Why We Need Humor More Than Ever

Written by on November 9, 2016 in Adaptability, Breaking Barriers

why-we-need-humor-more-than-everWhen you’ve been blindsided by a crisis or find yourself facing unwelcome change, having someone tell you to lighten up or look for the humor in your situation may be the last thing you want to hear … but it may be just what you to need to hear.

During times of stress and uncertainty, it’s so easy to inadvertently contribute to the problem by taking ourselves too seriously.

But the reality is that no matter how disturbing or unfair the circumstances may be no problem has ever been solved by wasting precious time in a self-induced pity party.

Humor and the ability to get out of your own way can help you avoid becoming mired in feelings of negativity and helplessness so you’re better able to see what needs to be done to move forward.

In fact, those who have survived even under the most unimaginable circumstances will tell you that a sense of humor is a powerful survival tactic.

Laughter sets the spirit free to move through even the most tragic circumstances. It helps us shake our heads clear, get our feet back under us and restore our sense of balance and purpose. Humor is integral to our peace of mind and ability to go beyond survival. ~Captain Gerald Coffee, POW in Vietnam

Finding Humor Against All Odds

In my book, Resilient Living I share many powerful examples of survival and overcoming life’s inevitable challenges. The following story about Captain Gerald Coffee, who spent seven years in a POW camp in Vietnam, is surely among the most extreme, but given the events of recent days, it seemed especially appropriate to share with you.

Captain Coffee wrote about his experiences in his book Beyond Survival. In it, he explains that the POWs were generally kept isolated in an attempt to break their spirit. In spite of the deplorable conditions, they managed to keep their spirits up by tapping on the wall of fellow prisoners and telling jokes in Morse code.

Humor was essential to survival as a POW according to the Captain, in fact, it was one of the few constants throughout his stay in the camps, even if it was sometimes a grim humor.

For example, it was common for the guards to torture prisoners with ropes. When a new POW arrived they would quickly be filled in on the daily routines and how they communicated with each other. Then they’d be offered assurance that “It’s really not so bad once you get to know the ropes.”

Despite all of their efforts to keep morale up the POWs often got depressed about their aloneness and feared that they would never get back home. Anything that could break through this anxiety and depression was always welcome.

Captain Coffee describes an old cell that had been converted to a shower. Someone had scratched onto the wall, “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera.”

You can imagine the effect discovering this message had on a prisoner standing there with his head down, wondering if he was ever going to get out alive. I laughed out loud, enjoying not only the pure humor and incongruity of the situation but also appreciating the beautiful guy who had mustered the moxie to rise above his own dejection, frustration, and pain to inscribe a line of encouragement to those who would come after him . . . he deserved a medal for it. ~Captain Gerald Coffee

Humor Really Is the Best Medicine

The health benefits of a sense of humor are well documented and include boosting your immune system, reducing stress, relaxing muscles, lowering blood pressure, increasing your tolerance for pain, and hastening the healing process.

But there are also significant emotional benefits to humor.

  • Improves mood and mental function.
  • Adds zest and joy to life.
  • Eases anxiety and tension.
  • Relieves stress and painful emotions such as sadness, worry, and guilt.
  • Enables you to release pent-up feelings of anger and frustration.
  • Positively affects behavior – we talk more, make more eye contact with others, touch others, etc.

It’s important to bear in mind that in order to be able to tap into the benefits of a sense of humor when we need it most, during high-stress days and times of adversity, we must intentionally strive for it to become a part of our everyday style of relating to the world.

We can accomplish this by surrounding ourselves with reminders to keep events and circumstances in perspective, and to look for the humor even in the most outrageous situations.

