What Are You Laughing At?

First the Seahawks stumbled and now Jon Stewart’s retiring — it’s been a rough couple of weeks in our household!

Jon Stewart’s announcement that he plans to step away from The Daily Show at the end of the year brought to mind a time in my life when his particular brand of humour greatly helped my own mental (and marital) health.

A number of years ago my husband and I had undertaken a renovation of the home we lived in at the time, a 110 year-old former crack house with good ‘bones’. We started with the top floor and for the duration of the renovation our bed was relocated to the basement. Our new room was a dark and kind of dreary place we affectionately called the Cave, but it did have one redeeming feature our old bedroom had lacked: a TV.

Cartoon by Victor Yalom; permission to reprint by Psychotherapy.net

Now some people may tell you that planning and living through extensive renovations with your spouse will bring the two of you closer together. Step away from those people, they are cruelly lying to you. Like a bucking bronco, the renovation flung off any time and budget lassos we threw to try to contain it, and trampled over our initial enthusiasm and any lingering goodwill in the process. By the time the planned 6-week renovation entered its 3rd month with no end in sight, our patience – for noise, for drywall dust, for cost overruns, for sub-contractors and often for each other – was stretched to the limit.

We got into the habit of crawling into our cave bed at the end of the day and turning on the Daily Show. Jon Stewart’s ability to reliably find the humour (or at least the sardonic wit) in a situation helped us end the day in a calmer and more light-hearted frame of mind, and gave us a point of connection with each other (which would last. Right until the beginning of the next day!)

Donald Winnicott, a psychotherapist whose work was groundbreaking in the area of attachment, was asked by one of his students how he knew when a client he was seeing was someone he would not be able to help. He responded, “When I’ve sat with him for a time and there has been not a single moment of humour or levity.”

Having the ability to find humour, to see and laugh at our own human ridiculousness or the ridiculousness in a situation, is one of the most healing and therapeutic things we can experience. Although a typical therapy session might contain moments of heartfelt anguish and connection to grief or other emotional pain, when it also holds some laughter (as it almost always does), I know we’re on the right track.

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