Some people just leave you feeling a lot better about how your day is going. They’re usually not the ones urging you to stay the course when everything is going up in flames or down in smoke. The folks who do the most good are light-hearted. They are the people who make you laugh.
Some folks can do this no matter what you talk to them about. When I was managing natural gas distribution for a bunch of small towns in Iowa, I worked with a corporate Public Relations person who had this talent. For those three years of my life, it seemed like some major thing went wrong at least once a week—and usually on Friday at 5:00 PM. But even when we were working on how to handle things like grand larceny and onsite protests, this woman would manage to say something that made me laugh. I’ve had my radar tuned for these kind of people ever since.
The kind of friend I just described is priceless, no doubt. But there are other ways people help you laugh. The people who are willing to do silly or outrageous things with you are a blessing, too. My siblings do this for me. One brother and I spent months on The Nun-of-the-Month Club—a complicated practical joke that provided on-going “laughter therapy” that whole time.
Sometimes, being silly can diffuse something potentially infuriating. After a 20-year marriage that involved losing the argument about having a “real Christmas tree” every year ended, I was keen to honor my own preferences. But my kids were not available to celebrate Christmas until January 8. Even in the Pacific Northwest, trying to keep a real tree fire safe that long seemed impossible. I definitely didn’t want an artificial tree yet again. The whole thing seemed unreasonable to me.
I was so close to exploding about it that I didn’t do anything at all—until a few days before Christmas. Then I asked my brothers, who were both coming to dinner on Dec. 25, to help me build a tree out of odds and ends. Bless them, they took my silliness seriously and brought supplies and ideas to add to what I’d come up with for getting on with the project.
And thus started one of my best Christmas memories to date. My sister-in-law said we sounded like a bunch of little kids. After the design and structural support phases were done–where we acted like intelligent adults, we attacked the challenge with the exuberance of five-year-olds. We even put a name on the thing, using leftover mailbox letters that had been hiding in my garage. Allow me to present….PoopDud! è
Sometimes, the angels who make you laugh are very young. The first time I babysat my first granddaughter overnight, both her parents and I were a bit concerned about how it would go. As my “secret weapon,” I’d brought along a bin of silly stuff (mostly hats) that I started collecting after reading Martha Beck’s The Joy Diet. Not only did the little Mardi Gras Viking Princess make me double over with laughter, the photo I texted to her anxious parents helped Mom and Dad relax and enjoy their getaway.
Sometimes it’s what a child says. Sometimes, it’s what she does. But so often they are the perfect tonic for an otherwise hard day.
Yes, we are blessed when there are people in our lives who make us laugh. But it’s about more than just having a special friend or a happy child that can get you guffawing. It’s not just a case of having someone who helps you laugh. We’d all be a lot better off if we could help others laugh, too. It’s a great form of giving.
At one point in my life, I decided I needed to study humor. I got a lot of books on it and started working through them methodically. That proved absolutely lethal–I killed the very essence of “funny” by approaching it so rationally. So let’s not get too serious about this. Humor is delicate, highly situational, and personal. Just stop fretting about everything and say—or do–what seems funny to you. Sometimes, you can even make yourself laugh.
I did confirm one really important universal truth about this funny business at a writers’ conference some years ago though. Jonathan Winters, one of the wackiest guys on TV at one point, was a surprise guest speaker at the humor workshop one day. His advice: Laugh with people not at them. Laughing with people says “We’re in this together and we can handle it.” Laughing at people says “I’m better than you—or him.” That’s not humor; it’s meanness.
So that’s your homework for this month—find a way to make someone you love laugh.
Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love For more, see her website www.mining-silver.com