David Jacobson, LCSW
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David Jacobson, LCSW

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You wouldn't think David Jacobson has a lot to laugh about. He was nearly crippled by arthritis at age 22, has spent the nearly three decades since then in varying levels of physical pain and works as a social worker in an emergency room. But Jacobson, 49, doesn't waste his energy whimpering. He works hard at the serious endeavor of seeing the funny side of life. He has self-published the book "The 7 1/2 Habits of Highly Humorous People." "I think everybody has problems with living, and whether it's emotional or physical pain that we're dealing with, we all need ways to cope with it. . . . I'm saying, 'Here's how I cope with it and you can use this coping mechanism, too,' " Jacobson said. The book is being sold through online book dealers, including Amazon.com. Jacobson has received orders from around the world, including a request for 200 copies from a Nigerian bookstore. (I just hope it's not run by a Nigerian prince. That never turns out well.) Jacobson learned about the healing power of laughter early in life, which led him to his first habit of treating humor as a necessity, not a luxury. His father died when Jacobson was 8. All the students in Jacobson's third-grade class wrote sympathy cards that Jacobson's family read together, he recalled in his book. One child wrote, "Don't be sad. I would be sad too if my fat dad died." Jacobson wrote that it was the first laugh the family had together since his father's death. Throughout his teens, Jacobson was an exceptional wrestler. As a young adult, he earned a second-degree brown belt in judo and thought he might have an Olympic career in his future. Instead, he was stricken with rheumatic fever at age 22, followed by a diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis, which affects both skin and joints. The arthritis did most of its damage in the first year, fusing or swelling joints in Jacobson's spine, knees and ankles. Lacking even the strength to eat, he dropped from 136 to 112 pounds. He went home to his mother in a wheelchair but he was determined not to stay in one. As he started to try to walk again, Jacobson retained his sense of humor. He'd "race" his mother to answer the telephone, "dragging myself like Igor, the knuckles of my right hand touching the floor, drooling, tongue out and hobbling toward the phone." The silliness helped keep both their spirits high during one of the most difficult periods of his life. Jacobson believes his attitude is what keeps him working as a productive member of society instead of at home in bed. Over the years, Jacobson has discovered if he can giggle for a good 10 minutes, perhaps while watching a funny movie or reading a Dave Barry book, he can get two hours of pain-free sleep. As a social worker at University Medical Center, Jacobson's job has many bleak moments. He may be there to help tell someone their loved one has died. He's there for psychiatric patients and sexual assault and child abuse cases. Those are obvious situations in which humor is inappropriate, he said. But at all other times, it's his favorite prescription. One day, a 90-year-old patient asked Jacobson if he could send in a social worker with large breasts instead. Jacobson left the room and returned minutes later with cloth stuffed in his shirt to give him a bodacious chest. "This is the best I can do," he told the patient. Jacobson said the most important of the habits is the "half-habit" of changing negative thoughts to positive ones. It's only a half-habit, because nobody can be positive all the time, he explained. Examples of the conversion include, for example, changing the thought, "My body looks gross" to, "Compared to what I'll look like in 40 years, I don't look too bad." Or if you think, "Nobody likes me," replace that sentiment with, "I haven't met everyone yet. There's still hope - Tucson Citizen


