Stressed? Don’t take it seriously

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Gifted with a wise and life-embracing mother-in-law who turned 90 last week, I asked mine her secret to a long and satisfying life.

“If I have to pick one thing,” she said, “it’s a sense of humor. Just don’t take yourself too seriously.”

Laughter must really be the best medicine.

This “ancient one” — her chosen email moniker — has had her share of woes and worries, just like anyone else. What sets her apart is her resilience and persistently positive outlook, no matter what’s going on.

She takes lasting pleasure from small things. A good book. The birds bickering over the backyard feeder, making her giggle each morning over coffee. She loves jokes, clever memes, and funny animal videos.

She laughs, a lot. On purpose. And she’s onto something.

A young vet told me what kept him remotely sane during combat duty was his sarcastic sense of humor. That must be an old trick, or “MASH” and “Hogan’s Heroes” wouldn’t have resonated.

Science repeatedly confirms that developing a sense of humor to cope with life stress is a critical element of physical and mental health. The Coping Humor Scale (a self-reporting measure developed in the 1980s) and other tools since 1926 have assessed the degree to which people with similar life stress levels use humor to cope, with largely the same results: Laughter is very, very good for you.

A series of studies published in 1993 by a team at University of Western Ontario indicated those with a greater sense of humor deal with problems better and less often react negatively to major events. Plus the more we laugh, another study found, the more we enjoy living.

A 2016 analysis entitled “Laughing at Cancer” explored the relationship between humor and coping with this difficult disease, finding that patients who joked about it experienced less stress, a greater sense of community, and felt enabled to talk about their frightening experiences with less stress and more support.

My friend Bill would agree, convinced he beat cancer with laughter. Instead of saying goodbye as doctors advised, he told everyone he knew to send him jokes daily until he beat it. Twenty years later, he’s still laughing.

The upshot of all this just confirms Gretchen’s philosophy: Humor is positively correlated with lower stress, better school and work performance, better health, less depression, less loneliness, and higher self-esteem. That last one is especially noteworthy; don’t take anything “too seriously,” and you’ll like yourself more.

Can’t hurt.

“What’s the difference between a snowman and a snowwoman? Snowballs.”

•••

Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at sholeh@cdapress.com.

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