By Kent Mulkey
Years ago, I made it my personal motto to say, “I take what I do very seriously, but I don’t take myself all that seriously.”
After all, I graduated from Chico State, affectionately known as Harvard of the West, top party school in the nation, and “earned” a degree in Physical Education. For several years after graduation, I felt ashamed to have a PE degree. I felt inferior and not very smart.
Then I decided to turn it around and have fun with it, learning to laugh at myself and allowing others to laugh at their own “stuff” that didn’t seem all that funny at the time . . . until the present. There are few things that are as fun and freeing than learning to laugh at yourself.
Then, I entered the world of working among seniors. Talk about a funny bunch. I had never been around such hilarity! They were dancing in the halls, giving others s***, telling funny stories from their earlier days, wives making “fun” of their husbands, those talking in fun about all their ailments, etc.
To what purpose? Laughter sparks the release of oxytocin, a hormone that facilitates social connection, increases trust between people, and quickens self-disclosure.
More than anything, residents want authenticity. In my view, if you aren’t laughing, then you are not really living. At least for a few minutes a day, stop thinking about your “net operating income,” “leveraging best practices,” and “cascading your goals.”
Years ago, as an ED in a senior community, I would occasionally dress in costume for the day. One day I dressed as a superhero cowboy, (without the six-shooters), and was there to offer “protection and safety” for our residents. What better way to let them know than by showing them in a comical way rather that just telling them in an extremely boring way. As one researcher said, “the brain doesn’t pay attention to boring things.”
Try this experiment – stop in at a neighboring senior community. Take the temperature whether you sense connection, trust, and authenticity. If you do, I guarantee you there is a ton of fun happening there. See for yourself. If you don’t, I assure you their occupancy is low, staff and resident turnover is high, and perhaps they are well on their way to closing their doors.