  • Watch funny movies or TV shows.
  • Learn to laugh at yourself.
  • Share funny moments (even if they’re embarrassing) with friends.
  • Check out your bookstore’s humor section.
  • Seek out playful people who laugh easily.
  • Begin today to remove toxic people from your life!
Laugh at yourself and at life. not in the spirit of derision or whining self-pity, but as a remedy, a miracle drug, that will ease your pain, cure your depression, and help you to put in perspective that seemingly terrible defeat and worry with laughter at your predicaments, thus freeing your mind to think clearly toward the solution that is certain to come. Never take yourself too seriously. ~Og Mandino

Your Turn. Can you think of a time that you were able to find the humor in a problem or stressful situation that you’d be willing to share with us?

Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living  click here.


Thank you for sharing!

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  1. Chery Schmidt

    Hello Marty! I DO AGREE!!! Humor Really Is the Best Medicine!! Great Share as always.. Thank You For Sharing.. Chery :))
    Chery Schmidt recently posted…Can You Help Make America Great Again?My Profile

  2. Usman

    Humor is like fuel to your life. You simply can make anything work out with humor. I mean, a stupid business campaign might just get hit if it is attracting people with humor. And we all are seeking for humor when we are happy, arent we? The real deal is to create it, feel it and make it when you are in the lows. I think that is what pulls you up.
    Usman recently posted…5 guaranteed steps to your successMy Profile

  3. Rachel Lavern

    One of my friends has done well using humor in his otherwise dry technology business. His blog has picked up lots of visitors because he has a reputation for writing funny one-liners on Twitter.
    Rachel Lavern recently posted…Avoid Annoying Hagglers and Honor Your WorthMy Profile

    • That’s wonderful Rachel. I appreciate humor, but other than a well-placed quip here and there have never mastered the ability to incorporate it into my writing so I always appreciate others who can.

  4. Joyce Hansen

    I think it’s also why we are attracted to late night comedians. We need someone else to get us to laugh, and we can always be guaranteed that we’ll get a few chuckles. But, if you’ve ever experienced the side-splitting laughs that bring tears to your eyes, then you know the value of true humor. Even years later I can laugh at those great memories.

    • So true Joyce! I stopped watching TV around 3 years ago, but at the end of a tough day I will often jump over to YouTube before unplugging and watch the short clips of some of the late shows. Always nice to end a day with a good laugh. 🙂

  5. William Rusho

    If you have humor only when you are happy, you are missing the point. I know when times gets the worse, that is when I need it the most. I will seek it out, or create it on my own.

  6. Back in my 20s and 30s when I had a habit of taking myself too seriously (funny how that changed after 40!), my Dad used to record the Three Stooges on VCR tapes and mail them to me. Just that action never failed to make me adjust my attitude.

    And a quick story: at my mom’s funeral, with my dad in a wheelchair with ALS and hundreds of people milling around, a dear cousin paid her respects at the casket and was walking to my dad. She’d forgotten to shut off her cell phone and it started repeating and getting progressively louder, “Ring. Ring-ring.”
    She was stricken until she looked at my dad who was doing a whole body laugh.
    Mom would have loved it. Humor helped us all at that moment.
    RoseMary Griffith recently posted…Book Review – “Up From Slavery,” Booker T. Washington, published 1900My Profile

  7. ikechi

    Hi Marquita

    One of the great things about the Comedians in my country is how to make a joke out of the situations faced by the people. This has made me to understand that we need to always find humor when we are facing a most difficult situation

    As you brilliantly shared, there are so much benefit in humor and the Captain’s story show this truth.

    Thanks for sharing. Take Care
    ikechi recently posted…Making a Difference: BlogFest With StyleMy Profile

  8. Emily

    This is so so true. It can be hard getting over that initial sad parts but once you do it’s a great feeling to be able to laugh at yourself or the situation and just let go of the anger, fear or sadness you may be holding onto.

