Perhaps we all need to laugh a little more
Recently I realized I needed to laugh more often.
I do laugh when I’m on the phone with one of my children or a friend, and occasionally if I watch some YouTube video.
But I live alone, and though I talk to myself throughout the day, I don’t walk around the house laughing to myself. Talking to myself, as I’ve discovered from others who live mostly in solitude, is fairly normal behavior, but bursting out into guffaws of laughter for no apparent reason would surely be a sign I was coming unhinged.
So anyway, I was browsing the new books section at the public library, looking for something to review, and picked up what I thought was a self-help book, Tom Papa’s You’re Doing Great! And Other Reasons to Stay Alive (St. Martin’s Press, 2020, 291 pages). The blurbs on the back of the book promised hilarity and humor, and so I took a chance and carried the book home.
Late that afternoon, that time of day when the afternoon sun finally reaches beneath the eaves of the front porch, I carried the book and a glass of wine outside, sat, and commenced to read.
My first outburst of laughter probably sounded like an engine that hadn’t been started since Bill Clinton was president. The next nearly caused me to spill wine from the glass I’d brought to my lips. By the time I got to page 25, I was laughing and chortling pretty much non-stop, which caused the neighbor walking his dogs down the street to cast a look at me, as if to say, “It’s the crazy old guy again. Should I call the police?”
At that point I abandoned the porch, and toted the book, the wine, and my hilarity inside.
Here’s this guy, this comedian, who I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never heard of, and he’s written a book so funny and in some ways so observant and so wise, that he’s forcing me to laugh at his stories and at myself. As a result, my body felt as charged as if someone had just downloaded a pallet of vitamins into my system. Google “Laughter is the best medicine,” and you’ll see the science behind what I am saying.
Tom Papa takes rare lateral look at certain topics. You’re overweight? So what? You think you’re ugly? Welcome to the party. You’re middle-aged, haven’t been to the doctor since you were in sixth grade, and cure your heart pains by hitting yourself in the chest? Hey, if it works, go with it.
Here, for example, are some of Papa’s thoughts on eating, an activity he loves. After admitting “I can’t stop eating. I don’t stop eating. You can’t make me stop eating,” he writes:
“I may have a tapeworm. If I find out that I do, I won’t have him removed, I’ll give him a nickname and call him my friend.”
Papa also points out that “we love to do things that are bad for us.” After a vivid description of a night when he drank too much, he gives us an aftermath that many will recognize as true:
“It’s at this moment when we all say to ourselves, ‘Never again.’ And then you drag around all day, trying to hydrate and popping Advil, all the while feeling like crap but happy with your decision to take at least a night off. And then five o’clock rolls around and without even thinking about it, you find yourself ordering a drink at the bar or mixing a martini in the kitchen.”
Papa kicks off most of his chapters with questions like these “Have you ever fallen asleep during the news and woken up to a horror movie and you couldn’t tell the difference? I have …” “Have you ever taken a break while hiking and sat on a log with fire ants? My wife has …” “Have you ever gotten so drunk on tequila that you and your friends attacked a Taco Bell and tried to free the burritos? I have …”
Along with his humor Papa offers encouragement. In his chapter on hard-working Americans, he observes that unlike Europeans:
“We don’t even have hours. We have jobs to do. Jobs that need to get done no matter what, no matter how long it takes or how many late-night emails and phone calls we have to make. In America you get it done or get out.
“We wake up in the dark and work through the night. We do early-morning hours, overnight hours, and overtime…We take the bus, the train, and commuter jets that are held together with duct tape flown by exhausted pilots and the oldest flight attendants working anywhere in the world.
“No wonder we’re so damned tired.”
Behind Papa’s humor is reassurance. He advises us to avoid being so tough on ourselves all the time. Here are his concluding paragraphs to You’re Doing Great!:
“Sure, sometimes you’re weird, confused, have crumbs on your shirt, but that’s okay. Nobody’s perfect. Do the best you can, and if that’s not good enough, grab a snack and try something else.
“You’re doing great. Really.”
“Nobody’s perfect.” Most of us probably need to hear that message.
And sometimes, as I now know, I need more laughter.