Hope in Laughter
What a week. Our country has gone to the polls and we have all cast our vote. We have watched as politicians have battled it out and we have waited as the results trickle in. We have feared what will happen if either candidate wins and we have feared what could happen if either candidate loses. Oh, and we have done all of this while in the midst of an escalating pandemic.
I don’t know about y’all, but I am having a harder and harder time explaining the world to my kids. I find I am more and more trying to sugarcoat our current climate as I don’t want my children to see the ugliness that has emerged. Everyone seems so scared – so angry, so pissed at anyone who doesn’t agree with his or her opinions. We have lost the ability to respect differing points of view. And we have gained overwhelming anxiety for the uncertain future. And I sometimes can’t find the light at the end of the tunnel.
To be fair, I wrote these words on election day, so I do not know who has won this presidential battle. I tend to shy away from politics because I am a people pleaser and try to see all sides of an argument. And I think I do- I see benefits to most all the candidates. For this election, in particular, I have decided that no matter who wins, I am going to do my goddamn best to focus on the positive. Because, if we look hard enough, we can always find some silver lining.
In my lifetime, I cannot remember an election that has been so emotionally charged. I know this passion will make it that much more difficult for the Americans who didn’t vote for the winning candidate to get on board with supporting their new leader. I also know that no matter how devastated some may be, life will go on. And our country will survive. And the sun will certainly rise again.
One thing I’ve realized is that we can all be guilty of taking ourselves too seriously. We can become so consumed with perfection or caring what others think about us. We can become defensive or offended if others question our beliefs. Our lives have become filled with goals and we find happiness in the chase. Comparison to others has robbed us of our internal joy. I know because I used to live in a state of seriousness.
But then my cancer came and forced me to reevaluate my life and the way I lived it.
Remember when we were young kids- if we were asked to paint, we painted. If we were asked to dance, we danced. We didn’t have the fear of being laughed at but, as we grew older, that same fear began to dominate our lives. We began to live restricted by others opinions. We began to find our worth in other people’s validations. And, through our loss of childhood innocence, we all forgot to laugh.
I know most of us don’t feel like laughing right now. One could argue that these are some of the most stressful times we’ll ever live through. But that’s the exact reason I think we need laughter right now more than ever.
In between my three different battles with my cancer, I did research on healing. I read about all types of healing and have tried some pretty crazy tactics. Some worked, some didn’t, but through my learning journey, the one healing modality that worked every single time was laughter.
It has been scientifically proven that laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins and can even temporarily relieve pain. The physical benefits are endless, but so are the emotional.
Last week, I came across the story of Norman Cousins. Peter McWilliams wrote about Mr. Cousins in his book, “Chicken Soup for the Surviving Soul.” I want to share this short story with you as I think, especially during these trying times, it is a valuable reminder to all of us to always make room for the essential healing and curative effects of a healthy dose of joy- a healthy dose of laughter.
Elbert Hubbard once said, “Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive.”
So, while we are here, let’s go live. And let’s go love. And let’s go laugh. And let’s go have some serious fun.
Because, as I’ve learned, fully living is so much more fun than slowly dying.
The Power of Laughter by Peter McWilliams
Many years ago, Norman Cousins was diagnosed as “terminally ill”. He was given six months to live. His chance for recovery was 1 in 500.
He could see the worry, depression and anger in his life contributed to, and perhaps helped cause, his disease. He wondered, “If illness can be caused by negativity, can wellness be created by positivity?”
He decided to make an experiment of himself. Laughter was one of the most positive activities he knew. He rented all the funny movies he could find – Keaton, Chaplin, Fields, the Marx Brothers. (This was before VCRs, so he had to rent the actual films.) He read funny stories. He asked his friends to call him whenever they said, heard or did something funny.
His pain was so great he could not sleep. Laughing for 10 solid minutes, he found, relieved the pain for several hours so he could sleep.
He fully recovered from his illness and lived another 20 happy, healthy and productive years. (His journey is detailed in his book, Anatomy of an Illness.) He credits visualization, the love of his family and friends, and laughter for his recovery.
Some people think laughter is a waste of time. It is a luxury, they say, a frivolity, something to indulge in only every so often.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Laughter is essential to our equilibrium, to our well-being, to our aliveness. If we’re not well, laughter helps us get well; if we are well, laughter helps us stay that way.
Since Cousins’ ground-breaking subjective work, scientific studies have shown that laughter has a curative effect on the body, the mind and the emotions.
So, if you like laughter, consider it sound medical advice to indulge in it as often as you can. If you don’t like laughter, then take your medicine – laugh anyway.
Use whatever makes you laugh – movies, sitcoms, Monty Python, records, books, New Yorker cartoons, jokes, friends.
Give yourself permission to laugh – long and loud and out loud – whenever anything strikes you as funny. The people around you may think you’re strange, but sooner or later they’ll join in even if they don’t know what you’re laughing about.
Some diseases may be contagious, but none is as contagious as the cure. . . laughter.
By Peter McWilliams
From “Chicken Soup for the Surviving Soul”
In love and hope,