You are probably aware of the concept of second-hand smoke, which increases the risk of disease and death. You should probably be aware of another deadly scourge: second-hand stress.
Natural selection has wired us to sense the stress of others and make it our own. If you are a gazelle and you don’t freak out when others around you do, then you might be the one about to be consumed by a predator you haven’t seen yet. Animals detect the stress of others through various sensory signals such as alarm calls, olfactory cues, or visual behaviors. Plants detect distress signals of others in the form of ethylene gas that activates their own stress response (fittingly, second-hand smoke contains ethylene). The ability to detect second-hand stress is a survival instinct that can promote evolutionary fitness.
Hiding In Plain Sight is a collection of essays that I have written on investing, healthcare, and life.
A Little Experiment
For the sake of experiment, read the next sentence once, while counting the number of “f”s that you see.
“Five-winged flies are the result of years of scientific study combined with the experience of many years.”
Most likely, you counted an “f” in each of the more vibrant words of the sentence: “five,” “flies” and “scientific.” Most people only see these three “f”s, when in fact there are six. The other “f”s are hidden in the unassuming preposition “of”. Your mind probably skipped over each “of” because it processed these words without absorbing the raw information of the letters that composed them.
Why Teach Humor?
“The most wasted of all days is one without laughter,” said the poet E.E. Cummings. Those who trigger our laughter with their humor are the people we want to spend time with, work with, or date. Humor opens our eyes to unexpected possibilities in the world, relieves our stress, improves our health, ameliorates an awkward situation, and increases our influence on others. It is widely assumed that people who are funny were born that way and so the development of a sense of humor and an ability to be humorous is left largely to the luck of the draw — your family circumstances or the television shows you watch.
Those of us who grew up in a mainstream educational system were taught reading, writing, and arithmetic in school. Anyone cracking jokes in the back of the room was fined with twenty-thirty minutes in a minimum-security afterschool detention center. Now, we know that the humor that institutions failed to appreciate when we were children can help us tremendously in professional, romantic, and social settings. So, what can we learn from the kid in the back of the room? What if we approach to humor as a skill that carries as much weight in our daily lives as reading, writing, and arithmetic? Certainly more than algebra!