Humor and Aging: I Can Relate to That
By: Kathy Laurenhue, M.A., C.H.P.
There’s a saying, “We’re all mature until someone pulls out the bubble wrap.”
While that’s true, maturity has taught me two other things:
Only some aging jokes are funny.
It’s more important to have fun and be cheerful than to be life-of-the-party funny.
Only Some Aging Jokes are Funny:
In my role as staff trainer for senior residential care communities, I often use cartoons to make points that ring (too) true about:
The big 3: Hearing loss, vision loss, and bodily leaks
Memory and its randomness (Where are my keys vs. song lyrics from the 1950s)
Medications (What can you take that’s not worse than the disease?)
Balding scalps and hairy ears (men)
Hot flashes and global warming (women)
The joys of staying home and going to bed early
If you’ve experienced these, my hope is that you can laugh about them, because it’s that shared experience that’s funny. As psychologist and longtime AATH member Steve Wilson has said, “90% of laughter is about social connection.” Scholarly research has shown that socialization – being regularly engaged with people you value and who value you in return – is vital for both our emotional and cognitive health. We laugh harder with others than alone, and “I can relate to that” is the basis for almost everything that makes us laugh, including the shared creaks of getting old.
On the other hand, it’s not funny to be made fun of. As is true in virtually all groups, we can laugh at ourselves, but don’t laugh at us – although siblings may be an exception. I once sent my older brother a birthday card showing on the outside a beautiful forest of Giant Redwoods with copy praising their majestic beauty as they stand tall “century after century.” The inside copy read: “Thank you for planting them.”
One perhaps surprising thing older people are likely to laugh about is death. I would guess that most of us are comfortable discussing our obituaries, funerals, and burial preferences – to the revulsion of our younger counterparts. (Personally, I am currently torn between cremation with my ashes turned into fireworks and cremation and with my ashes put into a biodegradable turtle “urn” and placed at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea. On the other hand, the idea at right is mighty tempting.)
It’s more important to have fun and be cheerful than to be life-of-the-party funny:
Cheerfulness requires that we remain curious about life without taking it too seriously. Author Ann Lamott, who calls laughter “carbonated holiness,” wrote an article a few years back about getting comfortable at 60 with how inscrutable life is. Her latest life philosophy, she wrote, is:
“Who knows? Who cares? But isn’t it something?”
Yep. It is.
In Jane Wagner’s play The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe performed by Lily Tomlin, her bag lady character at one point advocates for doing daily “awe-robics” – exercising our brain to pay attention to all that is awesome right in front of us. When we do, we will automatically smile and that’s gratitude, which leads to a positive attitude.
While a good sense of humor might be defined as being able to laugh at the absurdities of life, to be in good humor is about maintaining a cheerful attitude, a willingness to be playful and creative and see where it leads. In fact, in one Berkeley Breathed Opus cartoon, Opus (the penguin) is confused by Michael Binkley trying to find himself when he “figgered” our goal was to create ourselves.
In short, humor (and wisdom) in aging means we are never too old to keep creating our cheerful selves. So bring on the bubble wrap.!
About the Author:
Kathy Laurenhue, M.A., C.H.P., is CEO of Wiser Now, Inc., (www.WiserNow.com) a staff development and publishing company focused on wellbeing in aging. She is the author of five books including Creating Delight – Connecting Humor, Creativity, and Play for all ages, which sums up her life philosophy and goal.