Within the last month the world has lost two great comedians – Robbin Williams and Joan Rivers. This means we are going to have to work twice as hard to keep laughter in our lives to survive the world in which we live.
During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln stated “Gentleman, why don’t you laugh?” With the fearful strain that is upon me day and night, if I did not laugh I should die, and you need this medicine as much as I do.”
In my family, humor (tasteless though it is sometimes) provides us with the power to help us get through the difficult situations with which we may be dealing.
During the last two months of my mother’s life, she was unable to walk, and often unable to keep food down or in. On her last New Year’s Eve, we had a wonderful dinner surrounded by family with lots of laughter and reminiscing. Preparing to leave my brother and sister-in-laws home, my brother had pushed Mom’s wheelchair to the car, lifted her up and into the front passenger seat. It was at that moment that Mom began to experience nausea and felt like she was going to “lose it”. My brother Rick yelled at the family members strewn along the driveway and pathway that we needed a bowl or pan because Mom was nauseas. The message was repeated from one person to another; all the way up to my sister-in-law who was at the front door. She ran in and got a large pasta pot and began to pass it down to the family members until it reached my brother who was still standing by my mother. “Okay, Mom, go ahead, its okay” my brother stated reassuringly. But my Mom was frantic – “Oh, my, I think I could lose it at either end!” To which my brother replied – “That’s okay, Mom because this is a multipurpose pot!” “I belong to a family of nuts!” she laughed in spite of her bodies want to be ill. The laughter eased the tension and the moment of nausea and diarrhea passed as it was replaced with humor.
Over a hundred years ago, Freud stated that humor offers a healthy means of coping. Candace Pert, PhD, former Chief of Brain Biochemistry, National Institutes of Health states “The chemicals that are flooding our body and our brain are the same chemicals that are involved in emotion. And that says to me that …we’d better pay more attention to emotions with respect to health.” There have been numerous studies indicating humor strengthens your immune system, reduces pain and reduces the level of stress hormones circulating in the blood. Research has also been focused on the impact of humor upon specific disease conditions such as heart disease, asthma, COPD, rheumatoid arthritis, skin allergies and diabetes. Conversely, stress and negative emotion has a worsening effect on a broad range of conditions. People who cultivate their sense of humor and empower themselves with it during stress are much more resilient, emotionally more flexible, and can bend without breaking in the midst of the most difficult situations. Humor is not a cure, rather a method to help manage conditions and some of the body’s basic health and healing mechanisms. Humor and laughter help assure that your mind and emotions are working in favor of good health and not interfering with it. Joan Rivers utilized humor when she found out that her husband had committed suicide. The clip below is her story about the terrible way she and her 15 year old daughter found out about her husband’s death. She used humor to bring her daughter back from the dark place she had retreated to. In retrospect, we know that Robbin Williams used humor to help deflect his depression, and addictive behaviors for many years. It is my belief that his suicide was not a coward’s way out but the only way the introspective and depressed Robbin Williams knew to stop the mental anguish when his humor could no longer be the balm that abated his pain.
So how do we bring humor into our lives? First, we acknowledge that humor is very effective in assisting us through adversity and then we actively use our sense of humor to deal with the everyday events in our lives. Second, use your sense of humor on good days so that when the tough days come blazing through (as they often do) your humor is less likely to hide quivering under the bed covers. See the sublime and ridiculous in our everyday lives and laugh. Look for funny quotes to pepper your desk at work, your night stand, the bathroom mirror, the refrigerator. Look for the funny in the mundane, laugh at yourself (I do that a lot since I hit middle age). Be prepared to arm yourself with humor on the tough days and practice, practice, practice! Third, when the dark days come, actively and purposefully use humor during those stressful and difficult times.
I leave you with this last story about a woman with breast cancer who discovered the emotional trap her cancer had led her into. She had had a double mastectomy, and had two prosthetic breasts. One day, three weeks after her surgery she went to her front porch to pick up her morning newspaper. As she bent over to pick it up, one of her prosthetic breasts popped out. The family dog, thinking this was a new toy, grabbed it and was running around the yard with it in his mouth. She ran after the dog, shouting, “You come back here with my breast. You give me my breast!”
When she thought about what she was saying, she stopped and looked around to see if anyone else was up that early and heard her. To her great relief, no one was. But when she realized what she had been shouting, and what the neighbors would have thought had they heard her, she started laughing and couldn’t stop. She was laughing so hard that tears were running down her face.
When she finally stopped laughing, she knew what had been missing from her life. She could not remember laughing since her diagnosis of cancer. She was determined to never let another day go by without having some laughter in her life. She needed to laugh, even when she didn’t feel like laughing. The laughter itself boosted her spirits and made it easier to face the tough days.
A keen sense of humor helps us to overlook the unbecoming, understand the unconventional, tolerate the unpleasant, overcome the unexpected and outlast the unbearable – Billy Graham
Robin Williams – Patch Adams
Joan Rivers -Finding the Humor to Get Through the Pain