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Wednesday, 15 June 2011 11:15

You're Laughing Now?

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I have a terrible memory. However, I remember an event from over 15 years ago that didn't even happen to me. I was the spectator. I was in the airport at baggage claim waiting for my luggage. There was a woman with three kids traveling alone, waiting for her luggage. She had her arms full with carry-on bags and her kids were running around. As she stood there, the bottom of the paper bag that she was holding ripped and all of the contents in her bag dropped to the floor.

Did she yell at her kids?

No.

Did she fly into a rage?

No.

Did she cry?

No.

She laughed.

To this day, I remember this woman and her reaction. It stands out in my mind because it is not a reaction that would typically come from me in such a situation. Fortunately I am married to a man who has a similar temperament to the woman at the airport. A few years back, we had traveled to Northern Canada to see polar bears. We were flying out of Winnipeg and we got snowed in. I love traveling, but when it is time to come home, my mind is set on coming home. Flexibility is not my strong suit.

Because of the conditions and scarcity of outbound flights, we were pushed back two days. I was upset and stressed. I wanted to go home. While my first reaction was to whine to anyone who would listen and scheme about how I could get out sooner (though there was no hope), my husband had a different impulse. He walked outside the airport doors and came back in with a small snowman he had made from the falling snow—the same snow that was preventing us from getting home.

This simple gesture reminded me to lighten up. There was nothing we could do, so why not make the most of it? I had a choice. I could be miserable for the next two mandatory days in Winnipeg or I could have fun. It reminded me of the woman in the airport. The bag broke. She could feel negative about it or she could just laugh at the craziness of traveling alone with three kids.

When I recounted this story to my friend, Raoul, he shared an example of his own. At the time, Raoul was battling a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. While he was being a full-time patient, his wife, Monique, was working full-time. Her project at the time was working on succession planning for top-level leadership in the company. Strewn about her home office were presentations, white papers, and books on Succession Planning.

One day, Monique said to Raoul, "You are not allowed to die—or at least not the same year our 10-year old dogs die.” Raoul replied, "Hmmm…you're right. I should develop my own succession plan if I kick the bucket. Since we’ve been married almost 10 years, you would not be very good at dating, so let's figure out who will take my place. Tell me what you are looking for in your next husband and I’ll start to do a search for you."

Raoul says that this conversation led to many laughs along the way during his eight month battle fighting the cancer. They would tease about what Monique was looking for and whether, like Raoul, he had to speak Spanish and love Greyhound dogs. Raoul said that the whole journey and how they handled it together brought them closer than they had ever been in their relationship. Death was staring them in the face and they chose to laugh. Fortunately, no succession plan was needed.

How we react to the stressors in our lives can absolutely affect our health. Studies show that people who have a positive outlook and feel a sense of control over their lives have been found to have fewer illnesses, fewer doctor visits, faster healing, improved survival after heart attacks, and increased survival time with breast cancer.

I haven't mastered the art of finding humor in typically stressful situations, but I'm working on it. How about you?

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Outside Winnipeg airport, 2005


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