Sometimes, when a crisis occurs; even if it doesn’t touch us personally, we lose our desire and
even our ability to laugh. With the horror of terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and unkindness
rolling out before our eyes via broadcasts and social media outlets, it seems unthinkable and
disrespectful to find anything funny. That is the way we sometimes feel but in reality, laughter
is a valuable survival tool.
Obviously, our psychological recovery from a disaster depends on how close we are to it
…physically and emotionally and of course, time is also a factor. After every disastrous event,
we see heroes appear on the scene, in the form of first responders and also regular people
coming to the aid of victims; working together to help put the world back together again. We
feel helpless and shaken as we watch the events unfold and eventually, as there begins to be
some distance from the horror, the stress lessens and we begin to laugh again. Then we can
begin to heal.
Laughter is a release of emotions that we need to express but aren’t sure how to do it. We
sometimes feel guilty for laughing in times of trouble, but it’s important to realize that we
aren’t laughing at the event; we are detaching from the fear and anger we have been feeling.
Laughter is an emotional catharsis and is necessary for keeping us from falling into the pit of
negativity; it is our link to sanity.
We should never feel guilty for finding a thread of relief through laughter, as a matter of fact,
we should embrace it. People who have been in the most terrifying and unimaginable situations
will often share stories of how they tried to find a little humor in their dismal experiences in
order to keep themselves from breaking down completely.
Victor Frankl, a concentration camp survivor wrote, “What helps people survive awful
circumstances is their ability to detach and get beyond themselves. This is seen in heroism and
During the Vietnam War, Gerald Coffee was shot down and imprisoned in the “Hanoi Hilton”
for over seven years. He explained that “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.”
Laughter and tears are closely related; they are two sides of the same coin. Some of the most
famous comedy teams emerged from the time of the Great Depression and WWII. Why?
Because the nation needed some relief; we needed to laugh. Many of the stories portrayed on
M*A*S*H were based on stories told by actual surgeons who used humor to escape the horror
of their experiences in Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals during the Korean War.
Laughter is a gift. In times of stress, it is a pressure valve which allows us to maintain an even
keel. It saves lives and it allows us to step back for a moment and perhaps even find a little
peace and hope. And speaking of hope, here is a quote from Bob Hope on the subject:
“I have seen what a laugh can do. It can transform the most unbearable tears into something
bearable, even hopeful.”