreased stress
hormones, reduction of anxiety and improvement of mood.  

“Laugh to the point of tears, double-over and fall out of your chair, and wet your pants with laughter. These
physiological events are evidence that you are taking humor to the level that activates your immune system
and gives you ample amounts of muscular relaxation.”
Steve Wilson

So how do you get people to laugh if there is nothing funny to laugh at?  That is where the laughter
“exercises” come into being.  The two day program reviewed a collection of exercises which are simulated
actions where laughter is integrated into the action.  One example is the Hawaiian greeting.  As you shake
someone else’s hand, you say “Aloha ha ha ha ha”.    It sounds bizarre and silly but it does work.    You can
see some of the laughter exercises on the World Laughter Tour web site.   

“Don’t be afraid to look foolish. In fact, count on it sometimes.  There is a world of difference between being
stupid and being silly.  There is no value in stupidity, but a little silliness sometimes is the wisest choice.”
Steve Wilson

Putting the program together into a group process is an important part of the approach.  As activity
professionals, we know the significance of a well run group.    The program is based on standard group
principles of greeting the participant, introductions, warm up exercises, the main program, promoting
interaction and finally, closure.   It is stressed that Certified Laughter Leaders conduct the programs.  
Although anyone can integrate laughter into their groups, to conduct an official Laughter Club, one must be
a CLL.  After attending the two day workshop, conducted by the World Laughter Tour, one is certified for one
year with an opportunity for renewal after that.  

“The less you laugh, the less you live.”  
Tote Yamada

Included in the program is the belief in “Good Hearted Living” which is meant to “prevent hardening of the
attitudes” and introduce ways to allow more laughter, optimism and joy in your life.  We have all heard the
advice that when we wake up in the morning, we can decide what kind of day we will have.  Finding the
positive in events, people and surroundings is a personal choice.  If we want to be unhappy, we can be.  
Vice Versa, if we want to have a good day, we can have that as well.  “Good Hearted Living” is based on this
idea.  Some of the daily suggestions include “giving compliments” or “being flexible”.  The weekend is
devoted to “eating chocolate” which represents taking time for some sort of fun or relaxation.  These ideas
lend themselves well to our elderly population.  Sometimes we need to be reminded, whether we are 25 or
85 years old, to “lighten up”.   This is not to say we minimize some of the difficulties our elderly residents or
clients are experiencing but sometimes we need to be reminded of the positive things in life and that is
what “Good Hearted Living” is all about.  

“If you are having a bad day, get another one and get it quick!”
Rissie Harris

If you are interested in this approach, visit the World Laughter Tour web site.    There is an abundance of
free information which includes articles about the benefits of laughter, many printable handouts on the
benefits of Laughter Clubs, the complete listing of “Good Hearted Living”, video clips of groups, and some
of the pioneering work that is being done with specialized populations such as Cancer survivors.  Once you
attend the program, you have access to even more information through a CLL Newsgroup.   Other laughter
leaders share great information on new exercises and programs they have done with success.   
Additionally, there is the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor which is an international
community of professionals who incorporate humor into their lives.   They define therapeutic humor as any
intervention that promotes health and wellness by stimulating a playful discovery, expression or
appreciation of the absurdity or incongruity of life’s situation.  Their web site has many free resources and
they have an annual conference every year as well.  

“Laughter is the best medicine in the world.”
Milton Berle

You maybe thinking this sounds too silly for you.  But there are advantages to being silly once in a while and
experiencing joy in its purest form.  As adults, it is sad to say, we don’t laugh enough.  The mission of the
World Laughter Tour is an optimistic one.    It is based on the belief that together, through laughter, we can
lead the world to a better place where joy, happiness and peace are a shared commodity.  

“Shared laughter creates a bond of friendship. When people laugh together, the cease to be young and old,
teacher and pupils, worker and boss.  They become a single group of human beings”.       
W. Lee Grant

Quotes taken from:

“Eat Dessert First” A wonderful collection of quotes and quips about the amazing power of joy, playfulness,
laughter and humor.  
By Steve Wilson

Super Humor Power – 79 things you need to know, think about, and do to become a humor powered
By Steve Wilson

Be Happy – Remember to live, love, laugh and learn
By Compiled by Dan Zadra
Let Debbie answer your
Activity Questions
About Debbie

Debbie Hommel, BA, CRA, ACC, is
the Executive Director of DH Special
Services. She is a Certified Activity
Consultant on State and National
level, with over twenty-seven years of
experience in providing direct care
and consultation to long term care,
medical day care, assisted living,
and ICF/MR facilities throughout New
Jersey, New York, Maryland, and
Pennsylvania. She is an experienced
trainer and workshop presenter,
conducting a variety of seminars
throughout the Tri-State area for the
Activity Professional, Administrator,
and allied healthcare professional.
Debbie Hommel is an active member
of Activity Professional Associations
on State and National levels. She is
ACC certified through the NCCAP.
She is a founding member of the
New Jersey Activity Professionals'
Association, serving terms as Vice
President and President. She
received the Weidner Lifetime
Achievement Award in 1994 and the
Monmouth & Ocean County Activity
Professionals Life Achievement
Award in 1999.
Providing Internet Resources
for Activity Professionals
in Long Term Care Settings

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