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Learn to laugh at yourself

I haven’t done in a “forty years ago” post for a while, so here’s one: On this date in 1979, we published our April Fool’s edition of our school paper, the Regent Review. We called it the Reject Review, and we had all sorts of fun making silly articles and cartoons. They were all cleared by our faculty advisor, of course, but that didn’t stop us from sneaking in secret messages. (The previous year, the cartoonist used the shading of a pair of uneven parallel bars to send a vulgar message in Morse code.) I had been doing satirical cartoons and articles since junior high school, so producing them for a wider audience was a big thrill.

I look back at the Reject Review today because it reminds of an important skill many of us lack today, laughing at ourselves.

Last week, I had my lower front teeth extracted and got fitted for a bridge. I was more nervous than when I had the top teeth done in 2011 because I had to do it without the benefit of valium. But my dentist gave me enough novocaine that there was no pain. When he pulled the last one, I said, “Now, I can play hockey.” He appreciated my joke. He explained, “Surgeons have it easy because their patients are knocked out. We have to hope our patients have a good sense of humor.”

I think of other times when humor got me through difficult situations. When my mom was about to get her leg amputated, we spent a lot of time together laughing about chainsaws and how we can use the leftover piece. If you can laugh at something, it seems less dreadful.

Learning to laugh at yourself also gives you perspective. I think about Jordan Peele as an example. He has rightfully earned critical acclaim for Get Out, his latest movie Us, and the upcoming Twilight Zone reboot. But whenever critics lay the praise on too thick and label him a reincarnation of Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Wells, I remember when he played Muhammad Ali in Epic Rap Battles of History.

Being able to see ourselves as others see us, with all our silliness and slip-ups, gives us perspective. It’s easy to believe the hype or get so caught up in our successes that we lose sight of who we are and the work needed to get there. We need to tell ourselves, “The emperor has no clothes!” We need to remember that all victories are temporary and repeats (or three-peats) are never assured. Each new challenge brings us back down to the beginning and requires us to work hard again. Just as laughing at ourselves makes hard times less frightening, it can keep our egos in check in good times.

Humor reminds us that we aren’t so great or so awful as we feel at a given moment. Laughter makes our hardships more bearable and our successes less disruptive. We can stay confident in ourselves and comfortable with our flaws and limitations. We can relax and enjoy the path life takes us, knowing that the highs and lows can be made more bearable by poking fun at them.

So enjoy some April foolishness today. It’s good for you.

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