The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.
– Mark Twain, author and generally funny guy
(This article appeared in the April 2022 issue of The Good Life Magazine)
Stupid things I won’t do when I get old… “I won’t become a miserable malcontent, a
cranky curmudgeon, or a surly sourpuss” writes ageing journalist Steven Petrow. He
vows to keep looking for the humor despite whatever mishap the future may bring.
One of Petrow’s humor idols is Mel Brooks who at ninety-four claims that humor keeps
the elderly rolling along, singing a song. Petrow remembers writer (and adjunct
professor in psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences) Norman Cousins’ use of laughter as
the best medicine when he battled a crippling disease. Many of us may remember the power of humor on healing as depicted in the movie about Patch Adams, a doctor in real life, who still clowns around the globe.
Research does seem to support the power of good humor to help keep us vital - healthy
in body, mind, and spirit. I listened to a researcher from the Institute of Brain Potential
speak for six hours solely on the physical benefits of certain types of humor.
Additionally, humor can boost our creativity, learning, memory and promote trust and
sound relationships. And most importantly, it can help us enjoy life, take the sting out of
adversity, and crush the darkness of despair. Positive psychologists classify humor as a
transcendent strength of character in the same category as gratitude, hope, appreciation of beauty, and spirituality.
Here's the problem. Our sense of humor seems to decline with age. We laugh twice as
much in our teens as we do in our fifties. And the “findings suggest that it’s all downhill
from 52.” Why is that? What can we do about it?
Petrow agrees with George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old,
we grow old because we stop playing.” Petrow’s personal intervention is to keep
laughing for as long as he can breathe.
After pondering the research, I realize, like Steven Petrow, I have become a humor
convert. Yes, even in these tough times. Especially in these tough times. I vow to more playing around - being lighter with myself, others, and life.
I am watching recommended Netflix shows, viewing videos, and reading books to help
me understand, appreciate, and express humor. The biggest boost has come, however,
as I remember and share funny episodes in my own life and hear stories from humor-
When I was playing tennis some years ago in Cashmere. A couple stopped their car
and the driver yelled out something. It sounded like a question – if I could tell him
where to find a restaurant nearby. Indeed, I knew a wonderful, little restaurant.
“Sure, I replied, there’s a great one downtown on the main drag, The Pewter Pot.”
As I began to turn back and take my next serve, I noticed a confused look on the man’s
face. I yelled again, “The Pewter Pot, you can’t miss it.” He stood there blankly.
Finally, he got out of the car, took off his cap, scratched his head, walked up to the
tennis court, and asked, “Have you named your city's restroom the Pewter Pot?
I smile every time I imagine what must have been going through the man’s mind as he
envisioned a town restroom with a designation of “The Pewter Pot.” I shared the story
recently with a few friends. We always laugh more with others.
Though I have been warned by my cartoonist friend about analyzing humor (using the words of writer E.B. White “it’s like dissecting a frog, you understand it better, but the frog dies in the process”), it seems that things that violate our expectations can make us laugh (as does nonsense, until we reach our teens, and sexual innuendo).
According to some humor researchers, a particular comic style labelled affiliative
promotes the most wide-spread benefits. It brings us together, softens us, and is used by
people like Jerry Seinfeld. The humorist helps us note with tolerance - even tender
beneficence, our idiosyncrasies, anxieties, different perspectives, and life absurdities.
During these challenging times, we may see no cause for mirth, but my educational consultant friend shares with audiences the world through the lens of kids like Nathan who tickles us with his view on love. Nathan’s conception is not of floating on clouds but being struck by an illness. We smile and bond after hearing it.
It was in kindergarten. I was on the bus when it happened. I could barely think
straight. She had curly hair. The day after it happened, I had a sore throat and I
stayed home for three days. I stayed away from love after that. Who needs it?
If you, like Petrow and me, see the value in humor and would like to experiment, go right ahead. My grandchildren love to bring out fake poop and put it where we least expect it. No matter how many times they do it, it always gives me a start which puts us into fits of laughter…even better if their extra tidy aunt finds it on the floor next to the puppy. Encourage, even appreciate, play along with the silly.
If you want to find more research and are thinking of judiciously using a bit of good
humor in a business situation, a well-done book is Humor, Seriously. If you need to see
life with a new slant, my physicist, artist, and stand-up comedian friend recommends
the books he read as a kid – The Far Side.
Try Mel Brooks videos, Seinfeld shows, and Netflix comedies, watch Comedy Central.
My top recommendation is to meet up with your friends and share your funny
memories. Once you start, you may find your lips curling up, your heart expanding, and
your lungs exploding with sheer joy. You may experience the world with freshness and
fullness. Friends may like you again.
But, if it all fails, you can entertain a total twist up. One of my friend told me, “do
not underestimate how good it feels to be a curmudgeon.”
How might you experiment with good humor, and journey towards the good life.
(as always, if you are a subscriber, and hit respond to this blog in your email, the comment will come directly to me)