Some day we’ll laugh about this

by Karyn Buxman, MSN, CSP, CPAE

The crisis of today is the joke of tomorrow. H.G. Wells

Have you ever been in a situation that at the time was so awful… so humiliating… so embarrassing… that you thought you would never live it down– and then a week later you were telling it to someone and laughing hysterically? If you find yourself saying, “Someday we’ll laugh about this,” maybe you ought to try shortening the time span and laugh a little sooner. Of course, some time does have to elapse. At the peak of a crisis, humor falls flat. But if you can develop the talent for seeing the humor in adversity, you’ll save a lot of wear and tear on yourself both emotionally and physically.

Recently a woman shared with me that nothing funny ever happened to her. Instead she had one crisis after another. She wanted to know what I recommended. Inwardly, I felt like telling her to become a humorist. What great material! One of the many definitions of humor is “learning to play with your pain.” Who wants to laugh about a good hair day? Or a terrific pay check? Or a perfect teenager? That’s just not what good ‘humor material’ is made of.

Jane, a client from Arkansas, recently shared with me that she and her husband were traveling the southwest. During the vacation she ate something that violently disagreed with her gastrointestinal system with disastrous results. Every time they passed a gas station, Jane’s husband would pull the car in and she would rush to the rest room. After numerous stops all morning and afternoon, she was becoming exhausted. Once again her husband whipped into the station, Jane grabbed the rest room key from the attendant and rushed to the bathroom. Several minutes later she trudged over to the attendant and handed the handsome young man the key to the bathroom. He looked out toward her husband beside their car and asked, “Got gas?” Without looking up she answered, “No– but this diarrhea is exhausting!”

In the silence that followed, it gradually dawned on Jane, to her utter embarrassment, that he meant had she purchased any gas! Her faced turned crimson– and then she burst out laughing. Fortunately the time necessary for her to see the humor in the situation was hardly more than a split second.

Sometimes it takes a little more work and a little more time to recognize any humor potential. Here’s a simple exercise to help you see your next crisis from a different perspective. Try “catastrophizing” the event. Ask yourself, “How could this be worse?” Then exaggerate it some more. This works well as a mental exercise for yourself, and even better as a group exercise, seeing who can one-up the previous person at “awfulizing” the event.

About a year ago I was traveling to the west coast and was making a brief connection in Denver. The bad news: the only plane that took off on time from the Denver airport was the one I missed while we were circling the airport. After we landed I asked the ticket agent for another connection. “Have a seat. It’s going to be at least another hour.” Shortly after I was seated an announcement came over the PA system. It would be at least an additional hour. Then later, another message: another hour. Then another hour. Another hour. Another hour. And another hour. This continued for 10 hours.

I was feeling absolutely miserable. I wanted to relish in my misery. And yet other passengers stranded along with me wanted to make small talk. “And what do you do for a living?” they asked. It hardly seemed appropriate to respond, “I’m a humorist. Now just LEAVE ME ALONE!” So I paced the hallways and finally asked myself the question, “How could this be worse?” Mind you, this is an individual decision with each person’s response being unique to them and their circumstances. But on that particular night, stranded in the Denver airport, missing my transportation, missing my meeting, and missing my meal at a four star restaurant, I decided that for me it would be worse to stuck in the Denver and be pregnant… This worked for a moment, but then how could it be even worse? I could be nine months pregnant… Worse yet? In active labor… And even worse? My water could be leaking in front of all these strangers! That did it. The ends of my mouth curled slightly upward and I shook my head as I headed back to the waiting area. This definitely could be worse.

The Chinese symbol for crisis translates, “opportunity riding on a dangerous wind.” Today many of us face crises on many different levels: Companies downsizing, organizations merging, marriage problems, obstinate teenagers, not enough income, too many inches around the waist… During a crisis, we often overlook the fact that it may turn out to be a tremendous opportunity. But at the very least, it may be a great time to ask yourself, “Where’s the humor in this situation?” And if you can move from a grimace to even a faint smile, it’s worth the effort.

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Copyright 2005 by Karyn Buxman. Reprinted with Permission. Karyn Buxman is a highly sought humorist and nationally recognized expert in therapeutic humor, Karyn Buxman, RN, MSN, CSP, CPAE helps people achieve balance through stress management techniques, including humor. To sign up for her free bi-weekly e-zine, LyteBytes, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.HumorHabit.com