PROVO -- As of late last week, Brigham Young University professor Gary Palmer had not seen the movie "Patch Adams."

But he is aware of the film's message, which happens to mirror his own approach in the classroom and in life. That is, laughter matters.Palmer, who teaches recreational management and youth leadership at BYU, believes humor has health benefits and extraordinary healing power -- serving as an antidote to stress, fear, intimidation and anger.

"Research tells us children laugh 400 times a day and adults 15 times a day," Palmer said. "People get too stressed out. We need to lighten up a bit. I'm just trying to get people to be the way they used to be."

He knows plenty about the research that has been done on the subject. When a person laughs, he says, blood pressure decreases, heart rate and respiration increase, endorphins are released and depression is reduced.

"Hospitals use music and humor as therapy and that therapy seems to last," Palmer said. "People with a sense of humor live longer. There are definitely health benefits. We feel energized when we laugh. If you were to put that in a bottle, it would have to be FDA-approved."

Still, Palmer doesn't claim to be an expert. Rather than emphasizing scientific data, Palmer is more interested in promoting laughter and practicing the art of finding humor in everyday situations.

"Humor makes life more pleasant. You have to look at humor in your life. It's all around us," Palmer said. "It's an attitude, not an event. Two people can have the same experience, and one can become stressed out because of it while another thinks it's funny. We like to hear embarrassing experiences because they are funny, unless it involves us."

Palmer's specialty is humor in an educational environment. Not that he's advocating that students become class clowns or not take their studies seriously. Humor, he explains, can be a potent learning tool.

"If there's one thing that's helped me in my teaching, it's using humor," he said.

Apparently, it has worked for Palmer, who has received excellence in teaching awards 10 times during his BYU career. He says students are more receptive when they are having fun and he tries to create that type of climate in his classroom.

For instance, when he talks about how to dress professionally, he illustrates different types of styles by breaking out a Gilligan shirt or a Mr. Rogers sweater, which results in his class breaking up with laughter.

Most of his shtick is not planned, though. "It just comes out. I do some pretty goofy things," he said. "Humor creates an unforgettable learning experience because it makes us laugh and feel good. And we remember what we feel."

As he wrote in a paper on laughter in the classroom: "Humor is a mnemonic device. There are three good reasons to use mnemonic devices: 1. They remember better. I forgot the other two."

But his views on humor are not limited to teaching. A couple of times a month, he is asked to speak on the health benefits of laughter at business conventions or other gatherings, mostly in Utah. He reminds his listeners the importance of humor in the workplace.

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"People enjoy working around those who have a sense of humor," he said. "It's contagious. We enjoy working with people who joke around."

His interest in humor began as a hobby, when he started reading about the effects of laughter. Five years ago he delivered a speech on it, and soon thereafter, he started receiving requests to speak to groups. He has presented numerous workshops and written various papers on laughter.

His goal is that others will realize they shouldn't take themselves too seriously.

"Life's pretty short," he said. "We'd better enjoy it."

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