• mbgarvey

Be Fun and Funny, Even During a Pandemic

Being funny is highly valued in our family. I’m not saying we are all hilarious, but we provide each other with a generous and enthusiastic audience and we definitely appreciate people who make us laugh. Humor is probably the most common, intimate thread in our communication tapestry. My daughter can hardly meet someone new without prefacing it with, “are they funny?” And, as a parent, I’ve given up on trying to model appropriate or acceptable humor, and have defaulted instead to, “just know your audience.”

There is a lot of suffering going on right now. People are struggling in big and small ways, but there is still room for humor. (I say this recognizing that I am in a very privileged position not to be coping with any major hardship that jeopardizes life as I know it. Others, I am acutely aware, may not have the same experience). Still it is okay, maybe even critical, to embrace humor right now. Elizabeth Gilbert, best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic, put it in a way that resonated for me recently. She said:

“Humor has to be shot through the entirety of your life or you really are not going to make it through Earth School. Because Earth School is a hard school. It’s a hard assignment. And humor is literally grace. We may not be able to survive without it.”

Humor is grace. I love that. It gives us the strength to persevere, the power to heal even. The psychological benefits of humor are well established. It draws people together in ways that facilitates healthy changes in our physical and emotional health.

• Physically, laughter strengthens our immune system, diminishes pain and protects our body from the long term impact of stress. Physiologically, laughter relaxes our whole body, releases physical tension and produces endorphins, which promote an overall sense of well-being. Additionally, our immune system is enhanced by decreased stress hormones and increased infection fighting antibodies. Some studies even suggest that laughter fights heart disease and may help us live longer.

• Emotionally, humor and laughter help us to access another perspective and lightens our load. Humor can improve mood and increase playfulness, joy and optimism. Anxiety, tension and stress can be diminished, as can even more intense emotions like grief or shame. Emotional and physical resilience is strengthened by laughter.

• Socially, humor has the capacity to strengthen relationships, make us more attractive to others, enhance teamwork, and defuse conflict, anger or self-blame. Laughter can inspire hope, connect us with others more intimately and move us towards forgiveness.

Study after study demonstrates the power of humor and laughter to boost us physically, emotionally and mentally. Which is great, because what a nice thing to focus on (as opposed to, say, the benefits of house work or flossing or doing your taxes). Humor and laughter are like any strengths. There is muscle memory. The more you focus on it, the more it develops. The more you practice it, the more you can access it.

Here are some little ways to cultivate humor and laughter in your daily life:

• Smile. It alters your physiology and engages others. It’s contagious and it is often the prelude to laughter.

• Practice gratitude and focus on the positive. It will distance you from your negative thoughts.

• Move toward laughter when you hear it. Seek it out.

• Gravitate toward playful, funny people.

• Have the ability to laugh at yourself. Kindly.

• Make time for fun activities. Safeguard time for play or amusement.

• Find the absurd in difficult situations. There’s irony everywhere.

• Tell jokes and funny stories and laugh at other people's jokes and funny stories. Share what makes you laugh.

• Give up on the myth of perfect and embrace awkward, quirky and real, which means showing up in your own unique way. Take risks.

• Don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugh at your mistakes.

In my mind, humor and laughter are – most importantly - a path to connection. A spirited, joyful, genuine, generous, often uninhibited path to connect with others. In the words of one of my all-time favorites, social worker and researcher Brene Brown states:

“Laughter is a spiritual form of communication. Without words, we can say to one another: I get it. I am with you. It embodies relief and connection when we embrace the power of sharing our stories.”

So, let’s be funny and laugh.

P.S. Now is not the time to binge watch doom and gloom, or cue up Contagion OnDemand (one of the most watched moves during this pandemic). Think expansive, funny. Try John Mulaney’s stand up: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City Music Hall or The Comeback Kid.