Parenting: Can the grumpy humor of ‘dad jokes’ be healthy?

• If someone asks you if you have just had your hair cut, have you ever answered: “No, I cut it all”.

• If your son said, “I’m hungry! Would you respond, “Hello, Hungry – I’m a dad.”

• If your daughter asked you to make her a milkshake, would you say, “Poof! You are a milkshake.

If you answered yes to any of them, you have committed a dad joke.

This shouldn’t be mistaken for a bad joke – although by definition, yes, they probably are. And you don’t need to be a dad to talk about it. But for those of us with some type of father, the threat level can be as high as a single squirrel in a tree. (Do you know how to catch a unique squirrel? Unique on it.)

But here’s a surprise: this less surprising form of comedy could be good for you and those around you.

The term “dad joke” is relatively new. The concept isn’t, said Anne Libera, director of comedy studies at The Second City in Chicago. In the past, they were simply called “jokes”.

Libera teaches dad jokes. Seriously. As in, she is also an associate professor at Columbia College Chicago and has written on the science of comedy for the AMA Journal of Ethics. “They’re the thinnest form of comedy,” often based on puns and, unless you’re 5, nothing you’ve never heard before.

Now, no one has done extensive research on the cardiovascular benefits of dad jokes. If they did, they won’t admit it. But if you accept that dad jokes can, in theory, provide humor and possibly laughter, experts say the benefits could be small but real.

Laughter, for example, has been linked to boosting short-term memory, creativity and immunity, said Dr. Gurinder Bains, associate professor of paramedical studies at Loma Linda University in California. .

Bains, also a former director of research for the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor, said laughter has many mechanisms for improving health. “For example, laughter reduces the stress hormone cortisol,” which has been linked to a risk of cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure. It may also help with sleep by promoting the release of melatonin.

Laughter also provides a surge of mood-boosting and pain-relieving endorphins, said Dr. Beth Frates, director of lifestyle and wellness medicine in the department of surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Frates was co-author of a 2016 research review on laughter published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, which was conceived during a fit of laughter with his co-authors on a campus walk. from Harvard.

She doesn’t remember what made them laugh. (“It wasn’t a dad joke,” she said.) But the review distinguishes the humor from the laughter. Namely (ha!): Humor is a stimulant; laughter is the answer. Something can be humorous without inducing laughter.

But having a sense of humor has been linked to benefits. Frates noted a 2016 study in Psychosomatic Medicine that used 15 years of health data from more than 53,000 Norwegians to link a sense of humor to a longer life. Women had a lower risk of death from all causes, but especially infections and heart disease; men saw a lower risk of dying from infections.

Frates said even a simple joke can alleviate stress by putting people in a better frame of mind. If “there was some tension in the room, but dad tells the milkshake joke, it can cut the tension and change the direction of the conversation moving forward. So even if not everyone is laughing, it has the ability to redirect us to a place of positivity.”

Frates pointed out that insulting humor is harmful. But when humor elicits hearty laughter, she says, it can forge social connections in fun, deep and joyful ways. “Connecting over a laugh is something special and unique that tends to last.”

And because social connections have been repeatedly shown to be essential for health, we’ve come to what might be the most powerful punch in the humble dad joke.

Dad jokes may lack originality, Libera said, but they excel in universality. Anyone can say one, and they rely on commonplace stuff — like silly puns — that transcend age, politics, and origins.

“Using humor is a connective tissue that allows us to see the other person as having a mind, and a mind like our own,” Libera said.

A dad joke could be a particularly awkward way to try to forge a connection, she said. But “when we laugh together, we connect to each other by being identical in some fundamental way.”

In that sense, even the predictability of a dad joke is a plus. “We’ve been told something like this before,” Libera said. “So it’s almost like being told a favorite story.”

Frates saw this in action with his own father. “He definitely had a lot of dad jokes,” she said. “And I didn’t find them really funny when I was a kid or a teenager. But all my friends did.” So even when she wasn’t laughing, the humor was something everyone rallied around.

It took years for Frates to appreciate what his father was doing. And now, 10 years after his death, just talking about dad jokes and Father’s Day has got him thinking about how his scientific interest in laughter and health can be attributed to him. “My whole introduction to humor was with my dad.”

So his advice for anyone gathering for Father’s Day is to not fear Dad’s joke. “When we’re together, when you share humor, you share health.”