Welcome to Kala’s Quick Five, where I chat with fascinating authors, artists, teachers and researchers and ask them five questions about their work. My guest today is Allen Klein, the world’s only Jollytologist. Allen has a masters degree in humor (from St. Mary’s College in Minnesota-and that’s no joke!) He is also an award-winning speaker and best-selling author whose first book The Healing Power of Humor is in its 36th printing and ninth foreign language translation. He has written 17 books that all focus on humor as a means to deal with everything from traffic jams to tragedies, and his writing has appeared in four editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul. His new book is: Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying: Embracing Life After Loss.
Kala: Allen, welcome to Kala’s Quick Five. You teach workshops using humor to deal with changes, challenges, and stressful situations. Examples include Humor for Workplace Wellness, and Motivational Humor Presentations for Healthcare and other Professionals. How can one use humor in the workplace effectively without going too far and upsetting someone?
Allen: You are right. Humor in the workplace can be a tricky thing, especially in today’s culture and harassment issues. Still, I think it is possible to lighten up the work environment. First, stop, look, and listen for what kind of humor is acceptable where you work. What do people kid around about? What kind of humor ticks people off? Does the supervisor or the boss set a tone for appropriate humor?
Once you know some of this than you can introduce some light-hearted things everyday. For example, put up a ha-ha bulletin board where workers can post a cartoon a day, funny signs like, “Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it,” or their baby photos for everyone to guess who it is. Or, you could introduce props on your desk to lighten the day like a jar of bubbles, Groucho glasses, or clown noses that can be used when meetings get too serious.
Kala: You lost your wife to a rare liver disease when she was 34. Near the end, as your wife lay dying in the hospital, you both received a lesson in the therapeutic value of humor. Tell us how you both connected and stayed strong during this time.
Allen: My wife had a copy of Playgirl by the side of her hospital bed and suddenly opened to the male nude centerfold. She insisted that we put it up on the wall. “This is too risque for a hospital” I told her. “Nonsense” she replied, “just take a leaf from that plant over there and use it to cover up his private parts.” I did that and things were fine for the first two days but by the third day the leaf began to shrivel up and reveal more and more of what we were trying to conceal.
After this every time we saw a plant or leaf we both laughed. Our laughter may have been brief and fleeting but it brought us closer together, revived us, and helped us rise above the painful process of her terminal illness and eventual death.
Kala: You’ve worked as a home health aid, hospice volunteer, and director of The Life-Death Transitions Institute in San Francisco. During this time, you gathered your experiences and put them into a book, Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying: Embracing Life After Loss to help others in their journey through loss and grief. The book is described as a compassionate guide to the bereavement process in which you share the tools and encouragement necessary for transforming loss into a passion for living life to the fullest. What was the most powerful lesson you learned while working in hospice and assisting with transitions to the other side?
Allen: The biggest lesson I learned from working with dying patients is that death is a natural and necessary part of life. Image, for example, that there were no death. Would you ever get anything done? Probably not because time would never run out. In addition, how would this world feed, shelter and support an ever increasing, never ending, and constant population growth? Nature shows us with the four seasons that each one is important and how what looks like death in Winter is new growth in Spring.
Kala: Ok, Allen, what’s a Jollytologist and are you the world’s only one? Can others apply to join in on the fun?
Allen: Guess what Kala? I made the word, “Jollytologist” up. Since I studied the therapeutic value of humor for years, technically I’m a “gelotologist.” (Gelos is a Greek work meaning laughter.) But since most people don’t know the word Gelos, I change it to Jolly. Of course, anyone can join in the fun. According to my thinking, anyone can become anything they want. Since I’ve coined the word “Jollytologist,” others have become a Joyologist, a Happyologist, a Funologist, etc. But one word of caution…don’t call yourself a “Jollytologist” because it is Trade Marked.
Kala: Death is a natural part of life that every living being will experience here on earth. What has your work taught you most about the death process and about living?
Allen: I have learned that loss can be one of our greatest teachers. In fact, I’m convinced that we need major setbacks in our life to learn about our strength, our power, and our spirituality. We human beings are funny creatures. We don’t learn much when things are going well. We seem to need a nudge now and then to learn life’s lessons. It is why my book, Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying, has five stages for going from loss to laughter. First we begin with Losing someone or something dear to us. Second we start Learning from that loss. Third we can move on by Letting Go. Then, as we put the our loss in the background, we begin Living our life once more. And finally, once we live our life fully, we start Laughing again.
Kala: Allen, thank you for joining me here on Kala’s Quick Five.
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More about Kala Ambrose: Kala Ambrose is an award winning author, wisdom teacher, inspirational speaker and host of the Explore Your Spirit with Kala Show. Her thought-provoking interviews entice listeners to tune in around the globe! Described by her guests and listeners as discerning, empowering and inspiring, she speaks with world renowned authors, artists, teachers and researchers delving into empowering and lifestyle enhancing topics. More info at ExploreYourSpirit.com