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Learning to Laugh

“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

-Jane Austin, Pride & Prejudice

I love this quote from Jane Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice”, and I have to admit that it has been quoted around my house far too often since we first watched the BBC version of this movie many years ago. It sums up our feelings of “Why not let people laugh at the silly things we do? We’re funny…why not enjoy it?”

This is an attitude was once again a result of the wonderful process of perimenopause….although I wasn’t the one going through this dreadful time. Instead, this truth became part of our family dynamic when my Mom went through perimenopause in her late thirties.

I’m not going to lie, this was a difficult time for our family. Being only thirty-six when she started experiencing dramatic symptoms, the doctors assured her that she could not be starting menopause. They put her through so many medical tests for so many years before she finally found a doctor who confirmed that everything she was suffering was indeed the result of the change of life. Yet, through this time, it wasn’t just my Mom’s hormones that was changing…God was using this time to change her, too.

One of the biggest changes was that my Mom was learning to laugh. Until this point, Mom was a pretty serious person. She had a very difficult childhood and was in a difficult marriage filled with stress. It was very important to both her and my Dad that things always “looked good”. For all of her good qualities, before menopause, she took herself and life too seriously.

Then came “the change” and things were beyond her control. That’s when Mom to learn to laugh—-at herself, at life, at what was happening around her. As the saying goes, “When Mama’s happy, the family is happy”. (Okay, that’s not exactly how it goes, but you get the idea.) When my Mom learned to stop taking life so seriously, to laugh and enjoy the ride, it changed the the entire dynamic of our family. We all learned to laugh. This is how God answered my Mom’s prayer when she first became a Christian that “laughter would fill the walls of our home”.

Looking back now, some of my fondest memories of spending time with my Mom were when we were laughing together. In fact, laughter became such a stable in her personality that after she went to Heaven a friend of our family said, “I just loved your Mom’s laugh—she had a great laugh.”

This character trait, the ability to laugh at life, at yourself, and circumstances helped me and my family through some of the hardest times in our lives. There’s something about laughter that finds a break in the tension and releases some of the pressure. Laughter helps you take a deep breath, regain your courage, and find the strength to go on even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Again, this was something I learned from my Mom: she used laughter to deal with stress. I remember one Saturday afternoon when I was about twelve years old, Mom and Dad decided we would take a family drive to look at the changing autumn leaves upstate. It was a beautiful day until the car’s engine completely died on an Interstate in the middle of nowhere. Of course, my Dad reacted the way he usually did and ran into the woods to be sick. My Mom waited by the broken car with two kids laughing her head off!

That’s when a truck driver stopped to see if he could call someone to help the poor woman and children with the broken car. Ironically, that’s my Dad came storming down out of the trees. You should have seen the terrified look on that truck driver’s face! He thought he was being ambushed! Quickly, my Mom explained that it was only her husband—he was sick. Of course, the ridiculousness of that situation made her laugh even more.

Over the years, Jamie and I came to appreciate my Mom’s ability to cope with stress this way. I can’t tell you how often laughter has helped alleviate stressful situations and helped us put things into perspective.

Carrying on the tradition, I’ve learned to use laughter as coping mechanism when facing difficult times. Although I try not to be inappropriate (although sometimes I do laugh at inappropriate times) part of my process in dealing with stress is finding something in the situation that causes laughter. It’s not that I’m ignoring the seriousness of the issue, I’ve just learned that laughter helps clear your head so you can deal with serious issues.

Another way that learning to laugh has helped me is in learning not to take myself so seriously. The truth is that when I was younger, I took myself way too seriously. It was very important to me that I always appeared to have it all together. When I made a mistake, failed at something, didn’t live up to my expectations, or God forbid, did something embarrassing, it was the end of the world! Catastrophic! Looking back now I think, “What a waste of time and energy!” But back then, the need to appear “perfect” was very real.

It wasn’t until I came home from college that I was finally able to learn this lesson from my Mom: You need to learn to laugh at yourself.

The truth is that you’re not perfect (not even close) but you’re imperfections are funny.

Everyone does silly things. Everyone fails.

Everyone spills things. Everyone trips over things they should have seen. We all say things that are inappropriate, do things that are ridiculous, make mistakes that shouldn’t be made, and experience circumstances that would win sitcom writers big awards. All of our bodies make sounds they shouldn’t make in public.

Life happens. When it does, we can either be uptight and embarrassed, or we can learn to laugh at ourselves.

This is something I had to learn to do by watching my Mom. I listened as she would tell a joke that wasn’t really that funny, and then laugh at it so hard that you’d start laughing too. I laughed as she put things into perspective with her sense of humor. I saw her laugh at herself and her mistakes, and this taught me to do the same.

Honestly, that’s what really changed me: I started choosing to laugh at myself. I consciously chose to change my attitude and start laughing at myself. AND I started allowing and even inviting others to laugh with me.

In fact, one of the first things I started writing and sharing online was called “The Crazy Ladies’ Corner”. In these blogs, I’d share the absolutely ridiculous things that happened to me and all of the stupid things that I did. Later, when social media became a part of our lives, I determined that I wouldn’t just share the things that made me look good, but I would also share the silly, the stupid, the clumsy, and the downright comical parts of my life. Much like the Pride and Prejudice quote, I figured if enjoyed a laugh from an incident, that my friends probably would as well.

As I learned to laugh at myself and share that laughter with others, some interesting things happened. First, I helped me learn to be myself, to accept myself, to relax in who God made me, and to enjoy my life much more. Anyone who struggles with the pressure to always appear “perfect”, to hide behind masks, and to look like you have it all together, will testify that this is a lot of pressure. Learning to laugh at myself and allowing other people to laugh at me set me free from so much of this nonsense. It was literally life-changing.

It’s actually been medicinal as it has relieved so much stress and tension from my life and replaced it with joy. It’s made me a happier, healthier, more emotionally and mentally balanced person. As Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

The other thing that I learned was that when I let my hair down and made self-deprecating humor a part of my life, rather than people rejecting me because I didn’t have it all together, they actually liked me more. When I was vulnerable, they felt that they were free to be vulnerable. As I relaxed, so did other people. As I let my guard down, other people let there’s down, too. This actually led to stronger, healthier relationships with friends and family. It also opened more doors for me to be able to reach people with the message of hope that is found in Jesus.

The truth is that few people can relate to perfect people. It’s really hard to be in a relationship with someone who never lets their hair down, needs let’s you see their vulnerable side, and avoids showing their humanity. On the other hand, laughter breaks down many of those walls and opens so many doors as people see that you are just like them: human. And humans are funny.

That’s why whenever someone asks me advice on how to live your best life, one of the things I say is: You really need to learn to laugh.

Realize: you are funny. Actually, your hysterical.

Learn to laugh at yourself and let others laugh with you.

Life is a lot more fun that way. (For you and everyone around you.) Trust me.

Adessa Holden is an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God specializing in Women's Ministry. Together with her brother, Jamie, they manage 4One Ministries

and travel the East Coast speaking, holding conferences, and producing Men's and Women's resources that provide practical Biblical teaching for everyday life.

When asked about herself, she'll tell you "I'm a women's minister, a sister, and a daughter. I love to laugh and spend time with people. My favorite things are chocolate, the ocean, sandals and white capris, anything purple, summertime and riding in the car listening to music. It is my absolute honor and privilege to serve Jesus and women through this ministry.

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