Article: Have you had your vitamin H(umor) Today.
By Joseph Napora, PhD
"A merry heart doeth good like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones." Proverbs 17:22
It has been said that laughter is the best medicine, but please do not stop taking your medication under any circumstances. However, there are times when a bit of humor can be a healthy boost.
Humor Has Many Benefits
Research indicates that humor and laughter enhance immune system functioning and cause rapid relaxation including the release of muscular tension. A humorous experience decreases pain (attention sufferers of neuropathy) by releasing the body's natural pain killers and by creating a distraction from physical discomfort. And there are indications that mirth and laughter can have a positive effect on healing. After all, a pleasant state of mind is more beneficial than a sense of despair.
Humor is an instant mental lift that can counter sadness, anger and other distressing emotions. Laughter eases emotional tension and may prevent us from acting-out inappropriately. Also, sharing funny experiences enables us to connect with others.
There are countless stories of individuals who survived incredible hardship and who found humor was a mainstay in easing their burden. Arnold Beiser, who became quadriplegic in his early twenties, wrote in his inspiring book Flying Without Wings (1990), "I still feel relief, and my sense of well-being is restored whenever I laugh or find something to smile about. It gives me a new perspective on life; what an instant before seemed insurmountable and tragic becomes quite acceptable."
A humorous spirit along with frequent, hearty laughter helps ease the burden of diabetes as well as enriching the quality of life in general. A college student with Type 1 diabetes told me how her friends use humor to help her deal with the disease. Becoming aware that her blood sugar level is low, they playfully say something like, "Uh oh, girlfriend is going low on us," which creates a shared amusement and appropriate action. Imagine what her reaction might be if they sternly told her what she had to do.
The Myth About Sense Of Humor
Many believe that we are either born with a sense of humor or not, that if it isn't in our genes then it is out of reach. Surely, early experiences influence our ability to experience humor; but developing an appreciation for humor is always a possibility regardless of early learning. To believe otherwise is a myth.
Broaden Your Sense of Humor
As is true for learning anything new, the journey begins with wanting to change and committing to making it happen. The goal is to develop or enhance your sense of humor. Make mirth and laughter a priority, finding ways to be amused, to laugh or smile, and even to create humorous experiences. Humor and laughter are essential to a joyful, quality lifestyle. With practice, you can develop the ability to see humor even in some difficult situations, which is a strength worth developing.
Listen for self-defeating messages playing in your head like "Grow up and stop acting like a child," which can hinder your effort. Actually, we might do well to act like a child more often. Children are not burdened with taking themselves too seriously.
Here are some ways to develop your sense of humor. Practice them with enthusiasm and optimism.
Ways to Develop A Sense Of Humor
Make humor and laughter a priority every day.
Smile often. Even forcing a smile can change your mood for the better.
Create opportunities for fun and laughter
• Choose television shows, movies and books that are comical; choose light over heavy.
• Have social gatherings that focus on fun and games rather than on food. Instead of a "bring a dish" gathering, how about a "bring something to make us laugh" get together.
• Read the comics in your newspaper. It's a lot better way to start the day than reading the first page.
• Use the Internet as an endless source of amusement.
Develop a silly routine or mantra to draw on for an uplift in an uncomfortable moment. Try this one: "I may not be perfect, but some of my parts are beautiful." I'll bet that made you smile.
Hang out with people who have a humorous spirit. It is contagious.
Use exaggeration to put difficult situations into perspective. Here is an example for when you are struggling to stop eating: "This dessert is delicious, but if I eat one more bite my blood sugar level will be two thousand and that would not be good."
If someone makes you angry, consider putting a curse on him rather than acting in a way you might regret later. Use this "curse" to diffuse rather than to escalate an intense moment. The approach comes from a routine by Johnny Carson, the legendary late night talk show host. Carson would tell a corny joke and the audience would groan with disapproval. First, he would stare at them with grim indignation, and then he would put a curse on them: "May your sister be popular . . . with the police." The point is that whether the curse is spoken or simply a thought, it lightens the situation and does no harm.
When Humor Isn't Funny
Using humor to deny the seriousness of a situation does not work. I am reminded of the patient, whose blood sugar levels were extremely high, laughingly saying, "Hey, you have to die from something." Not funny. Facing his fears rather than trying to mask them with pretense would be much healthier.
It is wrong too, if not cruel, to use humor with hostile intent. Similarly, humor that is offensive to gender, race, faith or ethnicity is inappropriate. A variation of the Golden Rule comes to mind: "Don't do unto others that which you would not want done to you."
Having a humorous spirit means laughing often especially at yourself. It means seeing the absurdity in things that would otherwise tear us apart. Seeing the possibility of amusement in difficult circumstances is a strength that will payoff time and again. The opportunity to find or to create a humorous experience is unlimited. Have doses of humor and laughter often; it will make life's journey with diabetes much easier.
R.I.P. my dear friend Richard R. Rubin
Joseph P. Napora, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist and spent over 38 years in private practice in Baltimore specializing in coping with diabetes and other chronic illnesses. He has been on the staff of the Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Diabetes Center, and the Suburban Hospital Diabetes Center in Bethesda, MD. The enthusiasm of participants in these programs led to his writing Stress-Free Diabetes: Your Guide to Health and Happiness, by The American Diabetes Association. The values of living mindfully, and the use of humor in reducing stress and enriching the quality of life have been of special interest in his.