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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Humor and Mental Health: Are You Able to Laugh at Your Self?

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 15th 2008

 In January of 2007 I had posted an article about humor that I entitled, Humor, A Laughing Matter. It can be found at the following URL: /poc/view_index.php?idx=119&d=1&w=5&e=151

Interestingly, there were no responses. Therefore, I have decided to try again because of the importance of humor and laughing to mental health and well being.

I have always discussed with patients the fact that when they develop the ability to laugh at some of their own reactions and behaviors they will achieve true mental health.

The point to clarify here is not to laugh at your self, but at some of the things you do and some of the things you feel.
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A Small Vignette:

For example, many years ago I was maintaining two offices, one at my home outside of New York City and one in Manhattan. There was one patient who was able to see me at either office depending on what was most convenient for each of us given busy work schedules. In fact, there were times when we would meet during very early morning hours before he was due at work. 

On this one occasion, we agreed to meet at 7 O'Clock. I guess some of you can see where this is going. On this particular day I was waiting for him at 7 Am, in Manhattan while he was waiting for me at 7 AM at my home in Westchester. We practically called one another at the same time, both of us confused about where the other was.

This was a situation in which he certainly could have felt angry at me for disappointing him or that I could have felt angry at myself for not clarifying the time of day and the place we were meeting. Instead of either of us getting angry, we each reacted with huge "belly laughs" as he pictured me waiting for him in Manhattan while he waited for me at my home. I joked something like this: "Don't worry, it's nothing serious with me, just early Alzheimer's disease." That caused even more laughter. The appointment was rescheduled and the incident never mentioned again.
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Mental Help Net is a web site devoted to helping people who have serious emotional issues, questions and problems. In delivering information on health and mental health we take on issues that are extremely important and serious. People write to us with situations that cause them great pain and anguish. None of that is to be trifled with.

Yet, I sometimes want to ask people if they see any humor in the situations they write about? I am not suggesting that humor will solve the problem. I am not suggesting that people should laugh at themselves or at others. I am suggesting that all of us have human foibles that are just funny.
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Another Vignette:

In my family we still laugh about the time when one of my daughters, then four years old, slipped on a banana peel outside of Barnes and Noble. We were leaving the store, with me leading the way through a heavy crowd of people entering and leaving, when I noticed the banana peel. Both of my daughters were with their mother following me through the crowd. I remember thinking to myself, "oh I bet one of them will slip on that," and then dismissed the thought as ridiculous. Well, the next thing I know I hear cries behind me and it's one of my children who is in tears because she fell...on the banana peel.

We kissed her and hugged her and made a joke out of it that, as she got older, we teased her about. None of this was done as mean or cruel and she enjoyed the joke right along with all of us.

Spin forward to a few years ago when the same daughter is 26 years old. She and her mother were shopping at a wonderful and world class grocery store in New York called Zabars. My wife parked the car and they both get out. Suddenly, my wife noticed that her daughter was nowhere to be seen.

Yup, you got it, the same daughter, 22 years later vanished because she slipped on another banana peel. This time she did not cry. Instead, my wife and daughter stood outside of Zabars laughing hysterically. When they returned home and told both me and the other sister the story we all burst out laughing. Needless to say, this one daughter will never "live it down."
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My point is that all of us need to cultivate a sense of humor about the many strange things that can happen in life. We have choices to get angry, depressed or sullen about these things when its so much healthier to just laugh.

For example, I remember the first time a beautiful woman kissed me as we were parting. We were in the street and it was early one summer evening. After she kissed me I promptly turned to leave and walked right smack into a lamppost. What else could either of us do but have a really good laugh.

I could have thought of myself as clumsy, stupid, naive and any number of other self critical things. Instead, I saw the humor in it and so did she.

If you want to know of a good anti depressant it's right in front of all of us: humor.

Do you ever act silly?
Do you ever laugh at your mistakes and errors?
Do you ever laugh at the ironic events that happen to you?

Humor can be a healthy anti depressant. 

If you do not, perhaps you could try.

Tell us about your adventures with humor and whether or not you are able to be humorous.

 

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

    Reader Comments
    Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

    Laughing - Allan N Schwartz - Nov 20th 2008

    Why was your boy friend laughing when you kissed him? Well, ask him!

    Dr. Schwartz

    i need some help :P - hiyaa - Nov 19th 2008

    i was with my newly aqainted boyfriend the oher day and we kissed for the first time, it was lovely and i thought everythng was going great. Later that night we were kissing and i tried to kiss him properly but he just laughed.

    It completely put me off, im not sure why he was laughing?

    please help! x 

    fallin down - Rachel - Apr 22nd 2008
    I hadn't been with my boyfriend long and as we were saying good bye he said "mind how you go" as he was saying that i then fell down on the grass we were both in histerics we always laugh at each other with each other and at our selves it has to be the best medicine!

    you made my day - lattie - Apr 21st 2008
    i was feelin out of sorts today with final exams coming up nd iseemed more stressed out than normal. for the entire day i felt down and unexcited at any thing until i read this article. thank you from now on i will surely try to find something to laugh oe even smile about.

    Mentalhealthhumor.com - Chato - Apr 20th 2008

    Are You Able to Laugh at Your Self? ....YES!

    Thank you for breaching the subject of mental health and humor.  I know this is a fine line yet, it is one i have taken to heart... Last month after i got out of the Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU), and having some humorous thinks happen. I thought, maybe I could draw some cartoons about it... You know, from THE CONSUMERS POINT OF VIEW. I did a few and a local Peer Network Published them in their newsletter and Now i'm working on a website just for that.  ( http://www.mentalhealthhumor.com ) I already add 10 new cartoons...
     
    Chato 
     

    Laughing Fools - Corey Davis - Apr 18th 2008

    Mr. Schwartz,  I agree with your idea that laughing is a far better reaction to certain events than say, crying.  Sometimes cries can turn into laughter when we let them.  When this happens to me, I feel that I am much better off as a laughing fool than I am being sad.  The trick, I think, is to find people that we can be fools with and laugh together! 

    Humour - MrKanista - Apr 16th 2008

    Strange, I have spent the whole day beating myself up for having no sense of humour and trying to work out how to "get one"!!! I should really try to laugh at myself more, maybe then I'll feel more comfortable to laugh generally. The best I can manage at the moment is á slightly nervous laugh but beating myself up a bit inside!

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