Thus far, I've shared with you the life lessons I've learned on generosity, gratitude, forgiveness, courage, and love. Louise L. Hay said "I return to the basics of life: forgiveness, courage, gratitude, love and humor." I agree. This is the last lesson and it's about humor. I believe I've saved the best for last.
Humor is so important to my life. I've heard all my days that "laughter is the best medicine" and I believe it. There is very little in my life that helps my general demeanor more than a hearty belly laugh.
Some of my choices for humor are a bit offbeat. Garrison Keillor, author of "The Prairie Home Companion," is a favorite. He once said, “Anyone who thinks sitting in church can make you a Christian must also think that sitting in a garage can make you a car.” Albert Einstein is someone else whose quick wit makes me laugh out loud, which was not what I was expecting from a scientist (of all people). He once said, “The difference between genius and stupidity is; genius has its limits.” I can only speak for myself, but both those quotes just crack me up, probably because they are so true.
Other favorites are more typical of what you would expect a humorist to be. For example, Woody Allen has one of my favorite all-time quotes - “I'm not afraid of death; I just don't want to be there when it happens.” And Mark Twain might have had a point when he said, “Go to heaven for the climate and hell for the company.” I can look up humorous quotes whenever I'm having a bad moment, and within minutes, I'm laughing.
Everyone's humor is a little different. I have a close friend with whom I share some of my humor, and we are grateful that each of us understands dark humor. We get each other's quips and jokes and we don't have to censor ourselves when we're sharing. It's a freedom that I cherish - and there's a huge comfort in knowing that there's at least one other person on the planet who laughs at my sense of humor. I laugh at hers as well. When we're together, or even on the phone, we often wind up laughing to the point of side-splitting, gut wrenching, "tears too close to the bladder" laughter. It's always a huge catharsis of emotion, and we both hang up feeling much better than we were when the conversation started.
Another dear friend turned me on to the humor of Jeanne Robertson a couple of years ago. A former Miss North Carolina, Robertson has a myriad of clips available on www.youtube.com and whenever I'm feeling particularly downcast or just plain miserable, I can head over to youtube and watch one of her clips and come away with a renewed sense that life is worth living, because Jeanne makes me laugh out loud. She is a humorist in the best sense - no profanity, nothing coarse or vulgar - just good old-fashioned laughter.
The first person I remember being able to make me laugh that way was Bill Cosby. Oh my goodness, I must have played his albums to death while I was growing up. When he would relate the stories of him and his brother, Russell, I laughed until tears ran down my cheeks. As an adult, Cosby still makes me laugh. There have been so many others who have brought laughter to my life.
Call me old-fashioned, but Johnny Carson will never be surpassed in the laughter department by any other "Tonight Show" host. Carson's lift of an eyebrow, a slight change in his facial expression did more to evoke a laugh than most jokes told by today's talk show hosts. I used to love it when Carson had the zoo animals on. It was almost a guarantee of a side-splitting moment of laughter. And can anyone forget the famous Ed Ames' sketch with the tomahawk throw? I laugh just thinking about it. Ames threw the tomahawk at a wooden cutout of a man and the tomahawk landed in the man's most private region. Carson's reaction was priceless and the entire set broke up for a good while. Priceless!
Why is laughter so important? For one thing, it's good for your health! According to research, laughter does the following:
- Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
- Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies,
thus improving your resistance to disease.
- Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being
and can even temporarily relieve pain.
- Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function
of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
HelpGuide.org explains that laughter makes you feel good. And the good feeling that you get when you laugh remains with you even after the laughter subsides. Humor helps you keep a positive, optimistic outlook through difficult situations, disappointments, and loss.
More than just a respite from sadness and pain, laughter gives you the
courage and strength to find new sources of meaning and hope. Even in the most
difficult of times, a laugh–or even simply a smile–can go a long way toward
making you feel better. And laughter really is contagious—just hearing laughter
primes your brain and readies you to smile and join in the fun. Think about the reaction you have when you hear a baby or a toddler laughing. It's almost impossible not to smile or laugh with them.
The PBS series "This Emotional Life" outlines the cognitive benefits of humor:
- Increased creativity
- Improved problem-solving ability
- Enhanced memory (for humorous material)
- Increased ability to cope with stress, by providing an alternative, less serious perspective on one’s problems
Considering that writing is a creative activity, I'm good with the first bullet point. I can take all the help I can get with problem solving. I'm glad that they added the parenthetical emphasis to bullet #3 because my memory loss rivals that of someone with diagnosed dementia. I was talking on the phone with a friend recently, and could tell that he was distracted. I asked what was wrong. He said he was trying to find his cell phone. I laughed as I said "check your ear" because I do the same thing all the time. Technology is grand, but the accelerated pace at which most of us live our lives today seems to take its toll on the ability to remember even the silliest things (like the fact that we're talking on the phone as we are searching for it!) I've seen more than one friend frantically search for car keys while they are sitting in the ignition. As for an increased ability to cope with stress, I can only pray that the laughter I seek and find helps more than I realize.
According to Paul E. McGhee, Ph.D., “Your sense of humor is one of the most powerful tools you have to make certain that your daily mood and emotional state support good health.” I believe this is true. The older I get, the more important it is not to take myself too seriously! In fact, it's important to not take life too seriously. I can get bogged down so easily by focusing on all the horror reported on the news each day. I'm not saying I want to be an ostrich, because I don't. I look at the news and even find myself following some stories with rabid interest. What I can't do is begin to believe that this life is nothing more than a veil of tears. I have to have humor in my life to balance myself and keep some sense of emotional stability. After all, I am well aware that I have a Creator in charge of it all; the best I can hope for is to offer something positive each day in my own little corner of the world.
Yes, humor gives me a way to cope with the assault of everyday living. I'm grateful to actually have a sense of humor. And I'm most grateful for all those friends, perceived (those whom I don't actually know) and real (those with whom I can laugh on a regular basis), who add humor to my life. Laughter is one of my most favorite things. I believe I will continue to search for the laughter, rather than the tears.
With that in mind, I'll leave you with one of my most favorite humor quotes and pray that you find a reason to laugh today:
"Humor is a reminder that no matter how high the throne one sits on, one sits on one's bottom." ~Taki