A bout of rheumatic fever could have ended David Jacobson's reason for living.
The illness, contracted while on a visit to Israel, caused his bones and joints to fuse together, resulting in a severe case of arthritis that confined him to a wheelchair at 22 years old, ending a longtime dream of winning Olympic gold in judo.
It was on the road to recovery that Jacobson found a gift for humor that would define a future career. Though he was staying at his mother's house, Jacobson was determined to live an independent life, and it started by taking slow but deliberate steps toward the phone one day.
"I kind of dragged myself to the phone, and she started laughing, and I actually picked up the phone because I distracted her," Jacobson said. "At that moment, I was in a painful body, but I was having fun, and she was having fun, and it was the first laugh we had together."
Jacobson, now 49, is out of the wheelchair, although the arthritis is still evident in a few crooked fingers. He has taken his life lessons on the road as a speaker, and he works at University Medical Center as a social worker.
Twenty-seven years after he took those first funny steps, Jacobson has compiled all the humor advice he's learned over the years into a self-published book: "The 7 1/2 Habits of Highly Humorous People." The 102-page book lists eight ways to use humor to live a more wholesome and fulfilled life. (More on that "half" habit later.)
Although the book is about humor, Jacobson said it's balanced with serious and funny tales.
"It's like laughing and learning at the same time," he said.
Jacobson talked recently about the philosophy behind his book and how humor can be found even in one of the most depressing rooms at UMC.
Q: Why 7 1/2 habits?
A: The half habit is probably the most important one. It's about changing negative thoughts to positive thoughts. No one can do that 100 percent of the time. It's impossible, so the premise is if you can change half your negative thoughts to positive, you'll be twice as healthy and twice as happy. Humor can be powerful and life-transforming, and the way that happens is by changing your view and humor.
Q: Basically, it's just about going through life thinking positively.
A: Exactly. If you have to go through life with any kind of pain �" and if you're a human being, you're going to, whether it's emotional, physical, whatever �" you might as well make the best of it and improve the quality of life while we're doing it.
Q: How did you come up with seven habits?
A: I had to think about what I do on a daily basis and think about the habits that may be different from others that are average normal things that anyone can do but most people don't do. Like the idea of making humor a necessity rather than a luxury. Most people hear a funny joke and chuckle, but you don't seek it out.
Q: Habit six uses the word "humorgy." What does that mean?
A: Humorgy is using what I call the humor force. You know about "Star Wars" and the Force? I think there's a humor force, too. When people are laughing and smiling, there's a connection between them. Think about your friends. They're not people you're bored with all the time. You have fun with those people, and that's why you're connected. That's humorgy.
Q: On a given day, how many of these habits do you think you use?
A: I've used humor as a necessity today. In terms of the half habit, I could have been stressed-out about you not showing up today. That would be a negative thought. A positive thought is knowing you'll be here, so I'll just sit down and wait for you to show up.
With self-effacing humor, I poke fun at myself a lot about the arthritis.
I do keep my eyes open for humorous situations, or I create them, but I haven't done that yet today.
In terms of using the power of humor and its influence on myself and others, I stopped by the front desk (at UMC to talk to the receptionist), and we just laughed a little bit and talked.
I haven't used my humorous imagination to improve my communication, but humor is a great communication tool.
I've already explained about using your humor spirit, which is what I do. And finally, acting like a highly humorous person. The more you act at something, the more it becomes a habit. The final habit is reinforcing the other six habits.
Q: Are people who have various physical ailments more humorous than "normal" people?
A: There are some people who, no matter what they get, they're going to be a jerk. So you can be a jerk with arthritis or cancer or any other disease. But what it (humor) has done for many people is change their lives. If someone's experienced a more traumatic life, they're able to appreciate humor more. Whether they choose to appreciate it or not is a different story.
Q: What do you do at UMC?
A: I'm an emergency room social worker, and that involves being there when the doctors tell someone that their child didn't survive. I also handle domestic violence and rape cases - Arizona Daily Star


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Bio

David M. Jacobson, MSW, LCSW, author, poet, professional speaker and social worker, former college of medicine instructor and former national director of training, is the recipient of a Presidents Award from Flashnet Marketing, a Joy Mask from the Korean Broadcasting System and both a Lifetime Achievement Award and a National Hero Overcoming Arthritis Award from the Arthritis Foundation.
As a child he suffered the loss of his father. In his late teens, he was an exceptionally strong varsity wrestler. In his early twenties, the young athlete had a second degree brown belt in Judo and had dreams of an Olympic career. At twenty-two he was diagnosed with a debilitating form of severe arthritis that put him in a wheelchair and fused many of his joints. His weight dropped from 136 to 112. From fused bones to funny bones, ten years later, he went on to complete an award winning fifty-mile unicycle ride! His life purpose is now to share his discovery of how humor made his world better and can make the world a better place for you and everyone else too.