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Chuck Wheeler Handlon: We all need a good laugh sometimes

Chuck Wheeler Handlon
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“The most wasted day is that in which we have not laughed.” So said Nicolas Chamfort an 18th century French writer known for his witty and pithy sayings. “A laugh a day” for me is an excellent “prescription” for the stress of the constant barrage of depressing news about civil rancor, the pandemic, war, and inflation. A good sense of humor can’t cure everything but research has shown there are short and long-term benefits of laughter.

Laughter can induce changes in one’s body. It increases your intake of oxygen and stimulates your heart, lungs, and other organs while releasing endorphins from your brain. Those endorphins relieve pain, reduce stress and improve one’s mood. Long-term benefits of regular laughter include improving one’s immune system and keeping one’s attitude positive even under challenging conditions.

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Over my 40-year career of teaching high school chemistry and other science classes, I learned that laughter could help keep my students' attention, defuse tense situations and make difficult concepts more palatable. A study involving students in a college statistics class revealed that “content related” humor increased retention and greater enjoyment of the class. So, laughter in the classroom has educational benefits as well.

I used many methods of invoking laughter. I would always have a bulletin board set up with cartoons, posters and funny news items. I would change it periodically (see what I’ve done there). During my presentations I would slip in jokes or humorous references. “The doctor tried to Helium, but he couldn’t Curium so they had to Barium.” “Over here we have the inert gases Helium, Neon, Krypton, Xenon, Radon and so on.” “Wear your goggles during this lab, acids and bases make messy faces.”

I would sometimes use the symbols of the elements in my jokes. “O Mg it’s chemistry.” “What is the compound found in dog urine — K9P. But of course, sometimes my chemistry jokes got no reaction.

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I always enjoyed the “dress-up days” during homecoming week and developed a reputation for my costumes. On pajama day I wore a woman’s bathrobe, huge bunny slippers and a wig with curlers covered by a hair net. I once wore an Einstein mask and came into class pretending to be a substitute for Mr. Handlon. On the day the staff were to wear pink, I wore a Pink Panther costume (Century HS mascot is the Panther).

Another time, the staff were to wear orange and I came in wearing an orange jumpsuit with a skull cap on my head. I carried a shovel and made a “ball and chair” which I dragged. My room was labeled “Cell Block A, Cell 103, Century Penitentiary.” I have a scrapbook of some of my favorite dress-up times.

I never miss an opportunity to joke at home or in public and consider myself a “Jedi Pun Master” always ready to punish. While in the grocery store, a worker might be placing iceberg lettuce on the shelf. “Be carefu,l” I’ll tell him, “or heads may roll.” Another customer grabs a can of corn and accidentally knocks a can of beans on the floor. “Don’t spill the beans,” I say as I walk by him. I once asked one of the bakers if she was making a lot of dough for her job.

My sons are the target of my dad jokes as well. How can you tell a joke is a dad joke? When it’s a parent. The oldest son sometimes responds, “and the crowd goes mild.” The younger son once played cricket sounds on his phone. At first, I thought there actually were crickets in the house. If they give me any “slack,” I remind them they are “working for me now.” #SocialSecurity #Medicare.

Laughter is important and some people struggle with it, so a practice called “Hasyayoga”, commonly known as “laughter yoga” has developed. I first encountered it about 10 years ago when the Century High School National Honor Society sponsored an evening seminar on humor. There were two guest speakers, a retired psychologist who talked about various characteristics of humor and also a laughter yoga instructor.

The psychologist’s presentation brought out some interesting aspects of humor. For example, he mentioned that humor is cultural and also generational. What I found funny when I was a kid growing up in the early days of television (OK, Boomer) was physical slapstick like the Three Stooges and a daily show that was filmed in Detroit called “Lunch with Soupy Sales.” Every episode had a moment when Soupy would be hit in the face with a cream pie. But kids now might find that “mean” and not funny.

As a kid, I thought the antics of Wile E. Coyote in the Road Runner cartoon were hilarious, such as running into a cliff and leaving his imprint there. I was reminded of this the other day when I saw a truck next to me at the light that had a huge dent in the passenger door. There, laid out in the dent, was the silhouette of Wile E. Coyote’s back, legs and arms spread out, like he had smashed into the door. Maybe this will be the new trend: Don’t repair your dings and dents, just decal them.

After the psychologist spoke, the laughter yoga instructor came on stage. She called for volunteers to join her and I did (at the urging of some of my students) along with some others. We were instructed to “laugh” using deep breaths and laughing out loud. This was accompanied by gestures like acting as if we were answering a telephone or we were an elephant lumbering around. The idea is that laughter is contagious, and while one may feel kind of stupid at the beginning, eventually we were all laughing at our ridiculous laughing with spectators laughing at our laughing.

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The yoga teacher told us that she felt it important to have a good hearty laugh every day. If one doesn’t find something funny then her advice was to “Laugh out loud for no apparent reason.” That fits me — I find many things funny or amusing and will begin laughing. Be careful doing that out in public though, lest someone report you to security.

So, if you need a lift, laugh out loud for no apparent reason. For those of you who want to text that or use it in a post, it’s LOLFNAR.

Chuck Wheeler Handlon is married and has two sons. He continues to teach STEM camps, substitute and conduct chemical magic shows under his stage name, “Dr. Boom.”

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