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Humor Will Help You Finish Any Race



by Dr. Bernis S. Siegel

As we get older, it is important to maintain a childlike sense of humor and to let your inner child express itself; otherwise, life can become oppressive and difficult. I know from experience how easy it is to focus on what is troubling me rather than on what heals and sustains me. Our souls are light, and we must be willing to see the light side of life and to encourage laughter on a daily basis.

When we are children, humor comes naturally. As adults, it can take effort to inject humor into our lives. I have tried to cultivate a childlike perspective when I am out in the world, seeing things as if through the eyes of a child. I follow directions exactly as they are given. When I am asked to “sign here,” I write “here” on the slip. That keeps things light and in perspective. When I buy lottery tickets, I always ask the woman selling them if she will marry me if I win. Some of the answers have been very interesting! I also ask for senior discounts no matter what day they are offered, telling the clerks that seniors can’t remember what day it is anyway, so I want my discount.

It takes courage to be a clown. One must have self-esteem and not worry about what others think of you. Another example is the mailbox at the bottom of our driveway, which is fifteen feet in the air. Painted on the side are the words “Air Mail.” Everyone knows our house at the post office. Most of all, when you act like a clown, you meet and encourage the clown in others; you discover children of all ages. I once entered an area that said, “Nobody allowed here,” saying to the guard, “I am a nobody.” The guard earned my respect and a hug by telling me he was making me a “somebody” — and so I had to leave.

One time I even dressed as a nurse at a surgical department dinner. I wore a white nurse’s outfit I borrowed from our office staff, plus balloons for breasts, a wig, and makeup applied by my wife. And like Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, I got up and gave a critical, impassioned speech. I was amazed by the positive comments I received the next day at the hospital. Humor makes everything easier to digest.

It is wonderful when your ability to laugh brings out the child in another person; you both then experience a much better day. At my post office recently, the clerk told me some jokes while he processed my package. I told him I was going to mail empty boxes just to come in and hear his jokes.

Humor helps us get through even the toughest of times. The exercises in this chapter will supply you with ideas and sources to bring humor back into your daily life and uplift your soul.


Keep a Smile Journal: Humor in Your Daily Life

Throughout my life, my tendency has been to make notes about painful events, and not the humorous and healing ones. I had to learn to become aware of the latter events. In this way, what is stored within me are not just the hard times but the joyful ones. In general, I suggest you always make notes to keep yourself consciously aware of the meaningful moments in your life.

For the next week, however, do something more specific. Carry a small journal, and every time you find yourself smiling or laughing, pause to write down the details of the moment. Write descriptions of the events that make you smile, from emails to chance encounters in the supermarket. Read your pages every evening before you go to bed, and in the morning reread your notes to prepare yourself for another joyful day.

Notice what type of humor appeals to you and inspires your childlike laughter. Keep this journal as a resource so you can refer to it when the clouds block the sunshine out of your life. You will discover you can make your own weather.

Share a Funny Story: History and Laughter

When you laugh, you transcend the physical aspects of your life and your troubles. Humorous stories shared with family and friends are a great way to bond with others while having a great time.

For this exercise, accumulate material in your life that makes you laugh and share it with your loved ones. If you are not sure how to begin, schedule a family dinner and an evening around sharing stories, old photos, and videos. This will bring you all closer, heal wounds, and help you to smile at the past.

Ask friends and especially senior relatives to share memories. To get a storytelling session rolling, you need only ask them questions about old times. Believe me, you will soon find yourself immersed in humor and love.

Watch a Comedy: Laugh Together

It’s true — laughter is the best medicine. In his book Anatomy of an Illness, Norman Cousins demonstrated a positive therapeutic response to watching Candid Camera videos. Studies reveal that just anticipating seeing a comedy changes people’s internal chemistry.

This exercise couldn’t be easier. Set aside an evening to watch a funny movie at home with your family and friends and just enjoy some laughter together. Those are the moments in life that we always treasure. Now, don’t fight over which movie you choose: follow my prescription of an initial dose of Mel Brooks with a booster shot of Woody Allen. Or, treat everyone to a movie in the theater and make a point afterward to spend some time together retelling the jokes and reliving the scenes that you enjoyed the most.

Your world is not likely to experience a disaster because you weren’t serious for every minute of your life, and it may well avoid one because humor heals wounds. Who can get angry at a clown? So kick back and find something that makes you laugh!

On a side note, if you want to enjoy a car trip with the family, bring along a CD or tape of Mel Brooks’s 2000 Year Old Man with Carl Reiner and play it as you drive. Just keep your eyes on the road as you laugh.

Read the Comics: Laugh through the Week

Here’s another easy exercise: take time to read the comics. This is worthwhile not just because they will make you laugh but because they contain wisdom about the nature of life. Charlie Brown and Blondie are part of my morning ritual and help me to start the day with a knowing smile.

Next time you read the comics section of the newspaper, cut out a cartoon that makes you laugh. Post it wherever you need it most, such as on your refrigerator, a bulletin board, or at work — so that every time you see it, you will smile and feel your spirit lifted. Share your favorites with your friends and family so that everyone can get a good laugh, too.

Take your comics with you when you go to visit sick friends who can really use a good laugh. And don’t forget your doctor, too.

Do the Unexpected: Make People Laugh

If you can bring variety and childlike humor to the everyday situations in your life, it will definitely make your life more interesting. For instance, when I go to Ernie’s Pizza to pick up an order, I always ask if my Chinese food is ready. The boss knows me and laughs, but his staff always tells me I am in the wrong restaurant and tries to help me figure out where I should be. Well, guess what was waiting for me the last time I went to pick up our pizza? Right! Three containers of Chinese food, and the whole restaurant was in an uproar.

Love and humor benefit both the giver and the receiver. Creating a situation that makes others laugh lifts everyone’s spirits. Finding ways to do the opposite of what people normally expect keeps life from getting drab and dreary. Playing the trickster is good for the soul.

So keep the child in you alive, and for this exercise do three unexpected things. These could be small things — like sitting down with your child to draw and coloring only outside the lines or throwing a dinner party and serving breakfast. Be creative. The street where I live is a dead end, and on the sign that says “no outlet” I hung one that says “bring batteries.” Do what Bernie would do: get a kick out of your day and bring out the child in everyone.


Excerpted from 101 Exercises for the Soul: A Divine Workout Plan for Body,Mind, and Spirit by Bernie S. Siegel. Copyright © 2005 by Bernie S. Siegel. All rights reserved. Excerpted by arrangement with New World Library. $17.95. Available in local bookstores or call 800.972.6657, Ext.52 or click here.

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