Humor, recovery programs, and human development

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It’s never too late to have a happy childhood!

That saying comes out of 12-step and other recovery programs. It is a remedial concept that perfectly fits the fact that laughter & humor can be therapeutic as processes of re-balancing as an adult what was unbalanced in childhood. Restoring healthy humor and playfulness is necessary to recovery.

There is a seriously humorous aspect to recovery. Recovery program meetings are rife with intensely unpleasant emotions but the best ones ring with the sounds of laughter, too

Here is a sampling of the pointed-but-loving humor from “God Grant Me The Laughter: A Treasury Of Twelve Step Humor” (CompCare Publishers, Minneapolis), by Ed F (anonymously), and from other recovery programs, too:

“When we talk about denial, we don’t mean a river in Egypt”
“We have to like ourselves to be able to laugh at ourselves”
“Recovery is a stairway, not a landing”.
“Alcoholics don’t have relationships, they take hostages”. 
“The strength of our recovery is in direct proportion to our ability to laugh at ourselves”.
“Our spiritual lives grow with good-natured fun”.
“This (recovery) program liberates us from heaviness by facing it”.
“Recovery teaches us to enjoy life”. 
“Our Creator has concocted a world of many pleasures and delights to play in”.
“Some of us adult children need to grow up before we can be the children we never were”.
“What are the skills of a child:  Openness, lightheartedness, trust, the ability to expect wonderful surprises.  Those of us who didn’t learn these attitudes effortlessly and naturally will have to practice.  But if we choose to, we can learn”.
“When I grow up, I want to be a child”.

As a psychologist, I view the “happy childhood” concept as a reflection of and remedy for the aborted carefree childhood that was experienced by so many dysfunctional adults. Healthy human development takes about 20 years. Give a kid too much worry and responsibility too soon (or not enough, as it turn out) and the result is often co-dependency, compulsive behaviors, and other dysfunction. Properly presented laughter and humor can have definite curative influences.

Several years ago, these grim statistics were reported in Barbara Yoder’s Recovery Resource Book: in the USA about 88 million people are chemically dependent or in a relationship with someone who is. At that time, there were an estimated 30 million children of alcoholics; 50 million smokers and 12 million chewing tobacco; up to 37 million “food addicts”; and, 4 million compulsive gamblers.  What’s so funny about any of that? Plenty. Not necessarily “funny: ha-ha!” but “funny: aha!”

Some of the current trends in substance abuse can be found at the website of the National Institute on Drug Abuse

The recovery movement provides education, support, and new ways of understanding how life experiences, especially in our early years, can leave emotional injury and damaged self-esteem that keeps us mired in unhappy and unsuccessful careers and failed personal relationships. Part of that understanding includes the role of laughter and humor, without which our lives are lopsided.

The psychology of recovery is about how to heal these injuries and break the ties that bind us to chronic poor decision-making, compulsions (like work, sex, exercise, shopping, gambling, eating) and addictions. Essentially, it is about finding and living a balanced life. Examining these dilemmas from all sides, many experts eventually come to side that is, rightly, ludicrous, absurd, or laughable.  It turns out that humor and laughter are among the most important hallmarks of recovery.  Mirthful laughter, self-deprecating humor, and even derisive laughter that puts things in perspective, are part of the prescription.

“If alcoholics have things in common (and I think they do)”, says Ed F., anonymously, “one of those things is a wonderful sense of humor”.

In programs such Lee Glickstein’s “The Comedy of Recovery”, and others that employ the art of stand-up as part of the treatment of mental illness, the laughs are neither mundane nor cheap shots. In those special settings, it has been observed that most of the “comics” take the time to gently evoke the audience’s memory and empathy, building their stories to ecstatic, cathartic crescendos.  The resulting release feels clean.  It would be hard to find a better time free from the risk of emotional hangover.

More than an ultimate goal, mirthful laughter is a taste of what you’ll get when you get mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy. Laughter is a fore-taste, an appetizer, of what we will have when our personal lives and the world in general is less chaotic, less violent, less angry, and more forgiving; when fewer people are going hungry, when more people are healthy and safe.

That’s the laughter I’m after.

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About the Author

Steve Wilson

Award-winning psychologist, Steve Wilson, also known as The Joyologist and The Cheerman of the Bored, has spent 30 years specializing in applied and therapeutic humor with a humanitarian mission. As Director of National Humor Month, he intertwines science and ancient wisdom with substance and humor to create practical methods to lead the world to health, happiness and peace through laughter. More than six thousand people have completed his unique training in how to create therapeutic laughter, and tens of thousands more around the world have been uplifted by his talks, classes, books, and articles. He established the World Laughter Tour, Inc., in 1998, to be a rich resource and inspiration for improving productivity, health, and well being in business, healthcare and education. For more information and