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M
ind Over Matter
 

Laugh in the Face of Adversity: I'm Not Kidding

© Barry Bittman MD

The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Mind Over Matter by Barry Bittman MD. View all columns in series
Is laughter more than just a joking matter?

It depends upon how it's used I suppose. Just as a hammer can be utilized to carefully build a house, it can also destroy a plate glass window.

In a similar manner, laughter in the context of ridicule can evoke pain, suffering and embarrassment. Yet as a coping tool, humor can evolve into a very powerful strategy for success.

During many interviews concerning the health benefits of humor, I've been asked one question repeatedly. "If laughter, indeed, can move us in the direction of health and well-being, isn't it possible that certain types of humor can produce precisely the opposite results?"

The answer undoubtedly is, "yes!"

Put down, ethnic and sexual humor hurt people. Jokes that might seem funny to one person yet denigrating to another must be avoided. While humor can promote pain, it can also bring joy, happiness and a needed sense of empowerment. When used appropriately, it paves the way past the odds to a positive outcome.

You're probably asking yourself how humor can lead to success. The answer lies in one of the greatest, time-tested applications of humor known for thousands of years and practiced in just about every culture. It is the use of humor as a coping mechanism.

This psychological term is defined by Webster as "an adaptation to environmental stress that is based on conscious or unconscious choice and that enhances control over behavior or gives psychological comfort." While this seems like a lot of jargon, consider these key words: adaptation, stress, choice and control.

Let's proceed to deal with each word separately.

In the context of "adaptation," the only things in life that are certain are death, taxes and change. The latter seems to cause the most stress for us. Anything that veers us away from a set routine causes some degree of distress. It's not surprising that people who adapt are also the ones who succeed. In the face of change, one can panic, become depressed and give in. Yet there's also the choice to laugh, take a deep breath, dig in and discover the best means to deal with new and challenging circumstances. Laughter in the midst of change can be a very effective "time-out.&qyot It signifies our resolve to view the issue or challenge in a more rational perspective. Humor provides the unique opening to move forward on a positive note. Such an approach can be very effective if one avoids the pitfall of using humor for denial.

The second key word in the definition is "stress." While this term needs no explanation, it's important to point out that laughter has been scientifically shown to reverse the typical negative biological effects associated with stress. As a "stress-buster," humor can help us restore an often needed sense of internal balance.

And speaking of "balance," life is full of choices that serve to constantly tweak the quality and balance of our lives on many levels. The key word here is "choice." In the face of adversity, you can pack your bags and walk away sulking that life has just thrown you a curve. Yet if you choose to meet the challenge head on, laughter can pave the way past obstacles while progressively building a refreshing perspective for persevering against the odds. The bottom line is that we all have the choice to laugh, regardless of our circumstances.

Choosing humor in the face of adversity establishes a needed sense of "control" that facilitates healing. When we're powerless and out of control, our health predictably declines. Establishing any semblance of control during difficult times fuels personal empowerment. To quote Mark Twain, "The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter."

This column is dedicated to my many mentors( people who face cancer, heart and lung disease, diabetes and a vast array of phenomenally challenging illnesses on a daily basis. They awaken every morning, look adversity right in the eye and choose to laugh in the face of the greatest challenges of their lives. They've chosen to live everyday with purpose, joy and gusto. As C. W. Metcalf once said, "Misery comes free. Joy, fun and laughter take planning." -- Mind Over Matter!

© 1998,1999 Barry Bittman, MD all rights reserved

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About The Author
Barry Bittman, MD is a neurologist, author, international speaker, award-winning producer/director and inventor. As CEO and Medical Director of the Mind-Body Wellness Center, a comprehensive, interdisciplinary outpatient medical facility in Meadville, PA., Dr. Bittman has pioneered a new paradigm for treating the “whole person.” Based upon extensive......more
 
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