What’s So Funny? A Dozen Ideas to Lighten the Mood and Lift Morale
By Julia Pomerenk, University Registrar
Washington State University
© 2011 Julia Pomerenk.
The text of this article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).
PACRAO Review, vol. 1, no. 1, February 2011
1. Resolve to be happy.
“Everyone is about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Abraham Lincoln
If Abraham Lincoln, who led the union during the strife of the Civil War, could advise us to decide to be happy, then we should be able to take that advice in the comfort of our administrative offices. Curricular conflicts do not approach the rancor or the bloodshed of the Civil War. Competition for applicants cannot really compare to the stress of battle between the North and the South. Even software implementations are not as awful as war. As the song suggests, “Don’t worry. Be happy.”
2. Develop a sense of humor.
“If you could choose one characteristic that would get you through life, choose a sense of humor.” Jennifer Jones
Be funny in your own peculiar way. Cultivate a humor style that suits you. Become known for having a sense of humor, for displayingsome delight in your life. May it be true that someone says of you “you must enjoy your job.” Propose that if you cannot make your most stern colleague smile by what you say, you will tickle him. Now, that’s funny! Find fun in yourself, but be cautious of making fun of others. If you cross the line for a laugh, apologize.
3. Let laughter lift stress away.
“Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air, and you.” Langston Hughes
Be attuned to tension in meetings, so that you can lighten the mood. Humor can call colleagues back to what we have in common and to the common truth that life is good. (Millions of T-shirts can’t be wrong!) At a recent meeting, at the peak of odd, feedback outbursts and garbled audio connections from a distant site, I leaned forward and commented: “It’s like Tourette’s!” I’m not sure that the colleagues at a distance heard the humor any better than the preceding discussion, but at least those of us in the room were reminded in our frustration that there were no expletives (yet). At another video-conferenced meeting, our distant colleagues could hear us well, but did ask when technology would allow the cross-state transmission of the donuts we were enjoying.
4. Stay civilized.
“When humor goes, there goes civilization.” Erma Bombeck
Meetings must stand as cornerstones of higher education’s structure. I suggest adding some humor to the agenda of any meeting. Think of the connections made through humor as good meeting hygiene, like brushing our teeth after having onions for lunch (or sharing York peppermint patties with the group). Especially if the group that is convening includes people unknown to each other, begin to build community by sharing introductions that include something silly, as well as name, title, and office. When a group was forming at my campus to talk through the details of academic structure in the new student information system, the on-campus colleagues and the consultant colleagues got to know each other through sharing “ice-breaker” introductions for the first several meetings. Now we know more about each other and have collected stories that help make us a more cohesive group. Laugher builds community and begins to give people something in common. Laughter leads to celebration and reminds us of joy. Think of the meetings you enjoy. For me, those meetings include laughter.
5. Shine a light.
“Life is a hard battle anyway, and if we laugh and sing a little as we fight the good fight of freedom, it makes it all go easier. I will not allow my life’s light to be determined by the darkness around me.” Sojourner Truth
Sometimes we just need to shine a light into dark places, to see that our next steps need not be so scary after all. A few years ago, I bought inexpensive (and stinky in that way that only cheap plastic is stinky) flashlights for everyone in my office. It wasn’t to share the smell or for emergency preparedness, in the usual sense. The flashlights were presented with a parable from my wise associate registrar. As leaders, we should shine lights on the concerns of our colleagues, so that we can look at our challenges clearly, out of the shadows. With light, the frightening monsters in the closet often shrink to manageable misunderstandings. With light, we can laugh at how worried we were about what now seems so manageable.
6. Turn troubles into funny stories.
“Comedy is tragedy plus time.” Carol Burnett
I would like to institute a 48-hour rule that would allow for immediate compliments while postponing any complaints for two full days. This rule would be especially invoked for commencement ceremonies. Please do praise me for how well thousands of graduates processed; delay your rail against the hail outside (as if I could control the weather). A revered colleague of mine used to ask others on campus, “Is that story funny for you, yet?” Time helps me respond with greater perspective and humor. With distance, I can tell hysterical stories of commencement calamities. At the time, I saw little humor.
7. Open up possibilities, with a laugh.
“I think that the next best thing to solving a problem is finding some humor in it.” Frank Howard Clark
One day at work, I was surprised to hear loud laughter. I knew that the co-workers in the next office were painstakingly proofreading schedules of study to compare them against departmental catalog copy. How could that be funny? The work was made fun by the workers. When one asked the other how they would ever get through the stacked piles of paper, the other one responded, devilishly: “Matches!”
8. Take yourself lightly.
“How fascinating!” Benjamin Zander
Because I brought Benjamin’s exuberant expression back from an AACRAO conference presentation, the people in my office have replaced “frustrating” with “fascinating.” We use fascinating to open ourselves up to possibilities. Saying the magic word gives us pause to be positive. Just declaring something fascinating can make us smile, especially if we enthusiastically throw our arms up in the air, as Zander does.
9. Take a humor break.
“Laughter is like taking a mini vacation.” Milton Berle
A good colleague keeps a plastic noisemaker in her desk drawer. When we near deadlines and on random occasions, she walks through the office and makes noise—and makes us laugh. It’s silly, and it works. She remembers the advice from the Fish Guys at Seattle’s Pike Place Market: Have fun; be there; choose your attitude; and make their day. She makes our day by making noise and celebrating. Hers is a good response to a sign at a local restaurant: “Remind me again why I’m lucky to be working here.” Another response can be to solicit clean, funny jokes at the start of staff meetings. I get a good supply from a 9-year-old boy I know.
10. Step away from the wall.
“I’m kept from confining corners by my clown nose and clown shoes.” Julia Pomerenk
Humor keeps me from taking myself too seriously. I can see what’s silly in a situation, including myself. I can exaggerate to find the fun. I can see myself from an observer’s perspective. How funny would this episode be if it were an “I Love Lucy” re-run? I can call a predicament silly, rather than stressful. I can call and ask for an extension, if I need more time.
11. Respond gracefully.
“This is a place for grace.” Anne Lucky
It wasn’t funny when I ran out of diploma covers at commencement. The next work day, I sent an apology letter, a book store gift certificate, and a diploma cover to each of those last students who hadn’t gotten a diploma cover on stage. It wasn’t funny, yet. The following morning, a vice president stopped me in the hall—to compliment me on the letter that I had composed, which had been shared at the President’s Council the day before. Rather than pointing to my error, those in power had praised my recovery. It wasn’t funny; it was forgiveness. When I told this story to the president’s secretary, she responded, “This is a place for grace.” I aspire to create equally grace-filled work places.
12. Be intentional.
“Thank you for practicing with me.” My Yoga Instructor
It is serious business to bring humor and light-heartedness to work. Make humor your practice. Invite others to take up the practice, too. It is so worth it! The memory of some work and some co-workers includes the lightening element of laughter. I recall those times with gratitude. I call those co-workers friends. Work can be fun, even as it makes us stretch and sweat (like yoga).
About the Author
Julia Pomerenk has been the University Registrar at Washington State University (Pullman, WA) since 2003. Julia has an extensive background in admissions and records/registration. Julia earned her masters in English from the Ohio State University, as well as a bachelors in English and Psychology from Pacific Lutheran University. She has significantly contributed to PACRAO as a facilitator, presenter, board member, committee member, and program committee chair. Currently, she serves as the President-Elect of PACRAO and Co-Chair of Volunteers for the AACRAO Annual Meeting in Seattle, set for March 2011. Her favorite topics focus on encouraging professional development and having fun along the way.