    Emily recently posted…There’s a Monster Under Your BedMy Profile

  9. Sushmita

    Keeping it short & sweet!
    Humor: The Needed Spice of Life!
    Sushmita recently posted…Here are Easy, Effective & Powerful Marketing Lessons!My Profile

  10. My mother was in a coma and close to death. My family surrounded her hospital bed and we were offering each other comfort as we waited for the inevitable. A hospital aide came into the room wheeling a TV. He said, “Here is the TV that bed 6A ordered.” My mother’s bed. We told him there is no way that my mother could have ordered the TV. He insisted and showed us his order sheet. Indeed, it did have her bed number. We finally convinced him to leave and we all had a good laugh. Laughter can pop up at the saddest times and I think that experience helped us to get through my mother’s passing.
    Jeannette Paladino recently posted…The 5 Magic Keys to Employee EngagementMy Profile

    • Oh Jeannette, now that is a perfect example! Such a sad time I know, but you were able to find comfort with your family and that makes all the difference. Thank you so much for sharing this story with us. 🙂

  11. Great post, Marty. I cherish my weekly Toastmaster meetings, as we put a very strong emphasis on humour, and I always feel much better after attending one of those meetings no matter what else is going on in my life. It is my tonic. We each need to find our personal ‘tonic’ and let it get us thru difficult days. I love the power of laughter!
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…The Travel BookMy Profile

    • I used to love Toastmasters! In fact, I’m sure there are groups here in Eugene so I think I’ll check and see if there’s one in the boonies where I’m living. Thanks for sharing Doreen!

  12. Dave

    I can most certainly relate to this post on many different levels and in several different ways given the events of the recent past.

    Sometimes, the most difficult part of using humor is getting over that initial hump of self-induced misery. Once you are able to push through that and find a sliver of hope (and humor) to grab on to, the snowball builds in size – even if it sometimes feels as though you’re building it in the middle of the Sahara Desert.

    I love your recommendations, both for what to engage in and what to refrain from ~ both are very important in my book 🙂 Thanks for sharing your encouraging thoughts and suggestions 🙂
    Dave recently posted…Your Four WordsMy Profile

    • Oh I hear you, Dave! Gosh I can immediately think of a few experiences that I can easily laugh at now that seemed like a nightmare when they happened. But I think the easier it gets to laugh at ourselves, the shorter the recovery time. Thanks for sharing, and especially for letting me know you enjoyed the post.

  13. Now is certainly a time that we could use humor. The problem is finding the humor in some of the situations going on right now.
    Dr. Elise Cohen Ho recently posted…How Sex Hormones Act on the Brain By Dr. Mark HymanMy Profile

    • I hear you Elise! In fact, my Facebook newsfeed has been like a ghost town the past few days as a result of people staying away after all the negative stuff post-election. But that will change in time, and we don’t always have to find humor in the situation creating a problem for us. Sometimes finding humor in something unrelated to the troublesome issue can help create a positive shift in mood. I have a collection of vintage movies on DVDs that I’ve been watching and it’s been great!

  14. Ruth Bowers

    Laughter really is the best medicine. I live with chronic disease and can feel the difference on days when I forget to laugh or find humor somewhere in my life. Fortunately my son is really good at making sure I laugh and “get over myself” when I start to take things too seriously.

    • Oh that’s wonderful that you have that kind of support Ruth! A few years ago I was in a situation where I’d received a pretty scary medical diagnosis and ended up opting for experimental surgery. That meant flying weekly from Maui to Oahu for months and I noticed right off how sad and nervous everyone looked in the doctors waiting room. Humor has always been my go-to solution when I’m scared, so I made it my mission to bring smiles to everyone’s faces every time I was there. I made jokes, brought homemade cookies, etc. It made me feel good to help others and at the same time enabled me to put my own fears on the back burner. Humor really is a marvelous thing. 🙂

  15. Ravi Chahar

    Hey Marquita,

    Sitting like a statue and waiting for the right time isn’t the solution to anything. You must get up and find your humor to fix everything.

    Whether you are in any deep situation thinking about the worst time or your life, you must try to find your humor.

    Watching funny things can help you to regain it. I like this idea a lot. I watch movies when I get fed up of something.

    It’s important to remain relaxed.
    Thanks for bringing this up.

