When the going gets tough, how does one keep a firm footing and avoid slipping and falling into an abyss of despair? There is no better tool than a sense of humor. To support this claim, here are the words of three great men who acknowledged the power of humor to overcome adversity. First, renowned Psychiatrist, author of "Man's Search for Meaning", and 32 other books, developer of Logotherapy and Existential Psychology, and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl (1905 ~ 1997) had this to say, "I would never have made it if I could not have laughed. Laughing lifted me momentarily. out of this horrible situation, just enough to make it livable. survivable."
Second, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln (1809 ~ 1865) interrupted a meeting by reading an amusing story with the hope of dispelling the black clouds hovering over his staff. But no one as much as smiled. Finally, Lincoln said, "Gentlemen, 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." Third, like David who slew Goliath, frail Mahatma Gandhi (1869 ~ 1948) overcame The British Empire. How did he do it? He explained, "If I had no sense of humor, I would long ago have committed suicide."
One of the main causes of suffering and stress is a sense of helplessness, powerlessness, or lack of control. But a sense of humor can put one back in control. For example, instead of giving in to depression, a Multiple Sclerosis patient may use humor and say, "You know, one good thing about MS is you don't have to worry about stirring your coffee anymore." Humor may not cure MS, but it will cure a bleak attitude and continue to make life worth living, for if we can learn to laugh at ourselves, we'll always have something to laugh about. Even if humor cannot extend our life, it can end it on a positive note. For instance, the head of the firing squad asked the condemned man, "Before we shoot you, would you like a last cigarette?" And the prisoner replied, "No thanks, I'm trying to quit smoking!"
Genuine humor points out the weaknesses of humanity, but without contempt. It is a commentator of life, not a critic of it. Its purpose is to uplift, not tear down, and to lighten the burdens of others, not add to them. Good humor does not belittle or promote stereotypes, for it springs from the heart, not the mind. It is a shock absorber that helps us get over the bumps in life. Those with a good sense of humor have a good sense of life.
Although it is not the proper role of humor to make fun of others, self-deprecating humor is positive because it encourages humility. It also fosters courage, for that is exactly what is needed to remove the mask one normally wears and expose one's weaknesses to all. It is because of their courage and honesty that we hold comics in high regard. When we dispense with the false notion of our self-importance, we will eliminate a major cause of suffering. With similar thoughts in mind, Francis Bacon (1561 ~ 1626) wrote, "Imagination was given to man to compensate for what he is not, and a sense of humor to console him for what he is." Life is not so much a path as it is a tightrope. By that I don't mean it is a difficult road to tread, but merely that we must keep our balance. That is, it makes sense to take our work and responsibilities seriously, but not ourselves.
Much research has been done on the on the effects of humor and laughter on our health. The benefits are enormous and include boosting our immune system, reducing stress, relaxing muscles, lowering blood pressure, increasing our tolerance for pain, and hastening the healing process. By now, almost everyone is familiar with the link between our body and mind that has been proven. For example, it has been shown that our attitude is more important than our physical health in determining how long we live. That is, senior citizens with a good sense of humor and a positive attitude, but poor health, survive longer than those that are in good health but have poor attitudes.
Another way of expressing this is to say that what jogging does for the body, humor and laughter do for our emotional, mental, and physical health. Yes, it's true; laughter is the best medicine, so we can become our own best medicine. Those with a good sense of humor are cheerful. Every day to them is a sunny one. If storm clouds should appear, they rely on laughter, for like lightning, it adds moments of brightness to the darkest days.
Use the acronym L.A.U.G.H.T.E.R. to remind you of some of its benefits. 'L' stands for LIVE life to the fullest. When we share humor, we are living in the moment and spreading joy. 'A' stands for an AWARENESS and APPRECIATION for the incongruities of life. The inconsistencies and ironies you face offer unlimited opportunities to laugh at them. For example, what can be more ridiculous than the way I look as I type this article? I am wearing long johns and trousers, an undershirt, tee shirt, two sweaters, a winter jacket, and a winter hat. Not to be funny, but to stay warm. You see, the heater in my house is not working, and neither is the repairman - because today is a holiday. I have to type fast just to keep my hands warm!
'U' stands for USE your brain to drain pain with laughter. USE humor to discover delight, joy, and peace of mind. 'G' stands for GOOD HUMOR at all times. I repeat, at all times, for as George Bernard Shaw (1856 ~ 1950) wrote "Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh." 'H' stands for HEALTH. Laughter detaches us from our problems and releases negative emotions; it is the best medicine.
'T' stands for TRANSFORM. Laughter transforms our thoughts, which in turn transforms our feelings for the better. 'E' stands for EXUBERANCE, which is the zest that laughter brings to our lives. And 'R' stands for the RESILIENCE we acquire by learning to deal with hardship and pain, for humor is the strongest weapon against adversity.
Summarizing, a good sense of humor keeps us lighthearted, and hopeful. Like Thomas Edison (1847 ~ 1931), we'll be able to say, "When down in the mouth, remember Jonah. He came out OK." As long as we maintain our sense of humor, we'll never be poor. How will you know if you have a good sense of humor? Frank Tyger explains, "The ultimate test of whether you posses a sense of humor is your reaction when someone tells you you don't."
© Chuck Gallozzi
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