By Dr Sima Patel
‘Never be afraid to laugh at yourself, after all, you could be missing out on the joke of the century’. Barry Humphries
August is usually a month when many people get to have holiday fun and so what better time than now to remind ourselves of how laughter can make a difference to our well-being. Most of us know from experience that having a sense of humour about things can make life a little easier for everyone.
And there’s science to back that up: being able to laugh at yourself may be a sign of an optimistic personality and a sense of humour, according to a small 2011 study, and it might even improve your mood. Humour has also been identified as a possible factor in the development of personal resilience.
It is so easy to become frustrated, embarrassed, upset and so on when we make mistakes which lead us to feel even worse about ourselves. How can we start to turn this around by laughing at ourselves? Here are some strategies that you may want to use over the month of August to remember this as a time of blissful holiday laughter.
Think about a time in the last few months when you said or did something embarrassing.
Think of yourself as an observer. Step outside of yourself for a moment and imagine how silly it might have looked or sounded to an outside observer.
If you’ve ever laughed at someone else for making a similar mistake, you should be able to see the humour in your own mistake.
Remind yourself that it is okay to make mistakes. Everyone does from time to time. Accept that you are just as prone to mistakes as everyone else. It is what makes you human, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
If you are able to correct your mistake, then try to do so. If not, try to realise that it’s just a mistake and that your best option is to laugh it off.
Consider the alternative to laughter. What good will getting angry or upset really do? Encourage yourself to be more light-hearted about life: Life can be very serious at times, and that seriousness may even be devastating emotionally and physically. There is and will always be suffering in everyone’s life. While suffering is awful, it is important to remember that there are many good times, too, which hopefully outweigh the bad times. The next time life throws a suffering curve at you, try the following strategies:
Tell the suffering that you acknowledge it but it will not take over your life completely because you are going to embrace all the good things in your life too.
Think about how you have made others laugh in the past.
Then think about some of the crazy, fun, adventurous, funny moments of your own behaviours until you find at least one that gives you belly aching laughter.
Laugh at yourself to avoid being laughed at. It is normal and natural to feel embarrassed when we make a mistake or do something foolish in front of others. That embarrassment can be painful, but it cannot undo the fact that other people witnessed the mistake. In situations like this, laughing at our own mistakes can actually take away the power of others to laugh at us. It puts us in control of the situation rather than others. So why not try the following when this happens to you:
When you next make a mistake, immediately joke about it. Other people can then laugh at your joke rather than your mistake. For example, if you are prone to tripping over a lot or dropping things or walking into that extra bit of pavement that seems to come from nowhere, try saying something like “Wow, I haven’t even had anything to drink”.
Your joke does not have to be all that clever, as long as you deliver it quickly and with a mild tone of self-deprecation.
Find ways of using humour to cope with stress. Studies suggest that using humour during a stressful situation can help reframe people’s mindset regarding that situation. When people laugh, their mind stops seeing the stressor as a threat and starts seeing it as more of a challenge to be overcome. So if you have something stressful going on, why not try the following:
Instead of letting yourself feel overwhelmed by everything going on in your life, try seeing the situation as something that can be joked about.
Try imagining your stressful situation as the plot to a comedy show that you are writing. You have been given the basic materials of the situation, and now it is your job to find something funny in all of it.
As you begin to see the humour in your situation, you should be able to break out of the mindset that your situation is as awful as anticipated. Instead, you may be able to realize that you can manage this stress and get through the situation, even if it takes some work.