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Laughter helps family survive Soldier’s deployment

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COMMENTARY

By The Staff

By TANYA BIANK

Homefrontonline.com

Looking back on this past year of deployment, I have some regrets.

I wish I’d had more champagne and fewer bowls of Dora the Explorer cereal. I wish I’d listened to more Jimmy Buffet and less Bill O’Reilly. I wish I’d taken in more calcium and less caffeine. I should have seen more than one movie. And I regret not knowing what the interior of the post gym looks like.

One thing I don’t regret is writing about the lighter side of military life during a trying year.

Happy days? Not really. There is nothing good about marking your 20th wedding anniversary alone, saying “Merry Christmas” over the phone, and watching your child blow out candles for another birthday without Daddy.

Many times, I didn’t feel like writing a laugh-track column. And every time I walked away with smudged mascara from a tree dedication memorial for yet another fallen Soldier, I wanted out of the funny business.

The journalist in me wanted to write about child neglect rates during deploy-ments, the Army’s ever-climbing suicide problem, the Florida pastor who wanted to burn the Quran, and the Soldier accused of leaking thousands of classified military documents to WikiLeaks.

Did I really need to write about my Elmer Glue-white legs while the United States’ nemesis, Iran’s Ahmadinejad, spouted off at the U.N.?

But then I’d receive an e-mail from an Army wife saying, “Thanks, I really needed to laugh today.”

And that has made all the difference in a time when many of us have dealt with death, stress, and constant worry.

“Laugh. Out loud,” is how Jill, one of my fellow Army wives, got through the year.

“Only because I’m a much prettier laugher than I am a crier,” she explained. “And most days, it could’ve gone either way.”

Writing funny in unfunny times means buying into the idea that goofiness and self-deprecation make excellent cleaning agents against life’s build-up of dirt and grime.

So each month in print, I’ve plodded and pranced my way through the foibles and follies of the human race. Poking fun at my own eccentricities and shortcomings has meant an abundant basket of column fodder. Including the many contributions from others confirms I’m in good company.

“One of the most powerful things about humor is it keeps us human,” said Dr. Joel Goodman, who is founder and director of The Humor Project (www.humorproject.com) in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. “That’s why I like to call us humor beings.”

The Humor Project’s mission is to make a difference in people’s lives through the positive power of humor, and in its 33-year existence, it’s become a clearing house for humor research. Goodman takes humor seriously and for good reason. Research shows a sense of humor is a key ingredient to longer life.

“When we laugh, a lot of great things happen inside,” he said. “We are our own pharmacy.”

It was a delight to talk with Dr. Goodman, who is a best-selling author of eight books, including “Laffirmations: 1,001 Ways to Add Humor to Your Life and Work.” He’s also a world-traveling guest speaker whose audiences have included military groups.

“These days, with repeated and extended deployments, humor is needed more than ever,” he said.

Dr. Goodman, whose motto is to take your work seriously but yourself lightly, shared some worthwhile tips to jump-start the humor in our lives.

Here are some takeaways:

* Remind yourself that humor is an attitude. Although humor can include jokes, it’s a misconception that humor equates only to joke-telling.

“Humor is a powerful attitude,” Dr. Goodman said. “Realizing that motivates me to go after it in tough times. Humor influences how we see the world and how we embrace the world.”

* Surround yourself with humor. Put humor in your physical environment. Put a fun quote or a photo on the refrigerator, in your wallet or on the bathroom mirror. Dr. Goodman said this serves as a reminder to “lighten up.”

* Emulate people who see the lighter side of life. Imagine how your favorite comedian or your “humor role model” would see the situation you’re in.

* Try to take a child-like perspective on adult stress.

“How would an 8-year-old see this?” Dr. Goodman said. “Kids cut through the adult mess.”

* Create rituals of humor. Weekly or nightly, around the dinner table ask: What was one thing you saw today that made you laugh?

“Look for humor, and share it,” Dr. Goodman said.

* Apply the “Candid Camera” principle. Take a five-minute mental time out each day, and pretend you are Allen Funt. Look for the humor around you.

“If you look for humor, humor finds you,” Dr. Goodman said. “It comes out of the background.”

* Reach out and touch somebody with humor. Buy a card, send an e-mail or update your status on Facebook.

“We’ve all heard misery loves company,” Dr. Goodman said. “Laughter loves company. It’s just as true. That’s why sitcoms use laugh tracks. It’s contagious.”

Dr. Goodman is right; humor is an attitude, and it’s meant to be shared. Living in challenging times doesn’t mean we can’t have happy moments, joy and some gut-splitting good laughs.

Wise military wives surround themselves with people who make the best out of the worst of circumstances—such as this group of neighborhood wives who counted down each month of deployment with the Purple Plunger Award, a hand-painted bathroom plunger given to the lady who had the “%$!?@” month.

“Nobody wanted it obviously,” said Kristy, one of the participating wives. “But it was so funny when you did earn it. You had to display it on your mantel.”

Before the plunger passed hands to a new recipient, the awardee added something to the plunger commemorating her experience, such as a smashed minivan toy, a thermometer, or a doctor’s glove. At deployment’s end, the ladies dressed in black, painted their faces in camo, held up their wine glasses, and buried the plunger.

“We all said a quote or a Bible verse that meant something to us and passed the plunger around before we shoved it into the ground,” Kristy said. “It’s one of my favorite deployment memories.”

I’ll raise my champagne flute to that.