This I Believe: The Healing Power of Humor

Steve - Sugar Land, Texas
Entered on April 24, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50

Laughter. It’s not only the best medicine, but I believe it’s at the heart of genuine living and bonding with other human beings. The greatest times in my 47 years have oftentimes been the funniest.

My fondest and funniest memories are of our family summer vacations — my brother called them “Survival Missions”: seven of us wedged into our Chevy Impala, our suitcases crammed into a luggage carrier on top of the car. How we avoided being crushed alive by the roof of the car is nothing short of a miracle – I mean, my Aunt Jean’s suitcase alone could’ve easily taken out the four of us riding in the backseat. Those vacations spent in large part driving across the country, hours and hours and endless miles, brought us closer through laughter and stories. My grandma would tell us about our family and how it was growing up as my dad basically interviewed her with just the right set-up questions. The pay-off, sometimes poignant, oftentimes hilarious, had us cracking up – and more importantly, learning about our roots.

I’ve even found in my career that humor has helped ease a tense work environment and unite with co-workers. My favorite example: while working at an energy company in New Orleans in the early 90s, our department morale had sunk with the news of an upcoming drastic down-sizing. One of the biggest jokers in the department kept a pair of binoculars in his office, he said, in case he needed to observe any activity on the Mississippi River from our vantage point on the 30th floor in downtown New Orleans. We all knew he really used the binoculars to watch women sun bathe poolside at the surrounding hotels. Of course, he denied it. So I secretly applied copier toner to the rubber eyeglass pieces on his binoculars. At our staff meeting that day, he showed up with dark black circles around his eyes looking like an executive raccoon. The laughter shook the conference table. Point is — it lifted the mood.

I’m a playwright who’s been fortunate enough to have had several of my comedies produced in Greater Houston theater venues. It’s not that easy to make people laugh, I’ve learned. However, last year, after a performance of my play, “Swing Time,” a lady told me that she had recently lost her husband to cancer and this was her first night out of the house. “Your play really made me laugh,” she said. “I needed that.” I hugged her, feeling like I’d won a Pulitzer. “Did your husband enjoy the theater?” I then asked. “Oh, hell no, he wouldn’t be caught dead here.” We both burst out laughing.

Sure, we all have hard times and periods of profound sadness in our lives. I’m no different. But after that necessary hard cry, I soon long for just as hard a laugh. Indeed, laughter is the best medicine, and I believe in having a lifetime prescription of it. Don’t laugh – on second thought, go right ahead.