Dr. Wendy Walsh: Recently, an acquaintance was served a form of cancer that no one orders. Katie's the best friend of a friend of mine, and I've met her just a few times. So it's with unearned intimacy that I find myself erupting into uncomfortable giggles about her cancer -- well, not her cancer per se. The catalyst is a series of e-mail updates that her circle is sending around. See, Katie and her husband are actors, and their acerbic wit is a treat to read. I find myself delightfully smirking about nose tubes, upside-down cell phones that lead callers to believe that Katie's voice is gone and a loony day-nurse who should be admitted to a certain ward herself. And somehow I know that this humor is helping Katie get through her ordeal.
, the father of modern psychology, was the first to point out that humor is a healthy defense against pain. Katie would want me to make it clear here that Freud meant emotional
pain, because her post-surgery stomach is positively aching with the pain of laughing so hard.
The science is this: A couple of things happen when tragedy turns to comedy. First, we reframe our problems, looking at them from a perspective that is far less depressing. Then, as we laugh at the absurdity of our situation, happy hormones are released and we actually feel better.
Take the example of Kim Henderson
, a mom whose Army husband, Roger, is stationed in South Korea
. The distance is a hardship that many families couldn't tolerate. But Kim has started a new tradition with her two small children -- one that involves something as silly as Hallmark.com
's new "hoops&yoyo Cards With Sound." Each e-card is packed with family-friendly jokes recorded in the silly voices of the hoops&yoyo characters. The kids use the laughter to connect with Dad, whose spirits are staying high. For this family, using humor to connect makes the pain of separation a tad bit lighter.
So, how can every family inject a little humor into their lives? Well, it starts with a mindset. We have to look at life in the quirky way that a comedian does. For instance, yesterday my kids were home alone for a few hours. (The law says it's OK when kids are 12 or over, and my kids are very responsible.) My concern wasn't their safety; it was the state my house would be in when I returned. So as I pulled into my garage, I told myself to expect the worst and to find it funny. Rather than yelling at my kids, I made a secret plan to keep their spirits high by putting on hip-hop music (gasp!) and dancing around while cleaning up. And it worked! I laughed about their bad housekeeping skills, and they laughed at my terrible dancing. I admit: Looking at the four empty ice-cream bowls (evidence of what had constituted their lunch!) was a bit challenging, but I managed to laugh it off -- and I served extra broccoli for dinner.
In the end, humor is all in our heads. It's just a matter of focusing on the absurdity of our troubles.