Once Upon A Time: Silly Is For Survivors

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Could it be that some parents deprive their children of silly stories mistakenly believing that silly is counterproductive? Could they believe that the world is a harsh place with no room for laughter and goofiness? I realize now more than ever, that the silly moments shared with me as a child in stories like Amelia Bedelia and Lyle and the Birthday Party were good for more than just a few giggles. The humor that I found as a child became part of who I am today, helping me to find the humor in little and big tragedies, and helping me to persist toward my goals.

What did I do when my character was cut out of James Cameron's film, "Titanic"? After the natural sadness, I had to laugh at my own inflated ego, thinking I was the next unstoppable starlet (how many of those float around Los Angeles each year?). I had to laugh at the way show business works. And I carried on, with the advice of older, more seasoned actors, and I went on to work on many other films and television shows. But without humor, that one event could have been enough to end my little acting career in bitterness.

What would I have done when I went to India seeking yogic knowledge and inner peace, only to have my spiritual teacher lie to the press, telling them I was an American movie star (I was FAR from it)? The press came to interview me, and I told them truth, "I am not a star, no one has ever heard of me in the United States." They laughed and said in their Indian accents, "Oh, you are so modest." They went on taking my picture and for about 36 hours I was on the Indian CNN (called IBN) every 10 minutes. Yes, it was strange, and it was not the peaceful meditation and yoga retreat I had hoped for. But it was also very funny. I didn't leave yoga or my spiritual interests because of it. Instead, I found a way to make the experience into a spiritual practice. But without my sense of humor, I would have been a hopeless ball of anger stuck in India.

Humor is key to survival, and beyond survival, essential for lasting happiness. In William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, the play begins with the main character, Viola, finding herself washed ashore in a strange land. Believing that her entire family has been killed in the shipwreck and storm, she takes on the guise of a man and finds a way to survive. She tells a lot of jokes, and she is always finding a way to laugh. It is the defining characteristic which makes her tale, which is full of possibility and brilliance, plausible.

Teaching your children how to laugh is such a crucial life skill. When you lose all of your baggage on your way to a fabulous vacation, would you rather fall into a deep depression and spend your retreat in a murky fog of disappointment, or find a way to laugh, move on, and enjoy what's left of your trip? Or what if you lose your job? Your house? Your keys at the beach? Overcoming adversity takes more than just determination and strength, it takes laughter.

Life is full of unpleasant surprises. Humor helps us all to move on, reassess, regroup and let go of the past. And humor's fun to be around. I can't think of a more crucial skill to pass on to your children than your sense of humor. And they can learn a lot about humor from silly books.

Do you have favorite funny children's stories, new or old?