"Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand," reflects Mark Twain, who is quoted in a book called "The Healing Power of Humor," by Allen Klein.
Pointing out the benefits of laughter, Klein says: "In laughter, we transcend our predicaments. We are lifted above our feelings of fear, discouragement and despair. People who can laugh at their setbacks no longer feel sorry for themselves. They feel uplifted, encouraged and empowered."In addition, more and more research indicates that laughter and humor are also major contributors to both our physical well-being and ability to recover from illness.
Even in the most horrendous of circumstances, Klein points out, humor can impart power and help take focus off of intolerable burdens. Citing Viktor Frankl, in his book, "Man's Search for Meaning," Klein tells how Frankl used humor to survive his imprisonment during World War II. "He and another inmate would invent at least one amusing story daily to help them cope with their horrors, and Frankl tells of a time a prisoner gestured to one of the capos (favored prisoners who acted as guards and became as arrogant as the SS men) and said: `Imagine! I knew him when he was only president of the bank.' "
Even when we are powerless to stop the things that upset us, we can minimize the hold that these upsets have over us by finding some humor in them.
"Humor," says Klein, "can help soothe the rough edges of our day or the most trying moments of our life."
"Lincoln's ability to laugh," for example, "even during the bleak-est days of the war, often astonished the people who worked with him. At one meeting during a bloody phase of the Civil War, the Cabinet sat dumbfounded while he read aloud from a book of humor. After he finished he admonished the others: `Gentlemen, why don't you laugh? If I did not laugh I should die, and you need this medicine as much as I do.' "
In addition, humor lends a fresh eye, approaching things sideways, upside down, backward and inside out - lending perspective to the little and big upsets that are with us every day. "Like sheep that get lost nibbling away at the grass because they never look up, we often focus so much on ourselves and our problems that we get lost because we forget to step back and see the larger picture. It is our sense of humor, as one writer put it, that provides `a God's eye view' of our situation.' "
To illustrate, Klein tells the story of naturalist William Beebe and President Theodore Roosevelt, who, when they would visit at Sagamore Hill, would take an evening stroll together after dinner. "Then one or the other would go through a customary ritual. He would look up at the stars, saying, `That is the Spiral Galaxy of Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It is 750,000 light-years away. It consists of one hundred billion suns, each larger than our sun.' Then silence followed. Finally, one of them would say, `Now I think we are small enough. Let's go to bed.' "
Humor also keeps us balanced, Klein emphasizes, citing a quote by Henry Ward Beecher: "A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs - jolted by every pebble in the road."
Illustrating, Klein writes of a conversation between a young boy and his grandfather. "The grandfather asks the boy about his progress in building a doghouse for his new puppy. The boy tells him that he cannot saw straight, he bends the nails when he hammers, and he often splinters the wood, but `other than that,' says the boy, `I'm doing OK.' "
Pointing out that none of us is perfect and that none of our situations is ideal, one of the most compassionate things we can do for ourselves is not take those imperfections too seriously, says Klein. "When we can find some humor in our loses, in those things that we push away, and in those bent nails and splintered pieces, then we are . . . `honoring our imperfections and chipped edges.' "
Being ready to poke fun at your own mishaps, rather than getting upset, is another way of utilizing humor, says Klein, as in the instance of the pilot who made a very hard landing and apologized with this explanation: "There was the cutest little rabbit crossing the runway just as I was about to land, so I bounced over it. Now you wouldn't want me to hit that rabbit, would you?"
And humor can often save the day when bigger mishaps occur that are out of anyone's control. Art Linkletter, for example, relates how humor saved the day for him in one of the greatest public catastrophes that ever happened to him. "He was about to speak before a very large audience that was gathered together for one of the first Emmy Award programs televised coast to coast. Just as he said, `Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,' the master light switch exploded, leaving everyone in total darkness. He reports: `Stagehands began running in all directions, knocking the entire Grecian set down. Walls, pillars and great facades tumbled onto the orchestra. One entire section of strings was knocked out by an enormous pillar.' With time to think, when the lights returned, Linkletter slowly surveyed the wreckage and then announced, `For an encore, ladies and gentlemen, we will now set fire to Lucille Ball.' "
Some days are better or worse, says Klein, so be prepared to handle them with humor. "When you encounter one of those not-so-great times, have a funny familiar punch line ready. Use it like a humor mantra, which you can repeat to yourself or out loud, depending on the company you keep. Make up your own or use some of these classic lines that have helped thousands of others":
"Oh, what an opportunity for growth and learning."
"It could be worse. I could be pregnant."
"Take it back. It's not what I ordered."
"Don't ask me. I only work here."
"I have no time for a crisis, my schedule is full."
"I refuse to be intimidated by reality."
"Beam me up, Scotty."