“Laughter connects you with people. It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance or any sense of social hierarchy when you’re just howling with laughter. Laughter is a force for democracy.”
— John Cleese
The spread of misinformation and the popular rise of conspiracy theories on the internet is tearing some families apart.
I know this to be true because I’ve seen it firsthand. Like many, I have personal experience with political division when it comes to my family and even my husband. Toward the end of last year, I wrote about what was probably the worst Thanksgiving I’ve ever experienced. (I mean, it was Thanksgiving 2020, so, how good of a time could I really have been expecting, anyway?)
My husband and I ended our family trip with a huge argument — while I was driving on the highway. He snapped at me less than an hour into our road trip.
I’ll admit I wasn’t on my best behavior when his outburst took me by surprise. I’d just made another in a long line of jokes about his family’s misinformed beliefs that they’d shoved into my face that weekend.
Sometimes, when you’re stressed, laughter truly is the best medicine. And I highly value a good sense of humor. But after the long weekend of tension with his family, my husband had been pushed to his limit.
I’m not excusing his behavior. When you yell at me like that, like my ex-husband used to, it’s a no-go for me, and I was very clear with him on that during this exchange.
But, I’m not fully blaming him for being upset, either. It was an emotional and exhausting trip for both of us, and he had hit his breaking point on the conspiracy theory jokes.
This caused a sort of domino effect. When my husband hit his breaking point, it pushed me to hit mine. I told him I wouldn’t be joining him on trips to visit his family anymore. And since that argument in November, we haven’t even mentioned the subject of planning our next visit.
The last thing I want to do is hurt anyone’s feelings by making fun of them. But for me, having a sense of humor about a difficult issue, in a private setting, about a problem outside my control has long been one of my go-to methods for countering negative feelings such as anger, stress, and frustration.
A Healthy Sense of Humor
Humor is something I’ve always used as a defense mechanism. My son and I both do — that’s why we can crack each other up so easily. He literally makes me laugh harder than any of my adult friends.
You might think that says something about my immature sense of humor, but I’m pretty sure it says more about his mature sense of humor. Ha!
Laugher isn’t all about having fun — though it certainly feels that way when we do it. It’s also a way to cope and calm our nerves. Universally, laughter really is one of the best prescriptions for better health. And it’s all natural, too.
According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter is one of our healthiest and happiest weapons against stress and anxiety. It improves mood, relieves pain, soothes tension, and activates and relieves the body’s stress response.
What’s also amazing is how laughter can improve our immune system. While conflict and negative thinking make us literally feel bad, even physically ill to a point, having a good laugh can lower stress hormones, increase immune cells, and up the count of infection-fighting antibodies — giving us a boost in resistance to disease.
So you can understand why my son and I joke around a lot when we’re both facing the same stressful situation head-on. We team up and attack our woes with jokes.
Unfortunately, my husband and I haven’t always been compatible in what we find funny. He’ll often make a joke with me that doesn’t land, and vice versa. One thing that works for us is watching movies or shows we both find funny. We’re currently watching Schitt’s Creek (it’s the second time for me), and he’s laughing right along with me, every single episode.
Maybe we’re not great at making each other laugh, but we can certainly find more ways to laugh together.
Actively Seek Laughter Throughout Your Day
Laughter is so beneficial for mental health that psychologists have figured out ways to incorporate it into therapy. In fact, a group of psychologists formed the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor (AATH). This group of experts dedicates its time to promoting the use of humor in psychiatric settings to treat serious mental illness. — “Why Laughter Is Good for Mental Health,” Newport Academy
The study of humor and laughter is called gelotology, and there’s much to be gained from it. But it’s not as though you can turn on the laughs with the press of a button. Fake laughter, like a fake orgasm, just doesn’t hold the same power as the real deal.
And funny happenings don’t always magically fall into your lap (though sometimes, if you’re lucky, they do). A lot of the time, you need to go looking for laughs by doing more of whatever tickles your funny bone.
Spend time with friends and family who make you bust a gut. Have a game night (or a Zoom game night). Watch funny TV shows, movies, or short videos on TikTok and YouTube. (The one of this grumpy cat slapping this mouthy seal will do it for me every time). Make your pets talk to you in hilarious voices. Craft and recite a dirty limerik. Get creative.
More laughter means more health and happiness, so find a way to actively work it into your stressful job or your hectic at-home schedule.
My 14-year-old son thrives on making people laugh. And when he started doing improvisations of seven or so different original characters during quarantine, each with their own voice, accent, and backstory, I was a little worried at first.
But as it turns out, his Jim Carrey type behavior is just his way of using creativity for comic relief. And when he can get me to laugh nonstop, he feels like he’s succeeded in his mission.
As for my husband, I’m hoping to be able to make him laugh more. It may not totally replace the family therapy we likely need, but it’s definitely one way for us to get to a healthier, happier place.