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Shared Laughter Connects Us (not to mention the proven health benefits)

Oct 9, 2020

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by Debra Hallisey, Advocate for Mom and Dad

Right about now laughter and connection are at the top of my daily self-care list.

Is there anything better than sharing a belly laugh with someone? Not much in my opinion. I recently had the chance to visit with friends. We were outside, appropriately social distanced and started reminiscing about a shared vacation to Montana. In the retelling of those stories, we could hardly catch our breath from laughing and the stress I’d been under dealing with mom’s eye infection melted away.

It is with these same friends that mom and I will reminisce about dad often by retelling a joke he loved. This was one of his favorites.
A Jewish lady’s grandson is playing in the water. She is standing on the beach not wanting to get her feet wet, when all of a sudden, a huge wave appears from nowhere and crashes directly over the spot where the boy is wading. The water recedes and the boy is no longer there. He simply vanished. She holds her hands to the sky, screams and cries, “Lord, how could you? Have I not been a wonderful grandmother and mother? Have I not tried to live a life that you would be proud of?” A loud voice booms from the sky, “Okay, okay!” A few minutes later a huge wave appears and spits out her grandson and she hears, “I have returned your grandson. Are you satisfied?” She responds, “He had a hat.”

A clean joke like this is one people can relate to and is a great way to bring laughter into your aging loved one’s life. There are some terrific websites like Senior Humor that include some old favorites I suspect your elder has heard before. It’s a great way to remind them of simpler times. You can pick a new one for each phone call or visit and then ask them for their favorite joke or story. If it is a funny family story, all the better.

Story telling is another example of the universal language between family members and good friends. This shorthand of language is one of stories, shared experiences and laughter at inside jokes, all of which foster togetherness and strengthens your sense of community.

My family story telling includes the letters dad wrote to me when I was in college. They are some of my most treasured possessions. He was a terrific storyteller and most of the time was simply relating an incident that had happened recently. This is a family favorite.
“I got home at 12:15 and called Mommy to see if she was coming home for lunch. She did. Al from her office brought Mommy a plastic container filled with pastafazoole. To make sure it didn’t spill on the way home, she made a platform in her pocketbook out of her paycheck, 3 Christmas club books, her savings account book and her calendar of events and put the pastafazoole in her pocketbook. No fair you guessed it. Yep, when she set the pocketbook down on the kitchen table, the cup fell over, the cover came off and a pint of pastafazoole poured all over everything. The sauce seeped into the pages of the Christmas club books. There were noodles in with her paycheck and a bean marked February in her calendar. You have never seen such a mess in your life. She was washing the pages off with a washcloth and putting everything on the kitchen windowsill to dry. All she was worried about was what she is going to tell the bank tellers to explain everything being orange. She said, I think I’ll tell them I dropped my pocketbook into a pot of spaghetti sauce. How she figures that is less of a screwball thing than putting pastafazoole into your pocketbook is beyond me.”

Being deliberate about adding laughter into our lives is important because somewhere as adults we tend to lose the joy we had as children. Studies show that children laugh up to 300 times in a day. Sadly, that number drops to about 17 times a day as adults. I suspect our elders don’t even laugh that often. Not only is that sad, but it’s a health risk. It would be wonderful to bring daily laughter back into their lives. Even a smile is considered a silent form of laughing and that alone will give them the well documented health benefits. We know laughter boosts the immune system, is heart healthy, relieves stress, helps with anxiety and depression and, most importantly, breaks the cycle of psychological negativity.

Feeling isolated and alone, dealing with loss of health, mobility and the decreasing circle of friends and family all contribute to negativity that can be a difficult cycle to break. The isolation caused by the coronavirus outbreak has taken an additional toll and resulted in both physical and mental decline for many of our elders.

We can help break the cycle, relieve stress and feeling alone in the world by intentionally bringing laughter into their lives. It is a great way to remind them they are loved and important to the family and others.

If you are not sure what to do, start with what makes you feel good. Nothing makes me smile or brings me more joy than the sound of a baby laughing or puppies playing. YouTube is full of these videos. The next time you are together, pull some up and giggle.

Some of the most beloved story tellers can also be found on YouTube. Think Bob HopeBurns and Allen and Carol Burnett for the opportunity to laugh together and share joy. But don’t stop with the viewing. Ask them how old they were and what they were doing when these comedians were on the radio and TV.

Taking the time to share family stories, to laugh at beloved comedians or have a joke marathon is just what the doctor ordered right now, for you and for your elder.

Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.

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