On a recent vacation with my friend’s daughters (11 and 13), we played a joke on the server at a diner by dropping all our spoons in our glasses. No, we were not making lemonade; and yes, we do have a lame sense of humor. It was borne out of pure goofiness – a brainchild of my dear husband, whose mental age matched those of our young friends.
Not many people would get the humor who did not experience the moment, hence I call the still life painting in the featured image: The In-Joke (6X6, oil on canvas).
Up until that point, my friend’s daughters just thought that my husband and I were just weird – especially my husband with his rather bizarre sense of humor. (I am not much better.) But in that moment of goofy humor, my friend’s younger daughter connected with my husband. I saw her eyes light up as she joined in the fun, and now she’s made a tradition of it and sends us pictures of spoons in glasses at various restaurants.
What I find equally funny is how my memory of this incident is tinted in rose when it had every reason to prick me like thorns. This particular incident happened after a long day of outing and long car rides, when my pain was on the upswing and I was functioning on tramadol. Overall, I was not in the best of physical states, yet what I remember most vividly was how much fun we had with that silly little joke – not the pain or the discomfort, although both of those were equally strong.
Perhaps it’s true what they say: Laughter is the best medicine.
To lend some scientific credibility to the old wives’ saying, there was a study published in 2012 by a group of British, Dutch and American scientists that showed that the perception of pain in reduced by laughter. They suggest that laughter induces the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-relieving “happiness” molecules, that help people tolerate pain better.
“The results show that pain thresholds are significantly higher after laughter than in the control condition. This pain-tolerance effect is due to laughter itself and not simply due to a change in positive affect. We suggest that laughter, through an endorphin-mediated opiate effect, may play a crucial role in social bonding.”
Dunbar et al. (2012) Social laughter is correlated with an elevated pain threshold. Proc Biol Sci. 279: 1161–1167.
But I find humor to sometimes be a double-edged sword. When the trigger points in my upper back and chest are throbbing, laughing can feel like daggers stabs. Yet, my husband and I certainly turn to humor a lot, especially in times of pain. It is often sardonic, sometimes sarcastic or cynical, but dark humor is what keeps me afloat when I have no more strength to swim. I prefer to think of my life as a black comedy instead of a tragedy. At any rate, humor keeps my mind off the pain at least for a little while and gives me a reason to smile.
Laughter may not be the best pain medicine, but it’s certainly better having it than not!