The time it’s most important to be able to laugh is when things look worst. Economic downturns can get pretty bleak when you’re trying to stretch a fixed income or watching hard-earned dollars wither as investments. But this really is the time to remember how to laugh. Humor can be incredibly therapeutic.
Before we go any farther, there’s an important distinction to make as to the kind of humor I’m advocating here. The only person you should be laughing AT is yourself. At your foibles, your shortcomings, your predicament. It’s all fodder for jokes if you are the one making them.
However, laughing at other people isn’t therapeutic. It’s mean. Also juvenile and short on creative genius. All the great comedians know this, but you don’t have to do stand up to benefit from that insight. Laugh with other people. Laugh at yourself–even if you are looking at bankruptcy, foreclosure, or having to live with your impossibly messy younger brother because of this pesky economic downturn.
Because laughter really is good medicine. Norman Cousins was facing an incurable spine disease when he chose this strategy. Instead of staying in the hospital, he moved to a hotel and administered dose after dose of humor to himself every day in the form of classic movie comedies. He wrote about the experience in Anatomy of an Illness, reporting that if he laughed for three hours in the morning, he would be pain free the rest of the day. Laughter can be even more effective with emotional pain.
So find some ways to laugh. Martha Beck dedicates a whole chapter to laughter in The Joy Diet–and her writing is definitely laugh therapy. As one option, she suggests silliness. I am so pleased. I’ve been a personal fan of silliness my whole life, but it gets a really bad rap. Silliness in this culture is construed as flightiness, naiveté, and a lack of appreciation for the seriousness of the situation. What a waste of a good tool.
Silliness can do more to help you let go of intense emotions than anything else you can do upright. Silliness requires that you relinquish your problem, at least temporarily, to the ridiculousness of the moment. That’s why my brothers spent their time in the waiting room while Dad was having quadruple bypass surgery inventing a goofy card game with impossible rules. That’s why I cross my eyes when I can catch a friend’s attention in the middle of a long-winded presentation.
Silly is not just for kids. It’s your right and responsibility. Do something silly today and make the world a better place.
One way to be silly when times are tight is with games that make cutting back more fun. At one point when my then husband and I were coping with an economic gap, we started a contest to see who could use their paper lunch bag more times. Right, the idea is to be able to throw them away when you are done with your lunch. But how much fun is that? He won–I think he made it all the way to the fourth week, something like 21 consecutive lunches out of that same bag. Mine developed a terminal tear on Day 16. Dang.
There are benefits beyond the fun to this kind of silliness. Have you noticed that “going green” and saving money often involve the same behaviors? “Use it up. Wear it out. Recycle it.” is good for both the environment and the pocketbook. And if you can find fun ways to do it, it’s also good for your sense of well-being.
If you are willing to work on it, you can learn to laugh at nothing. Just “Ha ha has” for the therapeutic value it offers. There are clubs that meet to do this. Really. I haven’t progressed this far. Even when I try to just laugh, I end up thinking about something funny and laugh harder.
You’ll have your own style on this, for sure. But only if you put some effort into developing it. “Style” requires action. Refining and polishing your sense of humor is a great action step for a downturn. Beck advocates at least thirty laughs a day and recommends a hundred. (Did THAT make you laugh?)
When things look awful, find a way to laugh. It can change your mood in a heartbeat, costs only the energy it takes to do it, and has no negative side effects. Maybe we should make it our first treatment for everything–even before a band-aid.
Copyright (c) 2009 Mary Lloyd
Mary Lloyd is the author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love, released April 2009. She offers seminars on how you can create a meaningful retirement for yourself and consults to help your business attract and use retired talent well. She is also available as a speaker. For more on how to use the downturn to improve your retirement and your life go to =>http://www.mining-silver.com