Laugh at Yourself Before Anyone Else Can

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I had a laugh in the locker room today. When I finished my aquatic exercise class, I discovered that I had forgotten to pack underwear and socks for the trip home. Here in Ohio the weather is turning chilly, and I had to come home “commando” (a Seinfeld reference). Instead of fretting about it or being mad at myself, I chose to chuckle at my forgetfulness and invoke a part of my sense of humor that I have been practicing for many years: laughing at myself. It is a way of life for me.

Some of my favorite ways of laughing at myself are caricatures and silly photos, which I will sprinkle around this blog, like this…

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A recent caricature by Bruce Blitz

How did I arrive at this? What does this have to do with laughter therapy?

My laughter therapy courses capitalize on the intelligent intersection of:

  • The psychology of humor
  • The science of laughter
  • The experience of mirth

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Especially in the Western world, there are many guidelines and cautions for developing a useful, effective, and positive sense of humor. Joel Goodman, EdD, founder of The Humor Project, taught Seven Golden Rules for Keeping Humor Positive. I have found these particularly useful. They have stood the test of time for me. Since 1984, I have re-taught them many times as humor education and as therapeutic tactics. The Rule I want to focus on in this blog is “Instead of laughing at others, take the joke on yourself”.

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Goodman’s Rules fit nicely with a theory of therapy and recovery that I learned from another teacher, Pia Mellody, a nationally recognized authority on codependence, and consultant at The Meadows, a treatment center for addictions in Wickenburg, Arizona, created a set of assumptions and strategies for (1) raising children to be fully functional adults, and (2) moving dysfunctional adults -including those stuck in a variety of compulsive behaviors and addictions- closer to healthy, mature functioning.

Mellody traced the origins of codependence back to childhood and a wide range of emotional, spiritual, intellectual, physical, and sexual abuses. She created a path to recovery from the five core symptoms of codependence, which is explained in terms that encompass many dysfunctional thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and behaviors.

Her set of theoretical stratagems served me well in my practice of psychotherapy and therapeutic communities. Her methods are based on the proposition that there are five conditions that every human being is born with. And, proper attention to these conditions during early developmental stages, eventually yields a fully functional mature adult. Proper attention to these conditions in dysfunctional adults is remedial and therapeutic. The five conditions are: Valuable, Imperfect, Vulnerable, Immature, Dependent.

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Mellody taught that being imperfect is a given, i.e., sooner or later we all make mistakes and, while improvement is almost always possible, perfection is unattainable. Struggling to be perfect, coming down hard over imperfections in yourself and others contributes to dysfunctional and codependent attitudes and behaviors. Compulsive behaviors are the compensatory tactics we engage in to try to soothe the emotional pain of not being on good terms with our imperfections (or any of the four other fundamental conditions of being human).

Goodman’s Golden Rule of taking the joke on yourself is not the same thing as self-deprecating humor, which belittles or undervalues oneself. Instead, he insists that you do not put yourself down, but use humor in a kindly way toward yourself to show that you are comfortable with being imperfect, with being human, and can take yourself lightly. I have found this to be a powerful component of a terrific, functional sense of humor.

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A baker’s dozen of quotes to put that into perspective
1. Laugh at yourself first before anyone else can. -Elsa Maxwell
2. If you can’t laugh at yourself, then who can you laugh at? -Tiger Woods
3. Never be afraid to laugh at yourself. after all, you could be missing out on the joke of the century. -Dame Edna Everage
4. Blessed are we who can laugh at ourselves for we shall never cease to be amused. -Anon.
5. The ability to laugh at yourself is a trait you should acquire at a young age. You will need it many times in your life. -Linda Poindexter
6. To laugh at yourself is to love yourself. -Mickey Mouse
7. You grow up the day you have your first real laugh—at yourself. -Ethel Barrymore
8. I think laughter is the best medicine. If you can’t laugh at yourself then you can’t laugh at life and the silliness of it all. -David Hasselhoff
9. Laugh at yourself for man is most comical when he takes himself too seriously. -Og Mandino
10. Why can angels fly? Because they take themselves lightly. -Anon
11. If evil be spoken of you, and it be true, correct yourself. If it be a lie, laugh at it. -Epictetus
12. If you would not be laughed at, be the first to laugh at yourself. -Benjamin Franklin
13. When you can laugh at yourself, no one can make a fool of you. -Joan Rivers

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Recently, I found two wonderful examples of laughing at one’s self – even when facing some of life’s most difficult challenges.

rajiv-and-cartoon Rajiv Samant, MD, is a radiation oncologist at The Ottawa Hospital and an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa. He has been caring for cancer patients for over 25 years, and has gained much wisdom from his patients and colleagues during that time. Many people view cancer as all doom and gloom and think that his job must be very serious, sad and depressing all the time. However, there is much more humor and positivity when dealing with cancer patients than you might think. In fact, since cancer will affect almost half of all North Americans, it might be beneficial to deal with it in a positive way! He has decided to show people that working with cancer patients can be filled with laughter and smiles. This is why he published his book titled “Smiles from the Clinic: A humorous look at cancer” and wants to share with everyone the true, funny stories and experiences that he has witnessed in his day-to-day work. His prescription for everyone, including those with cancer and those without it, is a daily dose of smiles and humor – and you don’t need to go to the pharmacy to get this since is all around you! Dr. Samant recently joined the Professional Advisory Committee of World Laughter Tour.

Joline Atkins explains the importance of laughter by showing a video of her bloopers from the past year of filming ‘For the health of it’.

So, now I’m imagining making a video of all of my bloopers for even just one day. Ha!

How about you? Here’s to laughing at our own foibles while we seek to do better but not to be perfect.

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Get your first look at the 2017 schedule of certification workshops for How to Create Therapeutic Laughter -more will be scheduled- and how to have a workshop near you. This is the only training of it’s kind approved for professional continuing education.