There is a lot of seriousness in this today’s world. We need to appreciate the things that keep us balanced, which keep us from being crushed under the weight of seriousness and which we can use to maintain our sanity. As the saying goes, there’s a time to work and a time to play. There also is a time to laugh (or larff depending on where you hail from). Life may be hard and at times unfair, but that doesn’t mean it has to be intolerable. Humor is what helps the most.
When we get bogged down with some of the ordeals of life, we need a diversion. One of the best is humor. It took me a long time to understand that it’s one of the most important ingredients of a healthy and balanced life. I spent many years in the military training to be serious. I am spending the rest of my years learning not to take myself so seriously.
I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s where a social phenomenon known as “personal-growth movement” swept across the country. My mom brought home a Wayne Dyer book called “Pulling Your Own Strings” and I started to catch on at an early age. Now that I look back on that time, it was all rather funny. It was led by gurus known as humanistic psychologists; millions of people began the quest for realizing their full potential. The goal in all this was to become “self-actualizing”. No one seemed to know exactly what that meant at that time, but it sounded good. It was the key phrase in a decade of psychobabble. Human-potential psychology became the rage and people went to great extremes (and expense) in order to find their “space”, find their “center”, and find “themselves.” Options included encounter groups and sensitivity training (where people yelled and told each other what they didn’t like about them); learning the Maharishi Yogi’s style of transcendental meditation (as long as you brought a white hanky, some flowers, and a sizable amount of money); Rolfing (I don’t think that means throwing up), EST (where the leader called people assholes and wouldn’t let them go to the bathroom), transactional analysis (in which you learned which “ego state” you were operating from), marijuana smoking, hot-tube soaking, nude massage, and a whole bunch of others. Looking back, it all seems pretty silly. People actually became “growth junkies” (and most of those baby boomers are still doing it today only instead of calling it a growth movement it’s now the New Age movement). Since I was one of those and still hang on the fringe of the New Age movement, I can poke fun at it all and afford to have a good laugh when I see how it started and how it’s continuing. The only unfortunate thing is that I never did learn how to Rolf.
I had bought into the movement because, like countless others, I felt something was missing. I was looking for the fulfilled life but never found it in the personal-growth movement. It had become expensive, exhausting, and serious. Way too serious. And I think it actually did me more harm than good, because it began to weigh me down. Then a funny and unexpected thing happened. During this time but totally unrelated to my relentless search for nirvana, I saw two movies which had a more positive and lasting effect on me than all those “personal growth” experiences put together. I saw Private Benjamin (quite a few times since I could so easily identify with her) and later on The Jerk with Steve Martin. I also saw the original “In-Laws” with Peter Falk and Alan Arkin and I must have watched it ten times. Each time it got funnier and funnier. Just for the price of three tickets (on the military base they were only 50 cents back then) and about six hours of my time, I could have saved myself a lot of trouble. The point of all this is that sometimes we need to take something simple and remind ourselves to not get too bogged down, to not take life and ourselves too seriously. I don’t mean to imply that life isn’t hard and many times isn’t fair, I just know that the only way to get through those times and survive is to get plenty of laughs along the way. When I was stationed in Germany and things were getting me too serious, one of the locals I worked with always put on “The Chicken Song” and forced me to dance the chicken dance with him. It’s hard to be sad when you’re flapping your wings like a duck with someone else. It actually works. I still have the song inside of a chicken and when I feel blue; I press the button and dance the dance. I taught it to my daughter. In fact, she was doing it last night and made lyrics to it. ("I don't want to be a chickiee, I don't want to be a duck, I just wanna shake my butt, clap, clap, clap, clap). When I'm upset because her room looks like Dorothy's tornado in the Wizard of Oz :angry2: .......she does the chicken dance and it immediately stops me in my tracks. You just can't be mad when someone is dancing like a chicken. :He He: Very clever for only eight years old. Anyways, everyone has a different type of funny bone that tickles them. You have to look for what you find funny. Older programs like Mayberry RFD are hilarious. Also another good one is the old episodes of Candid Camera. That always puts a smile on my face. They show us pictures of real life. Life is funny. There is comedy all around us. We just have to look for it.
Edison and Einstein
O.K. Now here are two guys that don’t exactly come to mind when you think about humor. Edison tried a thousand times to get the light bulb right before he succeeded and Einstein being a Jew during a tumultuous time for them and working on relativity--all at the same time. But the fact is that both of them attributed their success in the serious part of life to knowing the importance of the less serious parts. Both discovered early that to work too hard or to think too intently for an extended period does more harm than good. That’s why people need breaks on the job and students take study breaks. The mind gets overly stressed when it’s subjected to seriousness for too long. Humor and play break the tension.
The stories about Edison’s capacity to work long hours and endure thousand of frustrations are almost legendary. What’s not as well known are his methods for sustaining himself while working on his famous scientific breakthroughs. Edison kept a cot in his laboratory (as did Tesla). He took frequent pauses and naps (much like the Germans do) on it because he knew that only when the mind is in a restful state does it work most creatively. Edison also discovered that humor put his mind at ease. In addition to maintaining hundreds of notebooks full of scientific equations, he filled several others with nothing but jokes. He found that comic relief was valuable for both him and his staff. He used it as a tension breaker and a morale builder. He said later that people who laugh together can work longer and harder together, and with more effectiveness.
