Humor Your Way To Health and Productivity! With Karyn Buxman

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TBT Karyn | Humor


You’ve probably heard of the saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.” But do you know this is scientifically proven to be true? In this episode, Penny Zenker sits down with TEDx speaker, successful author, and brain-based performance coach Karyn Buxman. Karyn is a global expert in strategic humor for business. Today, she breaks down how humor and laughter can impact our wellbeing and productivity. Plus, she shares ways to be more intentional with humor every day. You don’t have to be funny to laugh. So, sit down, relax, and tune in for a reason to laugh more today!

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Humor Your Way To Health and Productivity! With Karyn Buxman

I’m excited to have a funny woman here. We are going to talk about some serious things in how laughter and humor can help us to deal with some pretty serious changes, challenges and disruptions in our lives. Karyn Buxman is here. She’s a TEDx speaker, a successful author, and a brain-based performance coach, nurse, business consultant and neurohumorist. She made that up, but I make up words too, so that’s okay.

She says she lives at the inter of humor and the brain. As a global expert in strategic humor for business, Karyn helps high performers go from great to mastery. From the Mayo Clinic to the million-dollar round table organizations around the world, they hire Karyn to educate, inspire, and entertain their audiences again and again.

She’s also 1 of 260 people and only 55 women in the world to be included in the National Speakers Association’s Speaker Hall of Fame. I’m telling you that’s a big deal, people. She’s got a number of different books that are out there. Her latest one, Funny Means Money: Strategic Humor for Influence and World Domination and she’s got an awesome TEDx that you need to check it out. Without further ado, Karyn, welcome to the show.

I love a woman with a great sense of humor. This is good. Your energy, I’m already feeling it.

I missed the mark. I always wanted to be a humorist. Saturday Night Live motivated me and I wanted to be on Saturday Night Live. Somewhere along the way, I got less funny. It didn’t happen, but I’m working my way back now.

Betty White got to be on SNL. It’s not too late.

What makes humor important to you? Where did that come from? I said it was SNL for me. Where was it for you? Where did it begin?

Who doesn’t love humor? All of us love humor. When I was teaching at a university and I went back to grad school, I stumbled upon this little article, a researcher who had researched humor as part of her dissertation. I remember thinking, “What? You could study humor?” If you’ve got to be stuck with a research topic, isn’t it great that you could stay with something? My advisors, at first, were like, “It’s not professional enough. It’s too big. It’s too this and that,” but I was very persistent.

When I dug into this, it was a game-changer. I realized, “How is it that nobody knows how powerful this is.” Everybody thinks that humor is about entertainment, which is one of the purposes, but I’ve identified a couple of other purposes. One of which is well-being. How can humor help us cope? How can it make us healthier? How can it boost our resilience? How can it even improve our spiritual life? The other purpose is influence. How do we use it to persuade, inform, inspire and motivate? Success is measured by laughs per minute.

Humor is a shortcut to health and wellbeing. Share on X

I took a comedy class and I heard that. That’s interesting. I never knew that before. Most people don’t know that.

While being, we measure by the quality of our health, whether physical, mental, psychological, or social. The influence we measure by the quantity and quality of our relationships, how well are we able to build to establish that relationship, rapport and all of those things. I’m like a kid in a candy store. I get very excited. I have also now been able to witness over the years through my own personal experience. My son was diagnosed with cancer when he was in college. He’s doing fine now. My ability to be creative, my ability to problem solve all these kinds of things, even my lab work. My sister, God, love her, comes from the other side of the genetic DNA. She’s a runner, works out and a vegan, but she’s an intense type A personality.

Here I am, not a runner. I run in circles sometimes, pretty much what I want, but not too intense. I do intentionally use humor every day. This is something very nerdy, but we compare lab work. She’s so jealous because every time I go to my physician every year, she’s like, “You should frame this.” It’s a beautiful thing. My sister was like, “Why?” I know that it is because of my intentional actions for my self-care. Humor is a huge piece of that intentionality.

Intentionally use humor. I want everybody to read that and read that again because we all run around in circles for a lot of different things. We say we want different things in our lives, but we don’t intentionally focus on the things that get us what we want in our lives. I call myself a focusologist. My whole thing is about intentionally focused on getting us what we want. The 20% gets us 80% of the results. I’m a firm believer, too, that humor is way underrated and how it can be used intentionally for health purposes and joy. Everybody wants to be at a company that’s fun. Humor makes things fun.

