What is the greatest reward of being alive? Is it chocolate, sex, ice cream, tropical vacations, hugs from children, a perfect night’s sleep, or the satisfaction of a job well done? A thousand people, a thousand different answers. But one supreme pleasure that spans all people is laughter.
Little can compare to the feeling of a deep, complete, heartfelt laughing spell. No matter your age, wealth, race, or living situation, life is good when laughter is frequent.
Life is also healthier. Research finds that humor can help you cope better with pain, enhance your immune system, reduce stress, even help you live longer. Laughter, doctors and psychologists agree, is an essential component of a healthy, happy life.
As Mark Twain once said, “Studying humor is like dissecting a frog — you may know a lot but you end up with a dead frog.” Nonetheless, we’re giving it a try. Here are 19 tips for getting — or growing — your sense of humor, based partly on the idea that you can’t be funny if you don’t understand what funny is.
1. First, regain your smile. A smile and a laugh aren’t the same thing, but they do live in the same neighborhood. Be sure to smile at simple pleasures — the sight of kids playing, a loved one or friend approaching, the successful completion of a task, the witnessing of something amazing or humorous. Smiles indicate that stress and the weight of the world haven’t overcome you. If your day isn’t marked by at least a few dozen, then you need to explore whether you are depressed or overly stressed.
2. Treat yourself to a comedy festival. Rent movies like Meet the Parents; Young Frankenstein; Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure; Monty Python and the Holy Grail; This Is Spinal Tap; Animal House; Blazing Saddles; Trading Places; Finding Nemo. Reward yourself frequently with the gift of laughter, Hollywood style.
3. Recall several of the most embarrassing moments in your life. Then find the humor in them. Now practice telling stories describing them in a humorous way. It might take a little exaggeration or dramatization, but that’s what good storytelling is all about. By revealing your vulnerable moments and being self-deprecating, you open yourself up much more to the humorous aspects of life.
4. Anytime something annoying and frustrating occurs, turn it on its head and find the humor. Sure, you can be angry at getting splashed with mud, stepping in dog poop, or inadvertently throwing a red towel in with the white laundry. In fact, that is probably the most normal response. But it doesn’t accomplish anything other than to put you in a sour mood. Better to find a way to laugh at life’s little annoyances. One way to do that: Think about it as if it happened to someone else, someone you like — or maybe someone you don’t. In fact, keep running through the Rolodex in your head until you find the best person you can think of to put in your current predicament. Laugh at him, then laugh at yourself!
5. Read the comics every day and cut out the ones that remind you of your life. Post them on a bulletin board or the refrigerator or anywhere else you can see them frequently.
6. Sort through family photographs and write funny captions or one-liners to go with your favorites. When you need a pick-me-up, pull out the album.
7. Every night at dinner, make family members share one funny or even embarrassing moment of their day.
8. When a person offends you or makes you angry, respond with humor rather than hostility. For instance, if someone is always late, say, “Well, I’m glad you’re not running an airline.” Life is too short to turn every personal affront into a battle. However, if you are constantly offended by someone in particular, yes, take it seriously and take appropriate action. But for occasional troubles, or if nothing you do can change the person or situation, take the humor response.
9. Check out the Top 10 list archive from David Letterman. You can find it at cbs.com.
10. Spend 15 minutes a day having a giggling session. Here’s how you do it: You and another person (partner, kid, friend, etc.) lie on the floor with your head on her stomach, and her head on another person’s stomach and so on (the more people the better). The first person says, “Ha.” The next person says, “Ha-ha.” The third person says, “Ha-ha-ha.” And so on. We guarantee you’ll be laughing in no time.
11. Read the activity listings page in the newspaper and choose some laugh-inducing events to attend. It could be the circus, a movie, a stand-up comic, or a funny play. Sometimes it takes a professional to get you to regain your sense of humor.
12. Add an item to your daily to-do list: Find something humorous. Don’t mark it off until you do it, suggests Jeanne Robertson, a humor expert and author of several books on the topic.
13. When you run into friends or coworkers, ask them to tell you one funny thing that has happened to them in the past couple of weeks. Become known as a person who wants to hear humorous true stories as opposed to an individual who prefers to hear gossip, suggests Robertson.
14. Find a humor buddy. This is someone you can call just to tell him something funny; someone who will also call you with funny stories of things he’s seen or experienced, says Robertson.
15. Exaggerate and overstate problems. Making the situation bigger than life can help us to regain a humorous perspective, says Patty Wooten, R.N., an award-winning humorist and author of Compassionate Laughter: Jest for the Health of It. Cartoon caricatures, slapstick comedy, and clowning articles are all based on exaggeration, she notes.
16. Develop a silly routine to break a dark mood. It could be something as silly as speaking with a Swedish accent (unless you are Swedish, of course).
17. Create a humor environment. Have a ha-ha bulletin board where you only post funny sayings or signs, suggests Allen Klein, an award-winning professional speaker and author of The Healing Power of Humor. His favorite funny sign: “Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, and the pig likes it.”
18. Experiment with jokes. Learn one simple joke each week and spread it around. One of Klein’s favorites relates to his baldness: “What do you call a line of rabbits walking backward? A receding hare line.”
19. Focus humor on yourself. “Because of my lack of hair,” Klein says, “I tell people that I’m a former expert on how to cure baldness.”
Learn more about the healing power of laughter.
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