When It’s Hard to Laugh

February 21, 2013

Her question has puzzled and nagged at me for weeks now. After she read my blog post “New Folks, New Jokes,” this reader (much younger than I) objected that getting older challenged her and wondered how she or I could find it funny at all. Good question. I’ve tried not to take it lightly even though I’m convinced humor can help.

I thought Peg Bracken’s funny book On Getting Old for the First Time could help, but gave up on that when I discovered she wrote it in her mid-70s. Bracken writes brilliantly about loss and change, but my decades-younger reader surely wouldn’t want to wander in old-folks territory. Maybe Judith Viorst’s How Did I Get to Be 40 & Other Atrocities would help. Since Viorst wrote a book on each decade from 20s to 80s, you could choose what’s familiar or far away. Without her help, though, I’m left to share some of what I’ve been learning about times when it’s hard to laugh.

Change and pain often make it hard to laugh. Humor, we often think, denies or trivializes our loss, our fear. It doesn’t seem to take us seriously enough. When we’re hurting, we don’t want to be kidded or cajoled. Now I am sure that there are times, even extended periods of time, when humor won’t help. I’m equally sure that many times humor is exactly what we need to take hard times seriously. It can create perspective and give us courage to keep going.

Creating habits of joy makes facing loss easier. The “Preacher” of Ecclesiastes repeats often, “I heartily recommend that you pursue joy, for the best a person can do under the sun is to enjoy life.” (8:15, The Voice) Be in the moment. Live each day gladly and well, full of wonder at life itself, overflowing with thanks, “walking cheerfully,” and “being in fun.” We can practice living with such habits of joy.

Honesty helps, too. In her how-to book Stand-Up Comedy, Judy Carter insists that her students can’t find humor that works until they’re honest with themselves about who they are, how they think, and what attitudes they hold. In hard times, I think such honesty can help us discover where we’re hurt, where we’re blind, and where we’re mistaken or just silly. Maybe dear friends will risk helping us here, but we may have to make ourselves outside observers or compassionate witnesses to get an honest look at ourselves. When we’ve blown things out of proportion or become contortionists or just made stuff up, we should laugh. It creates clarity and perspective in facing loss. And it may rescue us. As Loretta LaRoche advises, “If you don’t have to suffer, don’t practice.”

LaRoche’s book, RELAX – you may only have a few minutes left, shares lots of practical tips about using the devices of humor to deal with tough moments. She suggests, for example, that we ought to listen carefully to the contradictory and irrational things we say, like complaining to a compassionate listener, “absolutely nobody cares” or “no one ever listens to me.” Sometimes by intentionally inflating our problems into end-of-the-world melodramas we can make ourselves laugh and see more clearly. I’ve known counselors who invite clients to imagine what’s the worst thing that could happen with their problem. Push it to the limit. Then they ask, “Then what?” Often it clears space to move ahead.

Along the way we’ll add more ideas. Perhaps some of these have worked for you. Or maybe you would share other good ideas with me and “Laughing Pilgrim” readers.


Living in Fun

"Walking Cheerfully" is place to think out loud about how to use and enjoy humor in positive, life-giving ways. We’ll explore how following Christ in all of life can shape, not scuttle, laughter and creative play. What might it mean to laugh with others as you would have them laugh with you?

Probably the other most common posts will be "Finds in Fun." I first learned the phrase “being in fun” from Tom Mullen’s Laughing Out Loud and Other Religious Experiences. He points to the playfulness of children, who are readier to laugh and to see the silly than most adults. Living each day “in fun” often makes us laugh as we slog through a nearly endless supply of things odd, silly, klutzy, and preposterous. The stories here are mostly from my own ordinary, “in fun” days.

Fun Nooks and Crannies

There’s “Humor in the Bible,” and these posts explore where it is, how to find it, and what to do with it. It’s one way of thinking about how to read the Bible well.

Since a lot of us spend big chunks of time at work, the “Humor at Work” posts will suggest ways to stay sane and happy, to get along with cow-orkers, and to use humor to do good work.

I’m a book-pusher at heart, and some of my best friends push books, too. I even know some folks who read. So “Fun Books” posts will tell about books that are funny and help us think about humor.

Sometimes I’ll brag on some of the friends I’ve been given or share some photos I’ve enjoyed taking. Maybe you’ll laugh, maybe not, but they’ve brought joy in my journey.

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