You may need the emotional release of a good laugh more than you realize. Dan Mathews, author of the memoir LIKE CRAZY, speaks from experience when he says humor can help you through difficult situations. Here are 3 reasons to let go and laugh it up…
“When my time comes,” my 82-year old mother wheezed to her hospice nurse with a teasing smile, “I’ll try to hold on till Thursday—because on our street they haul away the trash on Fridays.”
“That’s terrible!” squealed the nurse, fighting a grin. “These conversations don’t usually end on a funny note.”
It’s fitting that this quip was among the last words spoken by my mother, Perry. Since I was a tot, Mom eased me and my brothers through the darkest times in life with dark comedy. When I was gay bashed in 6th grade, Mom comforted me through a good cry, and then brought me to a comedy club to see a raunchy set by National Lampoon. I recall the sick jokes from that night better than I do the severe beating I endured that day. Humor would bring the same relief decades later when I moved my mother in to help her cope with a beguiling mental illness as she faced death. Laughing about the inevitable brought us the peace of mind others seek in prayer.
We learn to laugh before we can speak. Children giggle all day long. But as we become adults, many of us forget the healing power of humor, which causes us both emotional and physical harm. Here are three reasons why you should lighten up a little:
#1: Laughter extends your life: it’s good for your heart and immune system, burns calories, and reduces stress.
There’s a reason why comic actors like Betty White and Dick Van Dyke have worked well into their nineties. Ninety-four year-old Mel Brooks explains why: “Humor keeps the elderly rolling along, singing a song. When you laugh, it’s an involuntary explosion of the lungs. So, you laugh, you breathe, the blood runs, and everything is circulating. If you don’t laugh, you’ll die.”
#2: Humor is a sign of goodwill toward others.
At a party, when I’m offered pizza or ice cream, I never say “No thanks, I’m vegan,” but rather “You’re kind to offer, but I’m not a dairy queen.” This always produces a chuckle and leads to a more genial exchange about animal rights than would a mundane response. Humor makes an earnest message more digestible. It’s good for your social life as people are drawn to those who are upbeat.
#3: Laughing helps you win the tug of war with your negative side.
Nowadays, with relentless news cycles constantly assaulting our senses, it’s easy to slip into the dark rabbit hole of depression. The farther you fall, the harder it is to climb out. That’s why it has never been more important to find humor wherever you can. Laughter sets off the dopamine-dispensing reward center in your brain, which makes you more optimistic and forgiving, and improves your self-esteem and relationships.
As my mother’s decline steepened, she was on too many meds and turned into a belligerent asshat. We went through Perry’s prescriptions, looked at the side effects, and she dumped the problematic steroids. As a way of showing me and my brothers that she had risen above her manic moods, she gleefully acknowledged her state by changing her email address to MsRoidRage@hotmail and signed her notes, “Perry Noid.”
A good laugh helped us move on—and be better prepared for the next drama.
To learn more about Dan’s experiences caring for his outlandish mother in the final phase of her life, pick up a copy of his hilarious and heartbreaking memoir, LIKE CRAZY.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also like: 3 Life Lessons from Queer Eye‘s Karamo Brown