…when you are raised with the gift of laughter, as I was, it can’t stay suppressed forever… I eventually could see bits of “ha-ha” in my own life. Certainly not in the cancer, but in the mind-blowing circumstances that suddenly consumed my life. And laughing at parts of those experiences made me feel a little more alive.The funniest part of it all was that the more I allowed myself to laugh, the more therapeutic my tears became. ( “Finding Humor in the Midst of Cancer,” By Jim Higley, In: Coping with Cancer Magazine, March/April 2012)
“You’re a lot perkier since you’ve gotten your dog,” a friend remarked last night as we sat together at an outdoor concert in a local park. I laughed and said that my husband made the same observation a week or two earlier. She laughed too as I described Maggie’s daily antics that keep me smiling– even laughing out loud–several times a day. When I adopted her two months ago, it was soon after I had damaged my tailbone and right shoulder in a fall. I was in pain, unable to sit for more than a few minutes and unable to participate in the African drumming classes I have come to love. Worse, I was turning 70 and feeling as if overnight, I had joined the ranks of the aged and infirm. Thankfully, it was only a temporary descent into “ain’t it awful,” but my funny little terrier helped pull me out of the doldrums.
The thing is, I like to laugh. A lot. On a class conference call with my UCLA writing students earlier this week, someone asked about teaching online vs. the classroom. “I miss the classroom,” I said, adding that online is great; I can teach from anywhere at any time, but “I laugh more when I’m in the classroom.”
It’s true. Whether it’s a writing workshop for cancer survivors or a regular creative writing class, a good deal of laughter is shared between us. Shared laughter breaks the ice; it relaxes people and builds community. We learn not to take ourselves quite so seriously, and more, even in the midst of something as horrible as a cancer diagnosis, there can still be things that make us smile. Laughter brightens the day and our outlook. We feel better.
Laughter is good medicine. Author Norman Cousins used it to cure himself of a debilitating illness. And long before Cousins, Mark Twain wrote, “The human race has only one really effective weapon and that’s laughter. The moment it arises, all our hardnesses yield, all our irritations and resentments slip away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.”
We all need a little laughter in our lives, no matter if we’re dealing with cancer, an over-busy and stressful life, remembering those who’ve passed on, or simply sharing time with friends and loved ones. We need to laugh just as much as sometimes, we need to cry.
It’s one reason I like being around children. Last night I watched toddlers and kindergarteners frolic together on the grass at the outdoor concert. I found myself smiling, laughing as they laughed, wishing my grandchildren were not as far away as they are. Frankly, the laughter they bring to my life is the primary reason I even check Facebook. I love to read the funny and imaginative accounts of what comes out of their mouths. Nathan, my five-year old grandson, offers regular doses of that particular brand of child humor I find so delightful. Several times a week, I read what he’s said and laugh out loud. For example, as Claire drove her children home from a day at the beach this week, he announced: “Mommy, The Moon Master shot an egg into space, and it gave all the stars color. But it was really to send a message to Nathan, I; Nathan. He just said ‘ beee a gooood booyyy’ and so then I will get a white kitty, who is clean, and I will name her Tiger. You Mommy will put her in a basket, in the fridge but only the tail sticks out, so I can be surprised and find her and say ‘OH MY GOD, IT’S TIGER!’ Is that correct?”
I don’t think he’s going to find a white kitten in a basket in the refrigerator any time soon, but it was a good try, but what’s more, I began my day with laughter and a smile—the best medicine in the world.
There’s an old song my mother used to sing as she did the household chores when I was a child, one made popular at by Louis Armstrong in 1929 and recorded over the years by many others, including Billie Holiday, Louis Prima, Frank Sinatra and more. And no wonder. Even singing the lyrics makes me happier. It’s a good reminder that every day can be a little brighter if you find something to smile about.
When you’re smiling
When you’re smiling
The whole world smiles with you
When you’re laughing
When you’re laughing
The sun comes shining through…
(Lyrics by Larry Shay, Mark Fisher and Joe Goodwin)
Smiling and laughter, as the song reminds us, are contagious. In a world so fraught with hardship and struggle, it’s good to find something—even a small thing—to smile or laugh about. This week, write about something that makes you smile—or laugh out loud—each time you remember it. Notice how a little “ha, ha” lifts your spirits. Try laughing at least once each day. It is, as Norman Cousins discovered, the best medicine.