The Sixth Humor Habit: Take Yourself Lightly—Laugh at Yourself

“You don’t grow up until you have your first good laugh at yourself.”  (Eleanor Roosevelt)

There is great wisdom in these words of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s wife.  But why is it so difficult to laugh in the midst of our own awkward moments?  As we get older, our memory is not as good as it used to be, our joints start to get creaky, we have new health issues that start to popup.  You’ll recall from earlier articles on the 7 Humor Habits Program that I’ve consistently emphasized of a playful frame of mind for enjoying and initiating any kind of humor.  All these challenges we have to face as we get older clearly rob us of that playful frame of mind where humor lives.  So your job this week is to make the effort to find a light side of all these situations we never had to deal with until we got into our 60s or 70s.

Let’s say you’ve made arrangements to play cards with three other people at someone’s house.  You get dressed up and make a special cake to take with you and arrive at the hostess’ house, and she comes to the door in her everyday clothes and he house is clearly in disarray.  She obviously was not expecting guests.  You discover that it was TOMORROW night you were supposed to come.

So how do you react in this kind of situation?  Do you get all bent out of shape emotionally and apologize profusely in total embarrassment as if it’s the worst crisis you’ve ever been in?  Or do you quickly lighten things up by poking fun at your memory.  Any spontaneous comment can lighten up the awkwardness of the moment; e.g., you might say something simple like, “I’d forget my head if it weren’t attached” or “Isn’t that something!  They print the calendars these days with so many mistakes built into them.”   It’s not terribly funny, but it’s a spontaneous playful apology that eases the tension of the moment and allows you to leave in good spirits because you shared a little laughter at your own forgetfulness.

If you’ve been cultivating all the Humor Habits we’ve discussed for the past two months in this series of Humor Training articles, you’ve probably already made some progress in learning to laugh at yourself.  This week, we’ll focus only on that.

So How Can You Get Better at Laughing at Yourself?

My book, Humor as Survival Training for a Stressed-Out World: The 7 Humor Habits Program spells out the full program for strengthening this important Humor Habit, but here are four key things to get you moving in the right direction.  The general strategy is to take some key preliminary steps that enable you to gradually ease into being able to lighten up about your sensitive zones.

1) Make a list of your “sensitive areas” and things you don’t like about yourself.

We all have are sensitive areas.  It may be your weight, your pointy nose, the fact that you’re a slow reader, etc.  In my case, I was really skinny in high school and was very sensitive about my skinny appearance.  It was certainly hard to lighten up about it at the time.  But you’ll find that just making a list of these, putting them “up front” in your consciousness and admitting to yourself that you’re sensitive about them actually takes you that first step down the road toward being able to lighten up about them.

2) Share something from the list with someone else every day for a week or so. 

Don’t try to make it funny; just tell people that it’s a sensitive topic for you, and that you’re trying to learn to lighten up about it.  Alcoholics Anonymous learned long ago that there’s real power in saying publicly, “My name is Paul McGhee and I’m an alcoholic.”  This is the first step to the long road of overcoming your addiction to alcohol.  Similarly, just admitting to others the things you are personally very sensitive about is the first step toward lightening up about them.  This puts you one step closer to being able to laugh at the awkward or embarrassing things that happen related to those sensitize zones.

3) Learn a joke or two poking fun at your sensitive zones. 

This further eases you into being able to lighten up about them spontaneously when embarrassing incidents related to them occur.  For example, if you’re very self-conscious and embarrassed about your memory, which seems to not be as good as it use to be, you might consider a joke like this:

There’s this retired couple who are both feeling that their memory is getting worse.  They’re watching television and when a commercial comes on, the wife says, “Honey, I’m going to get some ice cream.  Do you want some?”  “Oh, I’d love some,” he says, “but you’d better write it down; you might forget.”  She says, “Oh, I can certainly remember that!”  Well, she’s gone for quite a while, and when she finally comes back she gives him a plate of eggs.  He looks at the eggs and looks up at her and says, “You see, I told you you’d forget the toast!”

4) Have a “generic” planned funny response ready for awkward or embarrassing incidents. 

This could include responses like “OK, we have a situation here; beam me up Scotty” (from the old Star Trek show), starting to talk like Porky Pig or Daffy Duck as you apologize for your blunder, etc.  Anything at all that is a light response can work here.  By thinking in advance of something you’re comfortable with, you’ll be able to rise to the occasion and joke about it even though you’re terribly embarrassed.  And remember, it is this embarrassment that keeps you from spontaneously coming up with a joking remark.  This is the very reason the 7 Humor Habits Program invites you to practice all of the key Humor Habits on the good days when everything is upbeat and positive.  That’s what gives you the ability to do this in the most awkward of circumstances.

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