Thursday, July 29, 2010

"An indecency decently put is the thing we laugh at hardest" - Cicero

Some jokes Benny would like:

I was so ugly when I was born the doctor slapped my mother.

A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar. Bartender says, "What is this, a joke?"

What do a hurricane and a divorce in West Virginia have in common? Somebody's gonna lose a trailer.

What does the snail say when riding on the back of a turtle? "Whee!!"

I went to the doctor and told him, "My penis is burning." He said, "That means somebody is talking about it."

Angry guy walks into a bar, orders a drink, and says to the bartender, "All agents are assholes." Guy sitting at the end of the bar says, "Just a minute, I resent that." "Why - you an agent?", says the angry guy. "No, the guy says, "I'm an asshole."

A Jewish grandmother is watching her grandchild play on the beach when a huge wave comes and takes him out to sea. She pleads, "Please, God, save my grandson! Bring him back." And a big wave comes and washes the boy back onto the beach, good as new. She looks up to heaven and says, "He had a hat!"

A skeleton walks into a bar and says to the bartender, "Please give me a beer and a mop."

Ben Gurvitz, RIP

7/29/10. The world's humor quotient took a sharp decline today.

Benny died last night. He was 99 years old, born on 10/10/10.

Benny was in rehab and he thought he was going home today --- I guess he was right.

My article about Benny in the Michigan Psychological Association Newsletter, 4th quarter, 1997:

                                                            My Friend Benny

Psychiatrist George E. Vaillant, who recently spoke at our Fall Convention on aging well, has said that mature humor allows us to look directly at what is painful. Humor, he says, permits the expression of emotion without individual discomfort and without unpleasant effects upon others and he adds that miraculously humor transforms pain into the ridiculous. (1)

I think Vaillant would approve of my friend Benny.

Benny is the funniest human being I have ever met. He lives alone, drives a car, plays golf, travels, has lots of friends, and loves to watch sports. There is nothing funny about this list, although Benny says he’s bringing a fire extinguisher to his next birthday when he lights the candles. Benny’s birthday is 10/10/10 --- yeah, he’s 97 years old. As Benny reminds me, at his age, God is a local call.

I met Benny about 10 years ago when our lockers were next to each other at the Jewish Center Health Club. When I found out Benny’s age, I asked him whether he attributes his longevity to regular exercise. He thought for a moment and said, “My attitude towards exercise has always been when I feel the urge to exercise, I lie down and wait until the urge passes.” Benny is a strict vegetarian, although he reminds me that he could walk across the street tomorrow and get run over by a meat truck.

Benny is a retired pharmacist who maintains his license. We have attended our share of Continuing Education Seminars together. I drive, listen and learn, and Benny picks the meetings with the best food.

He reminds me that he is so old that “When I was a kid, the Dead Sea wasn’t even sick.” His family was so poor that “The rainbows in my neighborhood were in black and white.”

Benny brings to mind the emerging field of positive psychology with the focus on the study of positive subjective experiences and the study of positive individual traits.

In their 800 page book on positive psychology classifying strengths and virtues, Peterson and Seligman (2) offer a “Manual of The Sanities,” that includes chapters on the following strengths:

• Wisdom and Knowledge
• Courage
• Humanity
• Justice
• Temperance
• Transcendence

In this book, Willibald Ruch (3) writes the serious and informative chapter on humor – under Transcendence – which makes me think of Benny. Ruch writes that individuals with the humor strength strongly endorse such statements as the following:
• Whenever my friends are in a gloomy mood, I try to tease them out of it.
• I welcome the opportunity to brighten someone else’s day with laughter.
• Most people would say I am fun to be with.
• I try to add humor to whatever I do.
• I never allow a gloomy situation to take away my sense of humor.
• I can usually find something to laugh or joke about even in trying situations.

No doubt psychologists use humor often in their work. Humor does much to buffer life stress and hassles, reminds us that “we are more simply human than otherwise,” (4) and helps us re-interpret life-story events for our patients to promote hope and optimism.

Benny sets the bar high as an example of hope and optimism. He once quipped that he knew he was going to live to be 100 “Because when I turned 50, I felt half dead.”

As you can imagine, Benny has weathered his share of tragedies and losses. Benny claims that the only exercise he gets these days is being a pallbearer. He mentioned he went to a party last weekend and he was the only one there with his original hips.

I wish I had enough space here to tell you more about Benny. But Benny is one resilient human being who treasures each day, never complains, and helps everyone who knows him stay optimistic about the species. Researchers and clinicians at the ground level of the new Positive Psychology movement are working to discover how to nourish and develop our character strengths and virtues. It is time we had a Manual of The Sanities.


(1) Vaillant, George E. Aging Well. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2002, pages 62 – 63.

(2) Peterson, Christopher, & Seligman, Martin E. P. Character Strengths and Virtues. A Handbook and Classification. Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association and Oxford University Press, Inc., 2004.

(3) Ruch, Willibaud. Humor. In Christopher Peterson & Martin E.P. Seligman. Character Strengths and Virtues. A Handbook of Classification. Washington D. C.: American Psychological Association and Oxford University Press, Inc., 2004. Pages 583 – 598.

(4) Harry Stack Sullivan.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Attention Disorders Can Take a Toll on Marriage"


"Adults with attention disorders often learn coping skills to help them stay organized and focused at work, but experts say many of them struggle at home, where their tendency to become distracted is a constant source of conflict. Some research suggests that these adults are twice as likely to be divorced; another study found high levels of distress in 60 percent of marriages where one spouse had the disorder."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

"The Battle Over Battle Fatigue"

7/17/10. Dr. Sally Satel's article achieves the delicate balance of expressing compassion, support, and respect for our soldiers, while charting and challenging the history of the political contamination that broadened the definition of PTSD and seeped into our present use of the DSM.

Dr. Satel writes,

"Soldiers can now claim trauma from events they didn't actually experience. Is the diagnosis losing meaning?"

Thursday, July 15, 2010

"An Unacceptable Health Care Vision"

7/15/10. Obama, health care, and government as decider.

"Accepting That Good Parents May Plant Bad Seeds"

7/15/10. When I was in graduate school, psychologists were taught that how kids turned out depended almost entirely on how their parents treated them --- nurture mattered more than nature. Mother-blaming was in fashion and reached destructive heights --- such as the belief that "cold" parents produced autistic kids.

Research at the University of Minnesota on identical twins reared apart along with many strands of well-designed studies shows that nature and nurture are both strong contributors to how people turn out.  Children are born with biological predispositions --- parents, of course, influence the personality of their children --- but parents do not "create" their children's personality. So much happens as a result of the genetic roll of the dice, and what happens to children outside of their family's influence is important. The more we learn about the genetics of development, the more we learn about the complexity of nurture on the course of development.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Why the Economy is Not Recovering

7/5/10. Economist Allan Meltzer makes a good case about why Obama's economic policies are not working.

"What Does It Do?"

7/5/10. Asking the question, "What Does It Do?," says William Zinsser "has saved me a lot of grief, not only at the (piano) keyboard but in negotiating the sharps and flats of life."