The Humor Rumor

Monday, November 16, 2009

Humor is like fire. Used wisely, it can create warmth and intimacy for us and our loved ones. However, it can also cause pain and destruction when it is used carelessly.

Many people think that humor is all about being able to tell a joke. But let’s consider the origins of the word “humor.” It comes from the Latin word “umor” which has nothing to do with a punchline. In fact, “umor” means to be fluid and flexible like water.

Think about that image. When water encounters an obstacle, it doesn’t whine, or call its best friend, or run to a therapist. It waits…building its strength until it can move under, around, over or through that obstacle. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who lives in Indiana who has a basement!

A true “sense of humor” is an attitude, a way of greeting whatever life brings you. While it’s true that humorous people often use funny comments to deal with difficulties, more often they are simply flexible and creative in the face of obstacles.

In their book Lighten Up: Survival Skills for People Under Pressure, C.W. Metcalf and Roma Felible share humor skills that people can learn. Here are just three of the skills mentioned in this book:

• The ability to see absurdity in difficult situations.
• The ability to take ourselves lightly while taking our work seriously.
• Having a disciplined sense of joy in being alive.

When we’re in the middle of a difficult situation, sometimes the wisest course of action is to step back, to take a moment to truly see everything before deciding whether to become upset. Giving ourselves the gift of just a little time helps us to see the absurdities. And that, in turn, assists us in having a larger perspective. “How important is this really?” we might ask ourselves. That gift of time—perhaps just a few seconds—can allow us the luxury of seeing the situation for what it really is.

Many of us have difficult jobs. People are depending on us, and we don’t want to let them down. Pressure comes from all corners, and we can begin to feel that it all depends on us. We begin to feel alone. Again, that gift of time leads to the gift of perspective. We can see options we hadn’t considered before. We feel free to ask for help. The work is still serious, of course, but the truth is that it isn’t all on our shoulders.

Ah, but the third skill. That one stumped me at first. I had never seen the words “discipline” and “joy” in the same sentence! The authors of the book reminded me that many of us don’t take our own advice. We insist that friends and coworkers take good care of themselves, while at the same time we neglect our own needs. Think about it. Is there a hobby you’ve abandoned? A dear friend or relative you just haven’t had time to see? Something simple that renews your spirit, and yet you can’t remember the last time you enjoyed it?

Metcalf and Felible recommend that we be intentional about self care. In fact, they recommend that each of us start a “Joy List”—a list of things that bring you joy. The items on the list don’t have to be expensive or complicated. All they have to be are things that renew you and bring you joy. Don’t put anything on the list out of obligation to someone else. If pulling weeds in the garden truly makes you feel good, then add it; if the only reason it makes you feel good is because it will get your spouse or partner off your back, well…that’s a different matter.

Once you have a few things on the Joy List, the next step is to give yourself those things. Take that afternoon to read a book, or go fishing, or have a long lunch with someone. Make it happen and be intentional about it!

Caring for ourselves allows us to be more flexible and creative in dealing with our day-to-day challenges.

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