And what do we think of when we hear the name Albert Einstein? Genius? Brilliance? Physics? The theory of relativity? Probably all of those. But according to Einstein himself, some of the keys to life were simplicity, fantasy, and play. He said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible”. (Sort of like the Occam’s razor theory). He told a group of Princeton students that he would have no interest in the laws of physics if they couldn’t be made simple. One of the ways Einstein kept things simple was through play. Those who want to research his personal life will be surprised to learn what a playful person he was. He literally “fooled around” with ideas and numbers because he knew that his discoveries would eventually come through play. Einstein has a great lesson for us: play is one of the most effective ways of simplifying life. It’s what we did so often as children and too often forget to do later in life.
Laughter and Healing
Thousands of years ago a wise man by the name of Solomon wrote his famous Proverbs. Among them, he said, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (17:22). In modern times, one of the most popular magazines ever published is still Reader’s Digest. It contains a section each month entitled “Laughter, the Best Medicine.” Is there any scientific evidence to support these claims that laughter has the power of healing in it? Yes.
Only in recent years has the medical profession discovered the almost miraculous healing power of laughter. And the discovery wasn’t made by a physician or a medical researcher. It was made by a patient, one who refused to accept a medical prognosis that he had only a few months to live. That patient was Norman Cousins, well known for his many books and a writer for the Saturday Review at one time. Cousins was diagnosed in 1964 as having a serious disease involving the connective tissues. He was also told by a specialist that his chances for survival were one in five hundred and that he had little time to live. But Cousin’s will to live was strong, so he decided to assume most of the responsibility for his own healing. He designed a program which required daily use of all the positive emotions. Among them were faith, love, and hope. Cousins said these were easy compared to the other one he knew that had to be part of his healing: laughter. How do you laugh when you’ve been told you have an irreversible disease and only a few months to live?
But laugh he did. Cousins developed a systematic program for getting daily doses of hearty laughter. He started by watching the Marx Brothers movies and anything else he could get his hands on that would make him laugh. Later, when he wrote of his healing experiences in Anatomy of an Illness, Cousins said, “It worked. I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep.” Medical tests done since then have established that there is a physiological basis for the biblical theory that laughter is good medicine.
After Cousins remarkable recovery, he went on to write more books and one of them had a chapter in it called “The Laughter Connection”. Without repeating here the mountains of scientific evidence that support the theory that laughter is a great healer, let me just summarize the findings of Cousins and the doctors who have worked with him. There is now clear evidence that laughter can be a strong painkiller. In addition, laughter can enhance respiration; produce morphinelike molecules call endorphins, increase the number of disease-fighting immune cells, reduce stress, stimulate the internal organs, and improve the circulation of the blood. Scientific evidence is still accumulating more data to support the biblical axiom that “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine”. They weren’t so dumb back then after all.
Some of you might not be familiar with Cousins but there were a few that came after him recently that have duplicated and expanded on his work. Their names are Dr. Bernie Siegel and Dr. Patch Adams. Both have written extensively about the power of humor and hope in the healing process. If you haven’t seen the movie Patch Adams, I highly recommend that you rent a copy. It’s a little corny in spots but otherwise heartwarming, funny and based on scientific evidence.
Laughter Is Not Just Good Healing—It’s Also Practical
If laughter and the other positive emotions can do all these things for us when we’re sick, think what they can do when we’re healthy. If it’s true than an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure, then a joyful heart and laughter should be part of our daily routine. If a downcast spirit really does dry up the bones, then we need to keep them greased with some solid belly laughs. Probably the most important discovery about the benefits of laughter is that it can strengthen our immune systems. It has a way of refreshing and revitalizing us. In addition, laughter has been known to sooth jangled nerves, reduce tension, calm tempers, stimulate creativity, and simply make life a lot more fun. Laughter is the tonic of life. It has restorative and invigorating powers. It enlivens and energizes us. It’s also an effective lubricant—it can smooth out some of the rough spots of daily existence. Finally, laughter works wonders in relationships. Someone once said that laughter is the shortest distance between two people. It has a way of uniting them.
Laughter isn’t only healing, it’s practical. It’s essential. It’s one of the chief ingredients of mental health. We have a genuine need to take a break from life’s harsh realities—to act like a nut, to roar with laughter, to delight in the absurd (Annunakis anyone??), to chuckle at cartoons, to tell and hear jokes, to see funny movies (Watch 28 Days with Sandra Bullock—very funny in many places), and to do wacky things. There’s wisdom in the ancient proverb that tell us, “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest of men.”
In conclusion I will just say again, I know this from experience because if being serious was an Olympic sport, my picture would have been on a box of Wheeties. A good friend of mine said I seemed to have the weight of the world upon my shoulders. She asked me if I ever laughed. That was about the same time I saw those three movies. They showed me the importance of seeing the comedy that’s all around us. Even though I loved Steve Martin, I never really turned into a “wild and crazy guy” but laughter did become a high priority in my life. It now ranks right up there with food, sleep, and air. I can’t imagine a day without it.
A good place to start is the internet. The real key is looking. There is another old axiom that says we usually find what we’re looking for. And there’s plenty of comedy and laughter to be found out there. I can’t imagine a healthier pursuit. Perhaps this thread is a good place to start. I’ll go first.
Eddie Izzard on Star Trek
Eddie Izzard on Engelbert Humperdink
The Evolution of Dance
Edited by Mudpuppy, 02 August 2008 - 10:06 PM.