Martorella: Laugh it off
Every January, I am flummoxed by the rapid passing of time, still overwhelmed with holiday cleanup, melancholic from the lack of sunlight, and a little regretful of the resolutions I may not have kept quite as well as I planned. Still, I try to look forward with the wisdom of the year passed, and consider every experience, good or bad, as a learning experience.
Personally, I was happy to wave goodbye to 2019, which was a roller coaster of a year in my house. While there were some highlights, a combination of the inherent stress of parenting adolescents, work-life balance issues, and family health struggles and loss, weighed us all down, and the heavy emotions dominated.
I’m hoping the lighter ones resurface in 2020. My “resolution” is not tied to tasks to be accomplished or better habits to be established. This year, I just want to laugh more.
On occasion, I have been known to have random and unexpected laughing fits. It’s not the standard “laugh until you cry” moment or an occasional snort. It’s out-of-control laughter that shakes my whole body and keeps me from breathing, with tears pouring out of my eyes like waterfalls. And usually what sets it off is funny, but not THAT funny, so I’m laughing hysterically alone. These moments can be embarrassing, especially when they occur in less appropriate environments, but they are also joyful for me as I experience a huge tension release, and for others, as they laugh at me. This used to happen a few times a year, but now I can’t remember the last time. I hope it’s soon.
Lately it feels like we are all living on the defense, our main interactions in ALL CAPS, ready to pounce on anyone who shares a different viewpoint, be they idealistic kids, mothers with different parenting styles, or grumpy old men. The current political climate is encouraging divisiveness and conflict. Social media rewards the worst behavior, with people feeling somehow free to write things they would never say in person, criticize the slightest error as a character flaw, and make personal jabs at people they don’t even know. YouTube spreads joy and talent, but also horror, anger, and carelessness. Too often laughter online comes from laughing at someone, not with them.
In our homes, we’re racing from here to there, concerned about our jobs and our finances, always running late, always yelling, “Time to go!” to someone. Our kids are wound up and anxious too, worried about the present, apprehensive about the future. It sure feels like we could all use a good laugh.
It may be a cliche, but laughter truly is the best medicine, with benefits both physical and emotional. Studies have shown that laughter can boost immunity, lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, decrease pain, relax muscles, prevent heart disease, ease anxiety, improve mood, and strengthen resilience. Laughter can encourage the expression of true feelings, distract from difficult emotions, and give you hope and new perspective. Who can’t use that?!
Social and work relationships can be improved through laughter as it attracts others, enhances cooperation, helps reduce conflict and tension, and makes everyone feel good.
Laughter can lighten up the tension in our homes as well. Most of us express our negative feelings more openly at home, in our “safe” place. We may expect more from our family, and get irritated more easily by those with whom we spend so much time, and in close quarters. Every annoyance can be taken as a personal affront, every disagreement a crisis of wrongdoing. Imagine if we let it go for a bit and found a way to laugh instead?
One branch of our family has always impressed me with their humor. They have all the same stressors as we do, but their house is full of laughter, not anxiety or anger. When I asked how they do it, it came down to choice and perspective. They consider themselves lucky for all the good they have in their life, and choose to view it all in the best light. They laugh at each other, and most importantly, they laugh at themselves. Laughing at our mistakes can turn embarrassments into great memories.
How can we elicit more laughs this year? Smile more — even a fake smile can become authentic when returned by others. Be goofy with the kids, watch a silly comedy, call a funny friend. Find humor in the every day. Assume others have good intentions, not bad, and laugh at yourself - having the first laugh may be even better than having the last. Identify a go-to source for laughs when you need a lift (for me, it’s James Cordon, Jimmy Fallon, or autocorrect fails). You can even take laugh yoga.
Happy New Year! Here’s hoping 2020 brings a daily dose of smiles, giggles, and guffaws.
Rebecca Martorella, LMFT, welcomes ideas and comments and can be reached at email@example.com.