Definitions of Humor

Larry, Moe and Curley
Jest for Perpsective?©

By Steven M. Sultanoff, Ph.D.

Originally published in The Voice,
Newsletter for the Aids Services Foundation of Orange County (CA), 1992

A client walks into an AIDS Services Office office proudly reporting his T-cell count of 3. He states that he affectionately named them Larry, Moe, and Curly. It is this client's humorous perspective that in the midst of dealing with the disease improves his ability to cope.

In Doonesbury when one character with AIDS jokes about the disease to another. The other responds, "How can you joke?" The person with AIDS responds, "How can you not?" Humor may be one of our most powerful coping mechanisms for each one of us as we face the pain of AIDS. Humor can immediately and swiftly improve the quality of life. It helps us to cope with life's most difficult situations, and provides perspective. Humor helps us to communicate to others, it creates bonds, and as we share our humor, we reach out and connect with others.

AIDS is not funny, yet I have not talked with anyone affected by the epidemic who does not have at least one humorous story related to the disease. To cope with life's greatest challenges we use humor to deflate the potency of the challenges. Humor empowers us to face difficulties and make them less overwhelming.

Many jokes have evolved out of AIDS education. There is a story of the IV drug users in a New York drug "shooting gallery." A social worker discovers them sharing needles and is appalled. She turns to one and asks, "Do you know what you're doing? Haven't you heard about AIDS?" He turns to her and casually replies, "Don't worry about us. We are all wearing condoms."

There is also the story of a 4th grade boy who returns home after the AIDS awareness day at school. His mother asks him what he learned and he replies, "I'm not quite sure, but I think we were supposed to stay out of intersections and buy condominiums." Humor allows the messages to be heard and remembered.

Benefits of Humor

While laughing at the disease will not help find a cure, it can ease the suffering and may reduce the pain. Norman Cousins, who had an exceptionally painful disease of the connective tissue, found that 10-20 minutes of deep laughter provided him with 2 hours or more of pain free existence. Subsequent research has found that certain health maintaining chemicals are released during laughter. While the research is in its early phases, there appear to be physiological benefits of laughter.

Even if there were no physiological benefits, humor is psychologically helpful because it helps us to better accept our situation. It helps provide stress reducing perspective on our day-to-day living. Humor helps us maintain a healthy attitude which is crucial for our physical and psychological well being.

Humor Improves Communication

Humor can be a non-threatening way of communicating. Messages we wish to give to significant others, family members, medical professional, etc. may be improve with a little humor. The message will be communicated with less stress and is likely to have a greater impact. Consider the poster of an elderly woman peering over her bi-focals and stating, "Don't forget your rubbers." We get the message, and it is probably more impactful than a poster that says, "Don't forget to wear a condom." Another poster from a dentist's office stated, "You don't have to floss all your teeth; Only the ones you want to keep." We receive the message in a light non-threatening way.

Increasing Your Humor Quotient

Having AIDS certainly changes and challenges your life, and how you choose to lead your life with the disease will have a great impact on your physical and psychological health. Once you have the disease your health both psychological and physical is based not only on the virus but also on your reaction to the disease. We know that attitude has a great influence on the quality of life. A humorous perspective can maintain a healthy attitude.

All of us can increase our humor quotient. Allow yourself to discover the humor around you. You will find it in bed pans, I.V.'s, bathrooms, churches, hospitals, homes, etc. A great deal of humor can be discovered with significant others, family, friends, doctors, nurses, medical and support staff, etc.

Incorporating humor into your life is an individual choice. Other possibilities of humor sharing include funny experiences with others, reading cartoons, sharing jokes, watching favorite funny videos, listening to favorite comedians, singing songs, reading literature, etc.

In the final analysis, it makes sense to use humor to cope with the disease because HUMOR FEELS GOOD. In those moments that we experience humor, we cannot feel other emotions such as anxiety, depression, and anger. Other emotions may return, however the humor provides a respite for us.

If now that you have read this and say, "How can we joke about AIDS," again I ask you, in the words of Doonesbury, "How can we not!"

copyright, 1992

Humor Matters™

Steven M. Sultanoff, Ph.D.
Mirthologist and Clinical Psychologist
3972 Barranca Pkwy. Suite J-221
Irvine, CA 92606