When you think about it, most people experience humor. They love humor, but it’s always by chance. My foundation is, how can we do this by choice? It’s great when it happens by chance. Let’s have more of that, but how can you make it happen intentionally, especially in this world. I hear a lot now, particularly because of all the extenuating circumstances, whether that’s politics, pandemics, global warming, whatever. People are saying, “There’s nothing funny happening in my life.”

It’s hysterical.

TBT Karyn | Humor

Humor: Research has shown that people who use humor intentionally on a regular basis problem solve much faster. They see creative solutions that other people just don’t see.


If that’s your belief, that’s your reality because your brain is going to give you more of what you focus on and if you’re doom scrolling all the time. Here’s the thing that you may know already because what happens is when people are focused on the negative, they get dumber. When people are stressed, we pull from our cognitive capacity. You can lose up to ten IQ points.

I don’t know about the readers here, but I don’t have ten points to spare. How can we intentionally use humor? Researches have shown that people who are using humor intentionally on a regular basis problem-solve much faster. They see creative solutions that other people don’t see. This is an important tool for you to use.

It makes different connections that we wouldn’t normally make when you talk about creativity and things. It’s like an exercise for your brain in the sense that it’s allowing it to pause in a way but also exercise. It does hit all of those points. You mentioned earlier, physical, mental, and spiritual connect us socially. I love the way you started your TEDx. You come out and laugh. We know this to be true. When someone is laughing and they keep laughing, we can’t help but laugh too. As you laugh, you’d hear the laughter in the audience.

I was counting on that. I had a lot of colleagues say, “Don’t do that.” I was like, “Maybe I’ll get another chance.” I was counting on neuroscience. When we see, hear or best, both, somebody else who’s smiling and laughing, our mirror neurons says, “We should be smiling and laughing too.” This is this contagious effect that we can leverage. To be smiling and laughing with people that you want to interact with, you’re making them feel better through the fact that you’re feeling better.

Tell us some ways that we can intentionally use humor in the workplace and at home.

First of all, get rid of the mindset that there’s nothing funny happening because it’s not that there’s nothing funny happening. You’re just not in alignment with it. It’s very much like going on the internet. I don’t know if you’ve ever done this. I go to Zappos. I find a cute pair of shoes. I looked at my budget and I was like, “I can’t do that.” I go to another webpage and there are those shoes.

Humor is a productive coping mechanism to let go of stress. Share on X

I go to another website and there are those shoes again. Those shoes and shoes like them are following me all over because the internet says, “You paid attention to that. We’re going to show you more of that.” Your brain is doing the same thing. If you tell your brain, “I want to see more humor,” be persistent because your brain needs wiring and rewiring. It may take a little bit at first.

Once you experience that humor, neurons fire and you continue. Because of that, next time, a little sooner. Hebb’s Law says, “Neurons that fire together wire together. Pretty soon, you’re going to see more humor until you’re seeing it all the time. This is going to boost your energy, creativity and ability to problem-solve. It also decreases your level of anxiety and stress.

Many of us are so focused on the negative things going on. Humor happens in the present. It’s our way of letting go, release. Let go of the negative and be focusing on the positive. When we do that, we can be more productive and have those better relationships. You mentioned, who doesn’t like to have humor? Studies show whether we’re looking for a lover or a leader, humor is one of the top three traits that people are looking for.

Good to separate the two, most of the time. That’s how it can get you in trouble. Ask the past presidents. However, when you are using humor in those relationships, when we’re using humor here, anytime you’re using humor with another person, and they’re receiving it, our brain is releasing oxytocin. This is not to be confused with oxycodone.

This is oxytocin positive, also known as the cuddle hormone. That is strengthening those relationships. If you’re to trying to lead a group, have engagement, do sales or lower the resistance, people’s brains are on fire right now. They can’t hear what you’re saying. They can’t receive your message even if they want to. It’s up to you to lower that resistance.

They’re completely overstimulated, overloaded, and overwhelmed. I want to go back to the point that you said about letting go because we had talked earlier that I wanted to share. One of the things that I talk a lot about when I talk about resilience is what’s holding us back from truly being resilient is that we’re crappy at letting go.

With that being said, our bodies are built to let go. We eliminate waste and reproduce red blood cells like that. Physically, that’s the way we’re designed, but we have this override mechanism in our minds because we’re terrible at letting go in our minds. I want you to go back to that point because if that’s one little tip about how we can let go of some of that stress and let go of a mistake that we made, an embarrassing moment that happened that we might ruminate over again or letting go of insecurity. Humor can help us with all of those.

