9 Ways Humor Can Heal

07/18/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Therese J. Borchard beliefnet.com

Of all my tools to combat stress-especially the stress of dealing with my illness or someone else's--humor is by far the most fun. And just like mastering the craft of writing, I'm finding that the longer I practice laughing at life (especially at its frustrations) the better I become at it, and the more situations and conversations and complications I can place into that category named "silly."

G. K. Chesterton once wrote: "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." And Proverbs 17:22 says that "a happy heart is good medicine." I'd add that human beings and their caretakers can heal and find joy again if they learn how to laugh. Here are just a few ways a dose of humor might transform something ugly and stressful to slightly entertaining, and, well, a tad less catastrophic.

1. Humor Combats Fear

I know this first hand, having sat in the community room of a psych ward watching a video of a comedian poking fun at depression. Like everyone else in that room, I was scared to death of many things: that I would never smile again, or love again, or even WANT to love again. I was fearful of life.

That panic didn't instantly transform into a hearty chuckle once the psych nurse popped in the funny video. But the climate of the room was noticeably different. Patients began to open up more, to share some of the details they had left out in the prior group therapy session.

Humor disengages fear because it changes your perspective both on the past and the present. A traumatic childhood episode loses its tight grip on your heart if you can place it into the "ridiculous" category of other stories from the past. With a playful perspective, you can remove yourself from a marital problem that has you debilitated with anxiety. Laughter forces a few steps--some much-needed distance-- between a situation and our reaction. We all would do well to follow the advice of Leo Buscaglia: "When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. And swing!"

2. Humor Comforts

Charlie Chaplain once said, "To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain and play with it." I suppose that's why some of the funniest people out there-Stephen Colbert, Robin Williams, Ben Stiller, Art Buchwald-have journeyed through periods of torment.

There is an unspoken message hidden within a chuckle that says this: "I promise, you'll get through this." Just like the comforting hug of your mom when you were three. In fact, New York City's Big Apple Circus has used humor to console sick children since 1986, when they started sending teams of clowns into hospital rooms with "rubber chicken soup" and other fun surprises. "Its for the children, yes," explains Jane Englebardt, deputy director of the circus, in an "American Fitness" article. "But it's also for the parents who, when they hear their children laugh for the first time in days or weeks, know everything's going to be O.K."

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