Can you laugh when your expectations of life have been turned upside down and you wonder how you will handle what has just been given to you – when the world you expected to be one way has been changed forever?
Yes you can. But maybe not immediately.
When my husband and I took our third child home from the hospital after he was born, it was with joy and excitement as he was a husky, healthy ten-pound baby boy. However, by six months we knew something wasn’t right as he was still unable to hold up his head.
Many months later, we again took our son home from another hospital after extensive tests and a weeklong stay. Only this time we were in shock.
The final diagnoses was that Don had cerebral palsy of the worst magnitude (a-mi-tonic-quadriplegic was what we heard). We were instructed to have a brace designed for him as quickly as possible so he might have a chance to walk.
They didn’t give us have much hope of him having a functioning brain: in fact, they gave little hope of him able to accomplish anything.
Laughter is not just good for the soul – it is vital for our overall health – mental, psychological, spiritual and physical.
“The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.” Voltaire, French Philosopher
Are there really health benefits to laughter, other than it feels good in the moment? Yes there is and it is confirmed not only through scripture and sages of the past, but also from medical research. Unchecked long held stresses over time contribute to illness.
“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” Proverbs 17:22
Laughter releases the hormones that heal our physical body and strengthens our heart and immune system. Hearty laughter exercises our heart – lowers blood pressure, gives our lungs a workout, releases tension in all parts of our body and releases opiates in our blood system giving us a high – a lift.
What does humor or laughter have to do with concentration camps?
Could laughter and humor have any place within conditions where people were being annihilated because of their faith and race? Wouldn’t that be sacrilegious to the sacredness of life to even suggest such a thing?
Only someone who had been there, and who by the grace of God survived, could speak to such things.
As I watched a documentary on the death and unfathomable horror of those Nazi concentration camps, and saw the recorded footage of the death and torture of thousands and thousands of Jews during WWII, as recorded by the British, American and even the Nazi’s themselves, it was unimaginable that it could be real. How could any man do that to another man? And how could anyone find meaning in such circumstances.
In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Viktor Frankl wrote about how he and others were able to discover meaning for life – even here. I was profoundly impact by his book during my graduate work.
Perhaps the greatest gift that humor gives us is to be able to laugh at ourselves.
Laughter, if just for a moment, takes the edge off the seriousness of death and tragedy, expands our world view, and more than anything else allows us to let go of our inflated self-image, our bloated pride and self-importance.
Laughter clears the playing field, reduces levels of stress and gives our body the boost it needs to help fight off the effects of depression and loneliness.
When we take off the rose colored glasses, we stop embellishing or diminishing ourselves through impractical comparisons, and realize that we are all God’s creatures subject to both humor and divine intervention. When we stop taking ourselves so seriously, we are able to laugh at the flawed parts of our nature while celebrating the parts that give rise to creative energy.
Stress is very subjective. Perception is both the creation of stress and what we will do with it. It is both personal and unique. What stresses you out may not stress me at all.
Any life event, major or minor, can become a cause of dis-stress. It can be an on-going source of irritation and even victimization. It can also be the beginning of an off-repeated humorous story. Can we take events and turn them into something we can laugh at for decades?
Years ago in a speech I gave on stress to a group of teachers in the U.K. I shared one of the stories my father-in-law told our kids about when he was a kid. Their much loved Grandpa Bert was an easy-going guy, with seemingly not a care in the world who drove my mother-in-law crazy. As a kid he attended a small, rural school.
Now Bert was not a student of academia – in fact he hated sitting in the classroom. During recess while other kids were busy jumping rope or throwing ball, he was busy exploring the tall grass around the little country school, looking for wonderful things such as bugs, worms, caterpillars, frogs – you name it.
Laughter is not a once-in-a while event – it is a lifestyle – a way to look at life. You not only find the good things every day, but you find those moments when you can take an intolerable situation, one packed with emotions and stress, flip it on its side and tickle its tummy.
“I’m giving so much money to my therapist; they will want to erect a statue in my honor.”
“I’m hanging on so tight, I’m getting rope burn.”
It isn’t laughing at someone – it’s laughing at intolerable situations – its taking the edge off the adversity that is in front of you – it is enlarging the joyous moments – expanding the depth of our love and enjoyment of life. Humor takes the edge off any crisis.
“When we admit our schnozzles, instead of defending them,we begin to laugh and the world laughs with us.” Jimmy Durante
Perhaps the greatest gift we give ourselves is our ability to laugh at ourselves! Don’t take yourself so serious. When we laugh at ourselves nobody can laugh “at us” – they can only laugh “with us….”
“When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. And swing!” Leo Buscaglia
When was the last time you laughed – really laughed – until the tears rolled down your cheeks, your sides hurt and you gasped for air? You laughed and laughed and didn’t want to stop.
Something tickled your funny bone so that in an instant you saw the world differently – your situation was so bad, it was funny – your problem so profound, it was laughable – the ludicrous became the comical. The world had turned upside down and you laughed as you swung in the absurdity of the moment.
“The crisis of today is the joke of tomorrow.” H. G. Wells
What precipitated that laughter? How did it change how you felt about your world, your situation, yourself? How did it change the minutes and hours afterwards?
“Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.” Mark Twain
Can you laugh when you are revisiting the trauma of your childhood – or when your only son dies? Can you laugh when your wife has just a few weeks left to live and she wants to put up a picture that both of you can laugh at so her passing will have a deeper meaning than just sorrow? Would you have the courage? Would you feel as though you were being insensitive and callous? Or could you, like the authors of the following books, see laughter as a way to help you get through an impossible time – a way to keep sane and keep from falling in the abyss.
The authors of the following books are testimony to not only our need to laugh but to find healing within its grasps.
“I’d Rather Laugh”, by Linda Richman tells a personal story of trauma and intense emotional pain and how learning to laugh through even the greatest of these pains, not only helped her survive but to heal. It is a moving story that all of us can identify with and know that there is hope and healing from any pain.
51HIxo3Z9fL__AA160_”The Healing Power of Humor” by Allen Klein, is an older book, but well worth the time to read. Not only does he share his own story, but tells us why it is so important that we learn to laugh and gives us tips on how to get through “loss, setbacks, upsets, disappointments, difficulties, trials, tribulations and all that not-so-funny stuff”.
I learned the subtle skill of humor from my husband who could find humor in all things while being sensitive to the space of another.
Every day we have the opportunity to begin again – to start over – to write a new chapter in our life story.
We can choose to find solutions instead of dwelling on the insolvability of problems.
We can focus on all our blessings instead of all the things we think we have to have.
We can focus on love instead of hate – laughter instead of crying. We choose our focus.
Love, Laughter and Grace
Every day we are graced with a new beginning. Within each day we can purposefully look for the grace of God in our pain, make a decision to laugh in the midst of our struggles and accept God’s gift of love and then apply it throughout the day.