A little side note, something that you made me think of that I don’t bring up very often, but you talk about the body letting go. One of the ways we let go is through tears. Tears of crying and laughter are similar, but they’re different when you’re cutting an onion because tears of laughing and crying contain exocrine. It’s one of the ways that our body releases some of the toxicity that’s built up.

TBT Karyn | Humor

FUNNY MEANS MONEY: Strategic Humor for Influence & World Domination


Cry until you laugh or laugh until you cry. That’s the best of all possible worlds. In terms of letting go of tension, how fabulous is this, the way we are designed? Tension-wise, with the muscles, our bodies go through a period of tension and then relaxation. Have you ever laughed so hard that you had to lean over and hang onto a desk or a chair? That is because those muscles are releasing the tension.

My favorite evaluation from anybody that has ever sat in an audience came from a woman who said, “You laugh so hard. Tears ran down my leg.” That is released maybe to the extreme. However, to be able to get rid of that muscle tension, exocrine in our body, inflammation from the cortisol that’s built up in our body, anxiety and stress, this is a major release mechanism that leads us to better health and influence.

What would you say to people who might say, “That’s pushing it down or pushing it away?” I hear people say, “All these positive people, they’re this toxic positivity because they’re not feeling things.” If I shift into humor at a difficult time, my father died in a sudden accident when I was younger. I remember my brothers and I went to the supermarket and used to do funny things with my dad in the supermarket. We take a sausage and bang each other on the head or something. We did it and laughed. It relieved that tension. It didn’t make the situation go away. It wasn’t pushing away the fact that we were sad, but it allowed us to release it in a productive way.

It’s a healthy coping mechanism because there are a lot of unhealthy ways that we can cope. During the pandemic, I recognize that humor can help us do four things. We can distract, reframe, relate, and refuel. Go through those quickly, distraction. This might be some of the folks who would say, “You’re putting your head in the sand. You’re ignoring the situation.”

My point is if you’re stuck in a situation that you have no control over, it is healthier to sit there, ruminate about how horrible it is and create this toxicity throughout your body or to give your brain a microbreak to stop that cascade of negative neurotransmitters. Those are creating all this toxicity in your body and being in a more healthy state to control the situation. That’s distract.

Whenever you're using humor with another person, and they're receiving it, our brain releases oxytocin. Share on X

Reframing, seeing things from a different perspective is wonderfully helpful. The downside of it is it takes a lot more cognitive capacity. It takes our brains a little bit more energy. It’s harder to get the brain to do that. However, the good news, humor is a shortcut. It is immediately a way that we can reframe a situation to be able to poke fun at something that is threatening us empowers us. It gives us the ability to laugh at the situation and see ourselves as a victor instead of a victim.

I used that exact thing in my TED Talk.

We already talked a little bit about that refueling mechanism because we started out thinking this was going to be a sprint. It turned into a marathon and now we’re in a freaking Iron Man. We keep pulling from our reserves. Humor can refuel and build back up those reserves in every area of our health. Relating, this is connection.

Victor Borge said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” We utilize humor in all of those ways to help us gain control and resume that power. You saw that in my Ted Talk, humor is power. It can allow us to empower ourselves to be our better selves and to be better to serve other people, which is what most of us were called to do.

I love those four different things to have us understand all the different ways that humor can support us and be that shortcut. I like what you said there that it’s a shortcut. We all like shortcuts. Their ears perked up and they’re like, “Shortcut, I’ll take that.” I do have that.

What would you do if somebody said, “I get it, see that I can go online, look up some comedians and bring a little bit more humor into my life?” What if they say, “I don’t have a funny bone and I’m not funny?”

I love it when people say, “I’m not funny.” My answer is, “Great,” because we go back to the fact that if we’re talking about humor to entertain, we’re measured in LPMs. That’s when you want to be funny. You never have to be funny to use humor for your well-being or for influence because you can leverage other people’s humor, funny movies, cartoons and other kinds of things.

You can tap into internal experiences. Everybody who has a healthy brain right now has at least one experience that you can pull up in your life where you laughed. You had a great belly laugh. I can pull up dozens, but your brain doesn’t know the difference between it happening now and happening in another time.

I was talking to a group about sitting in an audience with my son. It was a movie about a dog and it looked like the dog was going to die. The theater is deathly silent. My son jumps up out of his chair and announces to the entire audience, “I’ve got an M&M’s stuck up my nose.” I was like, “Oh my God.” It was mortifying at the time.