    Ravi Chahar recently posted…Are You Ruining Your Career With These Guest Blogging Mistakes?My Profile

    • Well said Ravi! I agree with you about how shifting our attention can help. I haven’t watched TV for nearly 3 years now, but I’m a voracious reader and have a collection of favorite movies that I can tap into when I need a shift in perspective. Thanks for contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  16. Mark

    This is definitely some extremely good and spot on advice M!

    And I cannot count the times, something has happened, that clearly was not the outcome I was expecting and or looking for, yet before long, I could clearly see and appreciate the humor of it.

    Especially when I was on the verge of clearly of making a you know what of myself!LOL!

    So there is no question, we have got to learn to smile and laugh more, obviously without necessarily diminishing the significance of any given situation!Thanks!

    You definitely shared some very sound and practical advice, as usual!
    Mark recently posted…Why Savvy Entrepreneurs Rely On Real World Case Studies To Create Useful Content!My Profile

    • Thanks Mark! Yes, those moments when we find ourselves on the edge of making fools of ourselves often produce the most priceless stories to laugh at later on, heaven knows I have more than a few of those myself! 🙂

  17. Sabrina Quairoli

    When I had my car broken into and all they stole was the cash in the ashtray and the prescription sunglasses. As i tell my parents this, my parents ask are you all right. I said, “yes, I guess that person needed prescription sunglasses.” … lol. Humor is important. It another ways to release the stress.

  18. Marquita, what beautiful post and a great story 🙂 I like it and I often laugh at myself and sing 🙂 it is a habit and it keeps me happy ,I also sing with my Grandkids and if they are sad we have things we do which makes us laugh and all is good again 🙂 I like your story it is a very good example how everything can change in an instant . There is a meditation called laughter meditation .I watched ones a video about and did a little bit like this in my exercise group. It really changes the vibration 🙂 Great post and good reminder to laugh more often or make others laugh.
    Thank you
    Erika Mohssen-Beyk recently posted…Why Is The Law Of Attraction Incomplete ? What is being left out?My Profile

    • Thanks for sharing Erika! The laughter video sounds fascinating, another reader shared about laughter groups in her home country. I love learning about different customs and it makes me itchy to go someplace. 🙂

  19. Beth Hewit

    I have to agree with you that Humour is such a much needed trait. Of course the circumstances and seriousness will vary, but the ability to laugh can really help. I think it’s important not to take yourself too seriously. There is something about laughing that just makes you feel better right away.

    Beth 🙂
    Beth Hewit recently posted…Accountability AlliesMy Profile

    • I agree with you Beth about the importance of being able to laugh at ourselves, even though for most of us that takes a little extra work. I have a few stories I share about some of my own experiences that are quite humbling, but with the events of the past couple of weeks it seemed a better idea to go with a more extreme example. Thanks for stopping by and sharing, always appreciated. 🙂

  20. Donna Janke

    Humour helps, whether it’s finding the funny and bizarre in the midst of a tough situation or taking a break from the situation to watch or read something which makes you laugh. Being able to share a laugh with a friend or family member going through the same tough experience is especially lightening. People outside the experience sometimes have trouble appreciating the humour.
    Donna Janke recently posted…A Merry Time at Merridale CideryMy Profile

    • Good point Donna about how people outside a situation might not get the humor. I think a good example of that is the type of dark humor people in fields like law enforcement fall back on. Heaven knows they see the worst of what people can and too often do to each other so they need something to help pull themselves back to a better place. Thanks for sharing, always appreciated.

