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How To Keep Your Sense Of Humor

“Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.”

-Bill Cosby

It is the rare person who can hang on to her sense of humor while living with illness or while caregiving. It’s not for lack of trying; it’s just that we wind up sacrificing humor for other things we need more: pride, dignity, a sense of control. But laughter really is the best medicine, because it can make more bitter medicines easier to swallow. Here are five ways to keep your sense of humor during difficult times.

1. Partner With A “Tigger.”

In her book Happier at Home, Gretchen Rubin writes about the Eeyore-Tigger relationship: when one person speaks and acts gloomily, the other instinctively reacts by trying to cheer him up. Most people are the Eeyore in some of their relationships, and the Tigger in others (though some people simply tend one way or the other). When you’re living with long-term illness, it’s almost impossible not to be the Eeyore at least some of the time; it’s natural and understandable. But it doesn’t have to be your permanent state of being if you find a Tigger to partner with.

I’ve been lucky enough to have two “Tigger partners” when I needed them most. My best friend from high school got me through long hospital days by cracking one-liners, playing dirty mad libs, and one memorable time, making out with a balloon (until the nurse walked in and caught her). Nowadays, as I deal with sick family members and my own occasional “cancer returning” scare, my husband takes on the role. From inappropriately dark jokes, to puns, to prodding me not to take myself so seriously, my husband keeps my spirit going.

2. Monitor Your Media.

This is not the time to binge-watch hospital or prison dramas, or read dark fiction designed to provoke moral dilemmas. Put yourself on a diet of funny, and vary it by delving into different types of humor, from I Love Lucy to old SNL-cast movies, to raunchy contemporary comedies. Read memoirs by Tina Fey and Ellen DeGeneres, and lighthearted YA or romance novels that you know will end happily. If your body becomes what you eat, your brain becomes what you read and watch.

3. Take A Cue From A Child.

No one knows how to let loose and find the light in life better than a child. If you don’t have one, borrow one. Set the kid in an environment made for play and exploration, and then, no matter how silly or embarrassing, follow his lead. If she wants to crawl through tunnels and slide down slides, do it. If he smears ice cream all over his face, do that too. It won’t take long before you find your fun-loving inner child. (If you’re unable to physically do what the child does, that’s fine, too- just watch and live vicariously.)

4. Fake It Till You Make It. 

Laugh. Right now. Just laugh. It’ll start out fake, but eventually it’ll turn real. Laughter is contagious, and you can infect yourself. Once you’ve found how well it works, plan it into your day. Make a “laugh break” whenever you need it most. Schedule it on your calendar as “LOL” and then really laugh out loud.

5. Make A Humor Habit.

Add bits of humor into your everyday life. If you find a page online that consistently makes you laugh, whether it’s LOLCat or Damn You AutoCorrect, make it your home page. If you like a particular comic in the Sunday paper, cut it out and stick it on the fridge. If you always laugh and relax with a certain friend, ask her to call or email you on a regular basis. There are plenty of small ways to add humor into your day; little rays of sunshine that can add up to serious day-brightening.

What are some other ways to keep your sense of humor during difficult times? Feel free to comment and share!