Ed Seagle, Recreation and Parks Management, Leaves Them Laughing

Ed Seagle, Recreation and Parks Management, juggles
classroom teaching with business workshops and
national conference presentations on the use of
humor. (photo KM)
At first glance, Ed Seagle's office appears similar to many professorial offices—filled with the usual array of diplomas, photos, books, filing cabinets, student projects, and a rubber ducky. Wait a minute. Not only is that a bright yellow rubber ducky, but it's wearing shades! And it's vying for space with a speckled bean bag gecko lounging over the computer monitor. The smile these incongruous objects evoke is exactly what Ed Seagle wants.

For this Recreation and Parks Management professor, humor is serious business. Over the past thirty years he has conducted workshops on the use of humor for businesses and agencies, taught continuing education classes, given presentations at national conferences, and incorporated humorous elements in his classroom teaching. Seagle promotes "laughter for the health of it."

Incorporating humor into daily life confers important physical, mental, and spiritual benefits. Seagle doesn't see humor and laughter as always a physical outbreak of laughter. He said, "I see it as having a good feeling, a good sense of yourself, being appreciative of what you have and of the people around you, enjoying what you're doing."

Seagle gleans ideas for activities from life's comic possibilities. Watching a Mr. Universe body-builder contest on TV, Seagle wondered why the contestants were exhausted at the end of very short routines. To find out, he stood and posed along with the contestants, discovering that this was hard work, and fun! So he added it to his workshops. Participants stand and try five to ten poses with Seagle demonstrating, then coaching and cheering them on. People find they're calmer, their bodies are warmer, and they've had a good time.

Beyond these immediate physical effects, humor benefits overall health. There is increasing evidence that humor affects everything in the body, especially the immune system. Seagle notes that many people writing in this field today "say they don't know anyone who's ever died because of laughter, but we know many people who have died because they walk around with clenched jaws and they're uptight." In fact, Seagle suggests that "we are probably one of the most uptight societies on the face of the earth right now."

Including humor and stress reduction in daily life means finding the little things to do in the office or home that are enjoyable. Maybe that's relaxing with Hawaiian music because you so enjoy Hawaii, or juggling, or playing with a slinky. It can be something simple that only takes a few minutes, is free and does not require props, like tapping you head with your fingertips. Go ahead, try it. Keep tapping for a minute or two. Stop. Feel different? Lighter? More relaxed?

In the classroom, humor allows students to be more receptive to instruction by reducing stress and anxiety. Seagle incorporates humor in every aspect of his teaching, from using comedic film clips for generating subject matter discussion to playing Jeopardy.

He wants to reduce the wall between students and faculty. "The quicker I can get that wall down, the quicker I'm accepted, " he said. "Then as I'm accepted, students have more comfort in interacting with me and a little more ability to accept the kinds of things I say." One of Seagle's favorite activities at the beginning of a semester is to have students tell each other their names, their favorite and least favorite foods and why, all the while holding their tongues. Initially, people try to be serious about this, but the absurdity of carrying on a conversation when everyone is holding their tongues soon takes over. Students laugh as they discover an amusing way to get to know each other.

Humor contributes to spiritual health by helping people connect with each other and the world. It "melts the barriers that you have between people." Seagle likes to quote the Victor Borge line, "Laughter is the shortest distance between two people."

To reap the benefits of humor, "find what you enjoy, do more of it, and allow yourself to see the world as humorous as it is. Just as you enjoy the smells of flowers in the spring, stop and enjoy the actual humor that goes on around you every day. Watch people, watch children, watch the animals at play." As the bumper sticker on his filing cabinet says, "Humor—Don't leave home without it."


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