It takes courage to keep laughing

    A month-and-a-half ago, my good friend Emerson lent me two books about aging: “Age-Proof Your Mind” by Zaldy Tan and “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now” by Gordon Livingston.
    Both authors are physicians and both have very important insights on aging well.
    Unlike my books, Emerson’s were in mint condition. No coffee or dark chocolate stains, no yellow stickies marking pages, no whole pages of blue and yellow underlining, and the dust jackets were like new.
    Intimidated by the newness of the books, I finally took off the dust jackets to protect them while I read and began with the smaller book. There, I found light pencil underlining, which was very helpful.
    Livingston’s “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now” contains a series of 30 simple truths. Things we should have learned in high school. But did we?
    As a result, the subtitle, “Things You Need to Know NOW.”
    The 30 short chapters have titles such as: “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” “The major advantage of illness is relief from responsibility,” “Nobody likes to be told what to do,” “Our greatest strengths are our greatest weaknesses” and “It’s a poor idea to lie to oneself.”
    When I was drawn to chapter 28 (“Of all the forms of courage, the ability to laugh is the most profoundly therapeutic), I found that Emerson also liked that chapter. It was heavily underlined.
    The author asks, “What is important about laughter in our lives?”
    Or we could ask another thought-provoking question: Why should we laugh when there is so much suffering in the world, when we think of our own mortality, and when we have problems in our own families?
    Because “laughter is therapy,” says Livingston. “Laughter provides a release of stress, worry, and concern.”
    Livingston notes two things separate us from animals—the ability to laugh and the awareness of our own mortality.
    “To be able to experience fully the sadness and absurdity that life so often presents, and still find reasons to go on, is an act of courage abetted by our ability to both love and laugh.”
    This is the great paradox of life, says Livingston. “It is possible to be happy in the face of our mortality.”
    Livingston, who is a psychiatrist, should know. He lost two sons in a six-month period—one from leukemia and one from suicide.
    But, in spite of his pain, Livingston insists we have to cultivate the ability to experience moments of pleasure. In other words, we have to find reasons to laugh.
    Laugh at ourselves. Laugh at little happenings in our lives. Laugh by ourselves and, especially, laugh with others.
    Also, there’s plenty of evidence that laughter heals—both mentally and physically. Says Livingston, “The internal chemical changes brought about by laughter have a salubrious effect.”
    So why not choose to laugh instead of cry?
    “To share laughter is a way of affirming that we are all in this lifeboat together. The sea surrounds us; rescue is uncertain; control is illusory. Still we sail on—together.”
    Happily laughing!
    Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at thisside60@aol.com or visit www.visit-snider.com

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