LOL to Better Mental Health

LOL to Better Mental Health

I recently attended the American Association of Suicidology conference. Sounds like a bunch of laughs, right? It actually was. I’ve been attending this conference on suicide – a topic that can often wipe the smile off someone’s face – for many years. And this year, something really struck me. The people that put this event together, the people who come to present their research and daily work in the field, the people who come to share their personal stories of pain and loss – these people laugh – they laugh a lot.

To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain, and play with it.” – Charlie Chaplin

What is it about humour and our ability to laugh that helps us cope? How is it possible to even find humour in the most serious of events or devastating of feelings? As someone who has faced more than one harsh, unexpected life event but who also loves to laugh, I was curious enough to do a little research.

First, I asked some friends, all of who not so coincidentally appreciate a good laugh as well, how they think humour has helped them through tough times. For one friend, finding the humour in a past situation that brought her enormous embarrassment (let’s just say it involved losing her underwear) helps her restructure this memory in a more tolerable frame. “If it’s funny, I can remember it in a way that is OK.” Another friend noted that if she didn’t allow her husband to crack jokes about what drives her up a wall, they would fight a heck of a lot more and he would probably turn to drinking again. A third friend shared that making himself laugh about situations that can cause him to feel anxious or depressed helps lessen the power of those gripping emotions.

I was happily surprised when I stumbled upon Laughter Online University, a professional and training resource centre that applies laughter as a tool for personal development and overall well-being. From a neuropsychological perspective, the concept makes sense. As noted on the LOU website, research has shown that laughter activates the nucleus accumben, the part of the brain responsible for how we experience pleasure. The more we laugh, the more traffic flows in our reward pathways. 

It’s no joke that therapeutic humour can have a positive impact on emotional, cognitive, psychological and social states, all components of our mental health. It gives us permission to come up for air from under the heaviness of suffering. It gives us hope that somehow we will be OK. Some specific ways that humour can work wonders in therapy include:

Freudian theory identifies humour as a “mature defence mechanisms” that can be employed to express difficult thoughts, uncomfortable feelings or painful memories in a way that makes room for happiness, taking the edge off the unpleasantness.

Life is full of pain – varying degrees of it, some of it unbearable no matter how many chuckles we can muster. But we still try to LOL at whatever it is that is plaguing us as a method of tolerating what we would really rather not. When we can do this, we can separate ourselves from the anguish, even if it’s just for a moment. We then become an outside observer who is not owned by it. We can point to it, describe it, minimise it, exaggerate it, and laugh at it. And suddenly that pain doesn’t seem like the monster we thought it was.  


Karen Carlucci is a licensed Psychotherapist and Professional Coach in New York City specialising in helping people through the unexpected. Since losing her fiancé suddenly on September 11th, she has been working on strengthening her own resiliency both personally and professionally through writing, speaking and connecting with others. In addition to a BA in Human Resources and an MSW from New York University’s School of Social Work, she holds certificates in Training and Organisational Development and Adult Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. She serves on the Advisory Board for Aircraft Casualty Emotional Support Services (ACCESS) and has been an adjunct instructor of Short-Term Therapies and Crisis Intervention at NYU’s Silver School of Social Work. 


 

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  1. Slashing the pain and misery of life requires a sharp blade of humor. We often display happiness, but deep inside, we can see that we’re victims of different issues of life. People who can laugh in the face of suffering really deserves a compliment, they are strong enough to understand that just like life, pain is temporary. Depression can hit anyone, it doesn’t choose, man, woman, old or young. It burns us inside, it kills us slowly, and it shatters us. To join in any activities that will increase our serotonin level is a must, we need help from others, we need to change the way we view the problem. Let’s knock on the door of mental health awareness. The smell of compassion comes from the food of understanding. Yes! It’s true that understanding is the really key to compassion. Do not let sadness detain you, let’s preserve our sanity, laughing might help. Simple activities like hanging out with friends, watching good comedy movies can serve as an aid in dealing with this life. Mental health awareness should promote worldwide, mental health is as important as physical health if not more important. Many are still virgins or newbie when it comes to mental health, let’s educate each other.

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