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November 22nd, 2016 by Marta J. Papa


Part 7: The Imperative of Self-Care for Divorcing Parents During the Holidays:

The Medicinal Properties of Humor

As the week of Thanksgiving is commencing, now is the time for us all to start conserving energy for the hectic weeks ahead. This is especially true for those who are undertaking the holiday season with divorce proceedings newly underway. I have spent this month focusing upon the necessity for divorcing parents to invest in their own well-being first, so they can be in a position to strengthen their children’s going forward. It is not unlike the instructions passengers receive before taking off in a commercial airplane; in case of an emergency, they are reminded to place the oxygen masks over their noses first before applying them to their children.

At first, this advice always seems counterintuitive: Surely the vulnerable, young passengers should be attended to before the mature adults. Yet, the center of gravity is found with the adults, who must remain in control in order to help those who are more dependent and powerless.

To that end, this month I have suggested ways you can adjust the holiday oxygen mask over your face, so you can breathe more easily for yourself…and your children.   So, today, let’s add one more tool: laughter.

Yet, laughter, too, seems wholly unwarranted and counterintuitive, as does the airline facemask instructions mentioned earlier. How could anyone be happy or experience humor while going through a divorce? Nevertheless, notable researchers have cited time and again the power of laughter as, truly, life-giving. From neurologist Oliver Sacks (author of THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE FOR A HAT) to Norman Cousin, testimonies abound of the power of humor to promote healing, both emotionally and physically. Cousin, who served as Adjunct Professor of Medical Humanities for the School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, used himself as a test case for humor’s benefits. His famous memoir ANATOMY OF AN ILLNESS chronicles how he treated a debilitating illness with a unique daily prescription: measured doses of laughter.

Through a daily ritual of watching reels of slap-stick movies and comedic television shows from the confines of his hospital bed, Cousin “made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep” (ANATOMY OF AN ILLNESS).

So, while you are currently grappling with what may often seem like life-threatening issues of your own, make it a point to set some time aside and reach for a daily dose of humor. Perhaps grab some old SEINFELD DVD’s from your local library and pop them in this week. Get on your iPhone and pull up YouTube postings of funny pet moments. Call a friend and recall some funny episodes from your youth. Go to the St. Louis Zoo and wander around the monkey house. Have your kids select their favorite funny movies and replay them…again and again…while you listen to their laughter. And keep moving forward. Each day of self-care you are mindful of is another day you can present your strongest, healthiest self to your children.