Everybody else does…
Every once in a while, no matter how hard you try to see that tired old glass as half-full, it’s not. It’s completely empty. Nothing to do but throw it into the fireplace, excuse yourself from the company, and retire for the night.
When physical, financial, or spiritual problems just suck the joy right out of life, and we can’t seem to fix them, the next best thing is to laugh at them so hard they cringe in embarrassment and sneak out the back door, the way I had to do at a party that time, when — well, you don’t need to know all that.
I believe the only way to lick those problems is to laugh at them. (Please don’t really lick them.)
No more extended warranty on that body of yours
I recently reviewed several years’ worth of my journals, looking for patterns and perspectives. Apparently, my top three concerns have been the state of my soul, my wallet, and my health. Of these three, only the health entries are of any use at all. (News flash: Weight you lose will always return. I have proof, Bridget Jones-style, in those journals.)
Health-wise, I’ve lately begun to accumulate various chronic conditions, nicely layered, like a colorful parfait.
And since they are my conditions, they are naturally much worse than anyone else’s conditions— at least, to me. I’m only half joking. I am mildly surprised at how quickly people dismiss or diminish the problems of others, at the slightest mention.
But I’m on to them now. I am cataloging the tactics people use whenever I have been foolish enough to mention an illness or an issue:
- The “Empathy” Gesture: “Oh, I used to have that, but I changed my diet and it went away.” I finally realized that’s not really empathy. That’s just someone making the issue about them. They then proceed to give you free diet advice and perhaps try to sell you a supplement or a juicer.
- The Internet Riposte: “Well, that condition often resolves on its own.” Well, I read WebMD, too, and further down the page it also says it could be cancer. WebMD always put cancer at the bottom of the page, but that doesn’t fool me one bit.
- The Victim Attack Direct: This one is delivered with a look of sweet concern: “You know, that can be stress-related.” Well, right now, they are stressing me out, because now I want to punch them in the arm.
- The Eastern Deflection: Yoga again. Of course.
Only a few special people in our lives will be capable of expressing the genuine concern those health challenges deserve. In other company, we can be free to make light of our own conditions, if we feel like it.
For example, I’ll make my favorite old joke about my forgetfulness by saying, with a straight face, that I have a growing interest in the hereafter. When someone kindly asks what I mean, I reply “Well, whenever I go into another room, I wonder what I am here after.” That joke is so old that a whole new generation has not heard it.
Or, when some random chucklehead starts doling out free health advice, you can ask them if they’d look at this rash you have, right here…
These Bob Dylan lyrics mean something else entirely on a macro level, but on a micro level, which is me, they mean that whenever I swear about money, money just swears back. I’ve never been what anyone would call “good with money.”
But the money entries in my journal show that being anxious over money doesn’t make you any smarter about it. In fact, it appears to make you less smart, as you will take more chances, or accept jobs you will hate immediately.
Every one of us probably has at least one friend with more money than we have. Perhaps you even envy them a little: they post on Facebook from Dolce & Gabbana, while you post from H & M.
To feel better immediately, and perhaps even laugh out loud, just remember that the chances are nearly 100% that they, too have at least one friend with more money than they have. While your friend posts from Dolce & Gabbana, their friend posts from Turks and Caicos.
But I haven’t missed any meals, of which, again, I have proof in the journals.
So I don’t care about money anymore, which is practically un-American these days. And that’s odd because truly American goals are supposed to be life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — which you can only really have when you don’t care too much about money. Now that’s funny.
Spiritual problems are truly the last laugh
A little boy and his grandmother are walking on a beach. A mighty wave crashes ashore and sweeps the boy away. The grandmother prays fervently to God to return the boy, and miraculously, another huge wave washes in and deposits him, unhurt, on the sand at her feet.
The grandmother hugs him, looks him over, and then, looking up at the sky, calls out, “He had a hat.”
People tend to focus like lasers on what we don’t have. Buddhists teach that our cravings are the root cause of all suffering, preventing our enlightenment. Ideally, we can detach from those cravings by following the Eightfold Path.
But our spiritual ideals can be complicated by messy human feelings and failures and real-life predicaments. It is one thing to seek enlightenment; it is quite another to seek gas money. It is one thing to let go of ego; it is quite another to realize you can’t even find your ego in your current personal situation.
When we hit desperation mode, it may take more than a cheery poster or a calming app to help us regain our balance. It may take the truly ridiculous.
So when it’s just all too much, and you’re headed into one of those moods we get for no good reason, I recommend digging even deeper until you find the most ludicrous, cornball, irony-free, full-on-Pollyanna, asinine something in the world to be grateful for.
Not some list of three things, or ten things, because that’s too much work. Just focus on one idiotic positive thing, so thatthe hurt and the anxiety and the disappointment will give it a rest for a hot minute.
I’ll give you one example, and one example only: While walking down the street in one of my worst moods ever, just ticked off, sick of my own self, and sure that nothing would ever get any better, I suddenly looked down and thought:
“Well, at least I got feet.”
And I snorted a faint laugh because they’re pretty big and bony feet, and I’ve never really liked them. They’re hard to buy shoes for, and they get these callouses. But by God, I had feet. I swear, I felt a faint momentary pride, and that made me laugh at myself a little more.
What’s even funnier is that now I don’t even remember what I was so miserable about.
But I do remember that little mantra of gratitude and amusement, and you’re welcome to borrow it if it helps you. And if you don’t have feet, then God bless you, and I hope you do have something that gets you through the day.
Advice that’s not even a list
I’m fascinated by the infinite and the ultimate, particularly by the way we humans handle the knowledge that we are all just here on earth for a visit.
And even though we constantly complain about our life, we complain even more about leaving it. We’re just like children who insist they don’t like taking a bath, baths are awful, but later don’t want to get out of the tub, even when they’re all pruney and wrinkly. I hope I remember to laugh when I’m all pruney and wrinkly.
Because laughing, that minor paroxysm that’s half ouch and half orgasm, really will help us live longer. I think it’s because it just surprises death and breaks the mood when we snicker and say, “Not today, you clown. Not today.”
So I am going to laugh at my problems.
And I’m going to laugh at death — if it’s the last thing I ever do.
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