Whenever I give a lecture or a workshop, I never fail to encourage participants to read “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl. He was a psychiatrist who survived the Nazi concentration camps during World War II and who developed a form of psychotherapy called Logotherapy as a result. His book profoundly shows how individuals can survive the most horrific of situations through grace, dignity and even humor.
In the preface of the book, Gordon Allport writes: “Hunger, humiliation, fear, and deep anger at injustice are rendered tolerable by closely guarded images of beloved persons, by religion, by a grim sense of humor, and even by glimpses of the healing beauties of nature—a tree or a sunset.”
I’ve heard many accounts of how this type of humor, called “ gallows humor”, has helped many people in difficult jobs, particularly health-care professionals. Anyone overhearing some of the conversations between nurses or doctors might be deeply offended, but for them it becomes a way to get relief from the horrors they witness.
As a child, I was dragged to many an Italian funeral, which often resembled a Federico Fellini movie. There was great drama as the black-clad women wailed and moaned. Then there’d be bursts of laughter as people began to recount stories about the dearly departed. And, of course it would all end with a giant buffet.
It was then that I realized that love, laughter, and lasagna made life worthwhile. I often hear individuals talk about how little they laugh because of how complicated their lives have become.
It seems that as a culture we have forgotten that we are not simply here to get through the day as if it were a forced march. When humor is absent from our lives for an extended period of time it can lead to depression, anxiety, anger and irritability.
When we lose the ability to laugh at ourselves, we become less kind and tolerant of others behavior. Give your laughter muscles a good workout everyday so that when you really need them their buffed and ready to go.
Frankl said “that humor was the soul’s preservation”. Keep that in mind the next time you’re making a mountain out of a mole hill.
Loretta LaRoche writes the Get a Life column for the Patriot Ledger.