Laughing and having a positive attitude are known to have a positive effect on health–in fact, using humor to manage stress has been associated with improving the immune system and reducing pain.  This March, my colleague Dr. Loly Mendiola and I decided to organize several events in celebration of the International Day of Happiness (March 20th) on behalf of the Medical Spanish for Heritage Learners program at the University of Texas-Pan American.  We titled the project “Marzo, mes de la risa y la felicidad” and planned activities that would promote laughter and spread joy to as many people as we could reach. 

The response from the university community and the greater Rio Grande Valley was extremely positive (no pun intended). Below is a description of our activities with photos and videos that can be duplicated in a variety of educational settings. If you have any suggestions for next year’s activities, or any questions about this year’s, please leave a comment or feel free to contact me.

El Chiste del día: Blog and Facebook Posts 

One simple way of spreading laughter and positive energy throughout the month of March was to post a daily joke (in Spanish) both on our blog and Facebook page for UTPA Medical Spanish.   Most of the jokes we shared were health or medicine related, and there are many out there to choose from!  We enlisted our students and colleagues in finding jokes for us as well–having them ask their family members and friends for chistes blancos that were appropriate to share at the beginning or end of class.  Many people commented on looking forward to the joke of the day, and a little laugh can go a long way towards reducing stress, releasing endorphins and stimulating circulation and relieving muscle tension.  We tagged our posts with #MarzoMesDeLaRisa.

Ciclo de cine: Doctors and Comedians

Film has been a great teaching tool that we have used in the past to talk about a range of topics related to Medical Spanish coursework (cultural beliefs about health and disease, bioethical dilemmas, effective communication between patients and providers, history of medicine, and health disparities, among others).  Comedies are also a great tool to get people to laugh.  For this semester’s Medical Spanish Film Festival, we chose films featuring two beloved comedians in roles as physicians: Cantinflas in El señor doctor (1965) and Robin Williams in Patch Adams (1998).  Both of these films focus on the same theme–namely, that physicians need not lose sight of the humanity of their patients, and that they use humor to connect with their patients on a personal level.  Humor can be used to make suffering a little more tolerable and to improve patient satisfaction and in some cases, even improve patient outcomes.

Invited Speaker, Psychologist Silvia Gómez Gómez, on Positive Attitude and Wellness

On March 27 we hosted an invited talk, “Una actitud positiva para una vida en bienestar”, by the psychologist Silva Gómez Gómez, who practices and teaches in Matamoros, Mexico.  Ms. Gómez Gómez spoke about the health benefits of embracing a positive attitude when faced with adversity.  In our border community, individuals can be faced with a multitude of daily stressors–worries about employment, immigration status, dealing with language barriers, the effects of living in a high-poverty community are among a few of the unique pressures facing inhabitants of the Rio Grande Valley– as well as exposure to traumatic events such as being involved in or witnessing acts of violence, unfortunate occurrences that take place all too often close to home.  Since these factors are beyond individual control, Ms. Gómez Gómez suggested small behaviors that could increase positive thinking, such as meditating, knowing oneself, and being open to learning new things.

Medical Spanish faculty members Dr. Loly Mendiola and Dr. Anne Stachura with invited speakers Ms. Silvia Gómez Gómez and Ms. Laura Patricia Gómez Gómez.

Medical Spanish faculty members Dr. Loly Mendiola and Dr. Anne Stachura with invited speakers Ms. Silvia Gómez Gómez and Ms. Laura Patricia Gómez Gómez.

Taller de risoterapia: Laughter Therapy Workshop

We closed our month of laughter and happiness with a Laughter Therapy Workshop presented by Ms. Silvia Gómez Gómez and fellow psychologist Ms. Laura Patricia Gómez Gómez.  Over 50 participants, both students and community members, took part in activities designed to relieve stress and promote laughter and a positive outlook.  Some of the activities seemed silly, but they all made us laugh:

There were some serious moments too, when participants were asked to share a word that represented what it was that got them through a hard time that they had experienced.  After sharing their stories and motivating one another with their tales of overcoming adversity in many different forms, they were encouraged to divest themselves of any residual stress or negative emotions by popping balloons.  Dancing, singing, and doing “the wave” were some of the final activities of the evening:

Conclusion: Happiness and Health

Instead of just eating “an apple a day to keep the doctor away”, consider making it a point to laugh and share laughter with others for better health.  There are many simple ways to spread happiness and infuse your curriculum with humor.  The International Day of Happiness may be in March, but the benefits follow us for the entire year!

Laughter Therapy Workshop participants, University of Texas-Pan American, March 2015

Laughter Therapy Workshop participants, University of Texas-Pan American, March 2015