TBT Karyn | Humor

Humor: Humor is power. It can allow us to empower ourselves to be better and to serve other people.


I can think about that. Immediately now, it takes me back to this state of feeling good and funny. I don’t know if people know anymore what a Rolodex is, but I have a mental Rolodex or mental file of things that I can access that make me feel good. I intentionally pull upon those on a regular basis. To have those kinds of things, manipulate your environment, increase the likelihood of experiencing more humor. That could be something on your phone, office, or another person.

I have an accountability partner. Every day, we start our day looking for humor that we consent to the other person. At first, I thought, “I’m doing this for her.” What I came to realize was that it was changing my days and the way I live my life because now I’m starting my day looking for humor and it reframes my day.

I want to challenge the audience to do and implement two things because we want people to walk away with things that they can do right now. Start your day looking for something funny and send it to somebody, make someone else’s day, start with funny as well. I’m going to start doing that. One of the thrills in my day is I have this cartoonist. I go and I look for ways to create different cartoons, but that doesn’t happen every day. I’m going to do it every day.

The second thing I want to challenge everybody to do is to go back and think of 5 to 10 funny moments, milk coming out the nose, bending over, stomach hurts, cheeks are dying from laughing hard. Find those moments and write them down to have more access to them quickly when you need them. I love those two things. These are things people can do right away. When you went through it, you could probably review that every once in a while to keep them top of mind. When you need them, they’re readily available.

I have Evernote because how many times have you ever been in discussion with somebody and all of a sudden, you think, “That reminds me of the time?” Maybe you haven’t thought of that memory in a long time. Don’t lose it again. Write it down. Occasionally go back and reminisce over those stories because they are a gold mine.

You talked about neuroscience. I want to leave people with one more thing and then I want to give them the ways to get ahold of you. I did some Neuroscience and Behavioral Psychology. There’s a thing called an anchor. If people think about a particular song that brings them right back to their senior prom, that’s an auditory anchor. The minute you hear that song, it’s connected in our brain anchored to that moment. It takes us right back.

Humor can help us do four things: distract, reframe, relate, refuel. Share on X

We can do with those moments that we find funny to remember them and get into it like we’re there. What I do is I take my thumb and put it in my hand, something unique. Maybe it’s pulling your ear or something. You guys try this. Get into it. It’s associated with that moment. Put the anchor into place, which means you tug on your ear. The more you laugh, the more you tug on your ear. The more you tug on your ear, the more you laugh and then stop. When you’re feeling bad, tug on your ear and it has the same effect.

Anchors are great and place cues in your environment that remind you. I even set a cue on my phone. Once a day, I have an alarm. Have you laughed yet? If not, it’s time to take a break. Push away from the desk and give your brain a break. You will be more productive after than you did if you hadn’t stopped and taken this little brain break.

This was an awesome chat. I know we could chat all day. Tell the readers how they can best get a hold of you.

I am wildly undefinable, as Michael Bigley would say. You can reach me at I love connecting with people on social media, particularly LinkedIn. For those who haven’t found yet, those little bits of resources or little micro-breaks of humor. I have some on a landing page called I would love for people to go watch the TED Talk by all means. Please reach out if you have any questions about how your life could improve using humor. Where two or more are gathered in the name of humor, I want to be there.

Thank you again for all that you’ve brought here. There are so many nuggets that people can take away.

Thank you. I love the opportunity. Be safe. Stay funny.

Thank you, everyone. It’s your turn. Go away and do those things. Make your list of funny, anchor them in so you can access someone you need them, start your day with funny and do the five-day challenge. Do it for five days and see what a difference it makes because once we start something and it works, hopefully, we continue doing it. Thank you, everybody, for being here.

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About Karyn Buxman

TBT Karyn | HumorKaryn Buxman is a TEDx speaker, successful author, brain-based high-performance coach, nurse, business consultant—and a neurohumorist (she lives at the intersection of humor and the brain). Whew! As The Global Expert in Strategic Humor for Business Karyn helps high performers go from great to mastery.

From the Mayo Clinic to the Million Dollar Round Table, organizations around the world hire Karyn to educate, inspire, and entertain their audiences again and again. She’s one of 260 people (and only 55 women) in the world to be inducted into the National Speakers Association’s Speaker Hall of Fame. Her latest book, Funny Means Money: Strategic Humor for Influence & World Domination will be published by ForbesBooks in 2022. Karyn is serious about humor!

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