Laughing to keep from crying
My sense of humor has always been a bit more dry and dark than some. I very rarely can get into slapstick comedy, but I’ll guffaw through all Russell Brand, Wanda Sykes, Trevor Noah or Chris Rock performances. So much of their humor leans more toward the “laugh to keep from crying” motto.
In the past week, I have been having a tough time finding anything to laugh about, especially after writing this post, “Dear white people, here’s your chance to speak up about George Floyd.” I sincerely meant it. White people need to speak up more regarding racism — to other white people, not just black people (and other people of color) who have been on this soapbox so long we want to ice our feet. All 50 states are having protests against racism. While it makes me optimistic, what would I ever find to laugh about in the past week?
I happened to notice a new LEVEL post about “5 Celebrities Who Should Probably Sit This One Out, Ranked” and saw Madonna’s teenage son screaming and dancing to Michael Jackson’s “They Don’t Care About Us.” My first thought was, “White people, this is not what I meant! Whose idea was this? The creator of Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi commercial?”
Then I started reading the comments below and fell into a fit of giggles. My favorite tweet, “Whew Chile. Thank goodness for dance. I thought racism and police brutality would never end….. and all we needed to do was cut [a] rug. Got damn innovation!”
I should have to call Geek Squad after the mountain of sarcasm from that tweet dripped all over my keyboard. Dry as it was, I laugh every time I see that tweet.
Sometimes you really need to laugh to keep from crying. My skinfolk can laugh even when there isn’t a damn thing funny. While there was nothing particularly wrong with Madonna’s teenage son dancing to MJ in the kitchen, the timing couldn’t have been more cringeworthy and tone deaf. Still though, I put my chin in my palm and laughed again, looking at the dog behind him, who looked absolutely confused by the whole scene.
Why laughter is needed in a time of trauma
I remember doing a Toastmasters speech about how I made another group of Toastmasters members cry while telling a story about almond cookies and my grandfather, who had just died. I’d given this speech three separate times, but the feedback from the last group caught my attention the most. Their issue was that I was “too happy” while telling the story.
Recommended Read: “Why I made my Toastmasters group cry”
They felt I should’ve played the role of being melancholy while explaining why almond cookies were so significant to me. Quite frankly, I felt it would’ve been disingenuous to try to make myself sadder than I actually was, especially not when parts of the story were about two grown-ups fighting over cookies. And anyone who knows my grandfather knows even in a hospital room, this was a man who had jokes.
Even when I was a kid, I recall one of my aunts leaning over and her shoulders jerking during my grandmother’s funeral. I thought she was crying next to me, and so I started to cry. It turns out she was doing a really bad job of hiding her laughter at how bad the pianist’s singing voice was. Insensitive as hell? Yes. But who am I to judge a woman whose mother just died? I had to let her have that moment.
But I’m not alone in this. In a Psychology Today study, “painful, humiliating and invalidating” stories from one psychologist’s patients were told with laughter and smiles. The clients had no conscious awareness of themselves smiling or laughing; they were just telling their stories. They couldn’t explain away why happiness and lightheartedness were their go-to emotions when sharing their narratives should’ve sent them into a bucket full of tears. It didn’t mean their stories or their feelings should’ve been taken lightly. But it just backed up the theory of those who often will laugh to keep from crying.
According to the post, “Many survivors believe that if they don’t laugh about their experiences, they will connect with intense feelings of rage, despair, disappointment, or sadness.” Even outside of my sad speech about my grandfather, I have definitely laughed off other stories that easily could have put me back into the same rage or disappointment. As an editor, I read about trauma and mental health often, some of the most jaw-dropping stories that take me back to memories I would personally like to bury in the back of my memory. Then I get up, do about 20 minutes of yoga, watch something funny on YouTube and dive right back in. In simple terms, I just don’t see much good in being mad or sad all day long.
Why laughter is so healthy
According to a peer review study from Can Fam Physician, “Laughter is effective as an intervention. … Virtually all studies of laughter and health indicate positive results. Similarly, there are almost no negative side effects or undesirable ramifications associated with laughter as an intervention.”
In this study, actual methods of laughter come up: “laughter yoga” and “laughter clubs.” I don’t know if I’d go that far to be able to cheer myself up, but isn’t a comedic video or a comedy club or even a dry/funny tweet on social media a way to temporarily escape from what could otherwise be a moment of absolute rage? I believe it is. If you laugh through the pain, don’t judge yourself too much. You’re just trying to find a way to deal with heavy issues, just like everyone else.
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