Post-disaster humor, laughter, resilience, and action

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Humor and laughter can offer post-disaster healing, but timing and receptivity are critical considerations.

“Now, more than ever.” We have said these words about therapeutic humor and laughter many times during the past dozen years. Perhaps, some would say, too many times.

Some of our laughter & humor colleagues have been hard hit by Sandy; many were spared. Weather experts tell us to expect and prepare for more frequent and damaging weather events.

“People throughout history have used humor, stories, music, dancing to cope with human tragedy,” said Melina McLain, a San Francisco-based disaster response coordinator for the United Church of Christ. “Tapping into our own creativity makes us feel less powerless. The psychologist Carl Jung said, art is the cure for suffering.”

Photojournalist Richard Misrach’s video documentary gives an interesting perspective into the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It’s pretty amazing to see both the reoccurring responses from those affected within the community as well as humorous responses after such a life changing event.


Yet sometimes, trauma is so overwhelming that our hearts go numb. When that happens, what should we do with our laughter, with our empathy, with our compassion?

One thing for sure, it will be good for us to stick together. And, to act.

WizeOne sez: The snowflake is God’s most fragile creation, but look what they can do when they stick together.


We might seek a sense of balance in the stark-but-astute observation of George Bernhard Shaw, “Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.”

Some might ask, “How can you laugh at a time like this?” Some spiritual teachers might reply with a question,“How can you not laugh at a time like this?”

Or, we remember Ecclesiastes, “There is a time to laugh and a time to cry. A time for all things.”

Grief, a very unpleasant emotion, is the process necessary for healing from loss. Psychologist Annette Goodheart taught us why grieving can take a very long time: we cannot do it all at once; we do it in pieces; in many, many pieces. For a time, laughter may not be accessible. Eventually, laughter—the great emotional balancer—is possible again. “Just because you’re miserable,” she said, “doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your life.”

We take hope from our colleagues who study the humor of disasters. (Google “humor and disaster” for a plethora of reports.)

The father of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, and others report that following traumatic events, the large majority of people have resilience and bounce back; a small percentage actually are stronger at some time after the trauma; a small percentage have great difficulty coming back to normal functioning.

Logic can help, but it is not enough.
Platitudes can help, but they are not enough.
Science can help, but it is not enough.
Prayer can be comforting, but it is not enough.
What, then, is “enough”?


Perhaps we need to take action, remembering that no sincere act of compassion or charity is ever to small. Maimonides taught that the highest degree of charity is what helps a person be strong and capable enough that they no longer require charity. The next highest degree is giving anonymously so that the donor and the recipient are not known to anyone. But, you don’t have to stop there because there are at least six more degrees of charity. And, it is worth repeating: no sincere act of compassion or charity is ever too small.

Keeping these in mind might help us have the energy and resilience to think about what we can do, and to do it.

There are non-religious spiritual aspects to our work.


“Some human beings are too hungry to be laughing,” is the subtitle of my call to action, “FULL BELLY LAUGHTER”.We could add that some are too cold, scared, sad, angry, stunned, or grieving. Understandably, these are natural human emotions that block access to laughter or make humor seem inappropriate, untimely, and in bad taste.

Read or re-read the attached paper, breathe deeply and stay open to your mind’s suggestions for the actions that are right for you. Then, do them!

Again: the snowflake is God’s most fragile creation, but look what they can do when they stick together.

Love, light and laughter,




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