||ARE YOU TOO SERIOUS?
When I used to lead a drop-in therapy group, one night we had a very fun evening. Everyone had important triumphs to report, energy was high, we were laughing and joking. One petite woman who was there for the first time sat quietly, taking in all our humor and flip remarks.
When the circle moved around to her, she said “I don’t think I belong here. I don’t think I can get any work done in this kind of atmosphere. What I’m working on is too serious.”
There’s a happy ending. She worked that night, and decided to come back again, and began feeling better about herself, too.
Often I find people come in to counseling feeling grim and anxious. Lovers are worried about their relationships, parents about children, children about parents, everything seems bleak. Couples frequently come in terribly worried about relationships that are basically fine, with normal difficulties to work out. Last night a client called. “My partner’s mad at me. He says he wants to leave. I’m scared.”
After five minutes, my client realized that his partner’s anger was just temporary, and while it needed to be addressed, it wasn’t tragic. His partner just needed to be listened to, and not taken too grimly. Most of it was drama, to get his attention when calmness had failed. Taking it too seriously had blown it out of proportion, until it threatened to overwhelm both of them. Putting it back in perspective restored clear thinking, and the problem was easily solved. After they resolved it, they could laugh about it.
Human beings are learning devices. We are an adaptable species. Put us in a situation we don’t understand, and sooner or later, we figure it out and master it. We are also a species with a sense of humor. I think the two are connected. It takes a sense of humor to be able to stumble around in an unfamiliar situation until you figure it out.
Current research has indicated that humor, specifically laughter, counteracts the devastations of stress on the body and immune system. Are you seeing a pattern here? We were given (or developed through natural selection, depending how you see it) a sense of humor, the capacity to laugh, for a purpose. It helps us adapt, learn, grow and survive.
Taking yourself and your situation too seriously deprives you of the tool of humor.
Yes, of course, it is possible to take things too lightly. We all know the frustration of having a problem that a loved one won’t take seriously enough. We also know people who handle life
like a joke, and never get it together. Actually, this kind of lightness masks fear that whatever one doesn’t want to deal with is too heavy to handle.
What I see in my practice more often, however, is the other way around. We strive, we are earnest, we care deeply, and we want to do right. We forget about having fun, relaxing and enjoying, waiting for things to calm down, lightening up about how awful it all is.
One of my clients who works in hospice told me recently about how surprised he was at how much laughter and humor there was among the seriously ill patients there. Humor makes even illness and death more endurable, and creates warm memories.
This fall, I invite you to consider making your life as fun and easy as possible. Whatever ambition you have, take it lightly. Take Mary Poppins’ advice and remember “a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Find as many opportunities for laughter as you can. Always read the funnies when you read the grimmer news.
Focus as much energy on what is funny or positive in your life as you do on the problems.
You may be surprised to find that you get even more work done when you take it a little less seriously, when you laugh a little more.
Studies of great human beings, who have helped improve the condition of our lives, shows most of them have fine senses of humor. Ethnic groups, such as the Jewish people, who have survived great hardships, are known for their humor.
I believe all our human capacities have meaning in our lives. The capacity to laugh may be simply to bring us closer together, to help us be social units, but I doubt it. I think its existence says something more powerful. My experience in counseling tells me laughter is one of our great healers.
Try laughing more. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.
Author Bio: Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. (www.tinatessina.com) is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 35 years’ experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 14 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty; Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences, The Real 13th Step , How to Be Happy Partners: Working it Out Together and How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free. She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog), and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter. Dr. Tessina was the CRO (Chief Romance Officer) for Love Forever. Online, she’s known as “Dr. Romance” Dr. Tessina appears frequently on radio, TV, video and podcasts. She tweets @tinatessina