Think of it. When you’re laughing, nothing is quite so bad as you were thinking it was. You can’t hate when you’re laughing. You can’t worry, fear, argue, be paranoid, sullen, pouty, crestfallen, cynical, or anything negative when you’re laughing. I’m always saying that being human is a superpower, and the ability to laugh, to create laughter and share in laughter, is one of the greatest of all superpowers.
Now, I’m having a little fun with fun here, so, of course, there are some things that have a gravity beyond the influence of laughter, such as extreme physical pain, paralyzing phobias, or fresh heartache. I certainly don’t intend to suggest such adversity should inspire comedy. I speak only to the quality of life overall and the need to keep laughter in your heart, your relationships, and all you do if you seek a happy, successful existence.
Personally, I’m in laughing rehab theses days. You see, I had lost my laughter. Well, maybe not lost completely, but it was definitely on life support. I didn’t realize it until the lack of laughter had destroyed just about every important, meaningful part of my life, and what wasn’t destroyed was pretty badly damaged. The loss was gradual, imperceptible to me, a slow erosion over my adult life, chipped away at by adversity, disappointment, and heartbreak. In a desire to be of greater and greater use in the world, my life had become about fighting, professionally and in my personal life, fighting for really good causes, fighting for the downtrodden, fighting for justice, for protection, and even for self preservation, battling against my insecurities, my fears, my ever diminishing faith in humanity. I even became the ultimate fighter, a criminal prosecutor. Being angry is what kept me sharp, like a prizefighter psyched to kill his opponent to win a match. Problem is, just as you can’t feel hate when you’re laughing, you can’t really laugh when you live a life that demands you stay angry to survive.
I didn’t realize there came a time when I simply couldn’t turn it off. I had become so intense, so ever ready to see the worst, expect the worst in people, in issues, in anything anyone said or did, that everything I said was loud and passionate, fierce and cutting. Even after I left prosecuting to become a full time professor, I couldn’t turn it off. The most innocuous discussion would become fodder for a verbal assault that could bring a previously pleasant conversation to a screeching halt. I did notice clues here and there, like the blank stares of my companions, the whispers of people dining at the next table, the dwindling party invitations, the rising anxiety level of folks who knew me when I entered the room. I didn’t think it was that bad or that often. I was wrong. I breathed a thinner air than everyone else as I pontificated from my mountaintop, and even the brave few who liked me enough to try to join me there would end up lightheaded and nauseous. Again, though, it didn’t happen overnight, and like a house perched on a California cliffside in the rain, I didn’t realize what was happening until everything slid out from under me, collapsing into a crumpled mess.
As I look back, I realize how, when I allowed the compounding stress and pressure of my life to squeeze out the laughter, I didn’t just lose my laughter, I lost my joy. And with it, I lost people I loved. Negativity is a drain that sucks in not only your own spirit, but the spirit of those around you. Without realizing it, I’d become toxic. Me! The person who’d gallop into hellfire to save you, to do battle against evil, to rack my brain to find ways to help out and make things better. Instead of being a good friend, I’d devolved into a necessary evil, like a vicious guard dog that kept you protected, but you’d never try to play with me. Life is hard enough. We all have problems, fights to fight, fears to face. Being needed doesn’t necessarily translate into being wanted. Why should anyone want to be around someone who makes joy a casualty of their good intensions?
In general, guys have an easier time with this concept than most women. Humor, or at least trying to be funny, is the go-to defense mechanism for guys faced with an uncomfortable situation. Most women want to strangle a guy when she’s trying to have a deep important talk about their relationship or pitch a challenging idea at a business meeting, and he makes a joke. What women miss that men tend to instinctively know is that the most important discussions should have an injection of humor, to deflate the urgency, give the parties a chance to think before they speak, to ensure that emotions don’t flare up and cause you to say something you’ll regret later. It doesn’t diminish the importance of the issue, it defuses the potential fireworks so that real communication can happen safely. That lesson cost me dearly to learn. If only I could go back to those moments when I was too tired, too stressed, too insecure to appreciate the need for a joke or two before opening my mouth. I can’t go back to fix things now, but I can make sure I don’t relive them in the future. That’s no joke!
Today, I make laughter a high priority. It’s not easy, unlearning bad patterns. It takes a lot of self-awareness. But it’s so worth it. I cleared away the debris of my past, eliminated the stress and battles that I didn’t really need to be fighting, and now devote my life to being a force for joy and empowerment. The poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox said it best in her poem, Worth While –
It is easy enough to be pleasant,
When life flows by like a song,
But the man worth while is one who will smile,
When everything goes dead wrong.
Has the laughter gone out of your life? Have the problems, the worries, the anger and the fatigue of trying to care for yourself and your loved ones squeezed joy into the shadows? Don’t think naked! Make sure that as you outfit yourself to take on the challenges of the day, you accessorize with laughter, the greatest, greenest renewable energy source there is!