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Seniors need to laugh at youth-crazed world
By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- About 30 of Starkville's most discerning citizens found the opening of the town's senior enrichment center quite laughable after listening to Mississippi State University Extension Service professor Linda Mitchell.
An insightful discussion ensued as Mitchell used props, facial expressions and exercises to show how humor can relieve the stress of getting older in a world preoccupied with youth.
“Humor can help us get over rough ground when life has to change,” said Mitchell, a 4-H youth development specialist. “Shakespeare recognized the benefits of laughter as a calming influence and even used humor relief in his tragedies.”
During a literature review for her doctoral dissertation, Mitchell found that many authors used humor as a coping mechanism for war, terminal illness or other stressful life situations. Seniors experiencing serious health problems or adjusting to personal care homes can use humor to restore balance in their lives.
“As far back as the 1400s, recorded history shows that doctors recognized the positive relationship of laughter to good health,” Mitchell said. “Maintaining health and regaining emotional balance is particularly important for seniors in stressful situations.”
Mitchell demonstrated how laughter can be infectious. She donned a fake nose and glasses, and asked the audience to say vowels and then touch their nose with their bottom lip.
“If this doesn't get you laughing, I have something else that will,” she teased.
Mitchell had the group form two lines facing each other. People on one side were to begin laughing as hard as they could, and the ones on the other side were told to frown. Laughter soon won over everyone.
“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people,” Mitchell said. “Laughing with someone makes you feel closer to that person.”
Then Mitchell urged the seniors to repeat this pledge:
“I promise to look at life through rose-colored glasses, to see the humor in everyday situations, to giggle and belly-laugh -- even if people look at me strangely -- and to share my laughter with others.”
The Starkville Senior Enrichment Center is a result of Extension's Smart Aging: Healthy Futures outreach project. The Golden Triangle Planning and Development District in Starkville has donated space during the week for seniors to gather for a variety of activities, programs and excursions.
“We're exploring what's out there for seniors to enjoy,” said Jim McKell, a volunteer at the center. “We welcome people's ideas.”
A sense of humor also would be helpful.