Whenever I give a lecture or a workshop, I never fail to encourage participants to read “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl. He was a psychiatrist who survived the Nazi concentration camps during World War II and who developed a form of psychiatry, called Logotherapy as a result. His book profoundly shows how individuals can survive the most horrific of situations through grace, dignity, and humor.
In the preface of the book, Gordon Allport writes: “hunger, humiliation, fear and deep anger at injustice are rendered tolerable by closely guarded images of beloved persons, by religion , by a grim sense of humor, and even by glimpses of the healing beauties of nature—a tree or a sunset.” I’ve heard many accounts of how this type of humor, called “gallows humor,” has helped many people in difficult jobs, particularly health-care professionals. Anyone overhearing some of the conversation between nurses or doctors might be deeply offended, but for them it becomes a way to get relief from the horrors they witness. As a child, I was dragged to many an Italian funeral, which often resembled a Frederico Fellini movie. There was a great drama as the black-clad women wailed and moaned. Then there’d be bursts of laughter as people began to recount stories about the dearly departed. And, of course, it would all end with a giant feast. I learned that there’s a very short distance between tears and laughter–they both offer relief. Many of us have not been taught to go with the flow. We turn everyday inconveniences into catastrophes. However the majority of situations that are essentially irritating can’t hold a candle to the horrors that Frankl describes. Traffic, unexpected bad weather, wet towels left on beds do not have to become terrorist activities. We’ve all experienced rain and have gotten wet…so why can’t we just grab an umbrella and get over it? If we were more capable of being in the moment, or not trying to control it, we probably would get relief from much of life’s stressors. When I look back at some of the situations that I made far worse than they were, I realize that the end result was fatigue and unhappiness. There are far better methods to handle the ups and downs of life. Use humor when it feels appropriate. There is nothing better than being able to laugh at yourself. Discover how to become more adept at problem solving. And if all else fails, use my mother’s mantra. “If you think this is bad, just wait”!