  21. Edward Thorpe

    What a great post with a wonderful message for making it through trying times. Your sub-title ‘Humor Really Is the Best Medicine’ made me remember how much I enjoyed reading a similar titled column in the old Reader’s Digest’. Good memory that I hadn’t thought of in years. Thanks, Edward
    Edward Thorpe recently posted…Why You Shouldn’t Masturbate While DrivingMy Profile

    • Oh gosh Edward, you know I haven’t read a Reader’s Digest for decades – are they still around? Anyway, so glad you enjoyed the article and thank you for taking the time to contribute to the conversation. 🙂

  22. Suzie Cheel

    Oh yes humour is the best medicine and so important to be able to laugh at oneself- something I now do readily. I love stories of healing through humor and movies that make me laugh- maybe enough laughter yoga thank you xx
    Suzie Cheel recently posted…Branding Breakthrough: Yes, Do Be True, Brand You!My Profile

    • Laughter yoga? Now there is an image I’ll have to work on Suzie! Yeah, I’ve actually got some great stories about goofs I’ve made, but considering the general mood right now it seemed more appropriate to make a stronger statement, and Captain Coffee’s story certainly accomplishes that. Thanks for stopping by. I can hardly wait to check out your new post!

  23. Vatsala Shukla

    Laughter is the best medicine though it might not feel that way when we are in the midst of a crisis or the person who has created stress for us is laughing, Marquita.

    I remember my Dad had a staff member who used to goof up big time and then make it worse by starting to laugh when Dad used to question him about the mistake- sometimes one that used to create a big mess along with an angry boss. 🙂

    Much later, my father realized that the laughter was a reflex action for nervousness and learned to overlook it knowing it was a safety mechanism for the staff member. I wonder how many bosses bother to understand their employees in today’s world?
    Vatsala Shukla recently posted…How your feet can help with Presence and GravitasMy Profile

  24. Stella Chiu

    Hi, Marquita

    Indeed, Laughter is the best medicine. It has been proved by science that any sound (particularly from laughter) will break any thought of depression or anxiety in a person.

    I am inspired by the story of Captain Coffee using humor to keep himself alive in camp of war.


    Stella Chiu
    Stella Chiu recently posted…How to have Optimal HealthMy Profile

  25. Jeri

    I have a good streak of dark humor running through me. I draw on it often when putting things into perspective, and it always helps.
    Jeri recently posted…#EditTip: The Cost of Editing (Infographic)My Profile

  26. There is so little levity in the world lately that we forget to laugh. Even comics have made it their favorite pastime to hurl insults and raise our already high anxiety levels.
    We live in difficult times and face daily challenges however we MUST find the time of laugh, share time with friends, and smile – even at strangers.
    Laughter is the best medicine and I love the suggestions you give for finding it all around us.
    InspiredByMyMom recently posted…10 Quotes from Female Authors to Inspire ChangeMakersMy Profile

    • Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and contribute to the conversation. You are of course so right about the present mood in the world, which is just one reason why it’s good to have a reminder about not taking ourselves so seriously. 🙂

  27. Kimba

    Darlin, you know you are preaching to my choir on this one! Always smile – it makes them wonder what you’re up to! 🙂
    Kimba recently posted…Bodacious Babes of the BlogosphereMy Profile

  28. Thank you for this post.had been so worried over some things in life for a while that I had forgotten about adding humor to my life..Childhood days of being naughty with my siblings and friends were my days of humor at its best.I have seen laughter clubs in India where people gather at a playground at a certain time to laugh as it is important and healthy to do so.At first people fake laugh and then looking at each other they all start laughing for real…you inspire me to do so today when everyone gets home…sounds like fun!!
    Priya Prabhu recently posted…Mental illnesses in developed countriesMy Profile

    • I’ve never heard of laughter clubs Priya but it sounds like a marvelous idea! I can see how even fake laughter might transform into the real thing. I believe that would be similar to smiling even when you don’t feel like it – after awhile it feels pretty darn good. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  29. Phoenicia

    Laughter is good for the heart and soul. I can laugh at myself now – something I struggled with years ago.

    Laughing and smiling has somewhat blacked out the challenges I have faced over the years. They were there but less painful.
    Phoenicia recently posted…Do you keep your attitude in check?My Profile

    • I know you’ve done a lot of work over the years on personal issues Phoenicia and you do a wonderful job of sharing all that you’ve learned with your readers. Thanks for stopping by and sharing – always appreciated. 🙂

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