My late grandmother worked for Readers’ Digest back in the mid-seventies. One of her jobs was to read through submissions for a section called Laughter: The Best Medicine. It was a beloved feature of the magazine sharing stories submitted by readers. Each was less than a paragraph long, but each one captured the shared experiences of our hysterical, ridiculous, laugh-out-loud lives.
Each month, my grandmother would go to the office and gather the hundreds and hundreds of submissions that had come in. She would schlep it all home in cardboard boxes, read through each one, and select the most amusing to turn in to her editors. In the summers, when I visited, she’d let me read through the boxes with her. Some were some duds, of course, but many were just wonderful—snort-worthy short stories that teased the silliness out of the life we live. Reading them, I always felt better. It seemed true: Laughter really might be the best medicine.
So to my teacher and principal friends, I ask: Have you gone too long without laughing out loud? Have you stopped letting yourself enjoy the humorous parts of our jobs? It feels good to give yourself permission to laugh, to smile, and to enjoy the work.
How, though? How can we? Especially nowadays, when everything feels so important, so high-stakes, so stressful?
Well, we can find the humor, that’s how. A couple ideas:
Embrace the tattle. I literally keep a journal of some of the things kids say about one another. They are hilarious. My favorite this week was the indignant boy who pointed to the child next to him and furiously reported, “Mrs. Schwanke! He’s giving me the silent treatment!” (Let me pause to point out that I’d love to be given the silent treatment by that particular child, but that’s another story.) Embracing the tattle won’t be as easy for my friends who work in middle or high schools, but I’m sure there’s still some humor in seeing how kids feel wronged or offended by one another. Right? Even a little?
Practical jokes. Not everyone likes a good practical joke, so this one comes with a caveat: Most people love to play around a bit with each other. Tease, joke around, find some tricks and little stunts to pull on your friends and colleagues. And be a good sport when it’s reciprocated. There’s nothing better than a good prank to get people smiling.
Share your stories. Not long ago, we called for outdoor recess when we had an unexpectedly warm day, but we needed students to stay off of grassy areas and muddy fields. We told students on the intercom, “Outdoor recess, but blacktop only.” A first grade student looked down at her outfit, dismayed, and wailed to her teacher, “But I have a blue top on!”
The teacher told me the story and I laughed like a fool. Then I re-told it ten times, because each time I did, there was laughter.
Relax. One of the teachers at the yoga studio I attend likes to remind as, as we grimace our way through an awkward pose, “Remember to chill, guys. After all, it’s just yoga.” When she says this, the air in the room lightens. It's a good idea to remember not to take everything so seriously, so we can better enjoy the process.
Ask the 10-10-10-10 question. Sometimes, there are extremely serious situations in which we cannot and should not look for reasons to laugh. Time, though, may make that change. There are many versions of the “10-10-10-10” thing, but the one I use is this: “Will this matter in ten minutes? Ten days? Ten months? Ten years?” Most of the time, I realize my situation will surely dissipate by the time I get to days or months, and all of them dissipate by ten years. And then I wonder, “Will I laugh about this in ten minutes? Days? months? Years?" Most of the time, the answer is yes.
Listen: To be clear, I’m not suggesting we all run around making fun of life and whooping it up, party-style. Not at all. I just want us all to take a collective breath and smile a little more. It can be a private thing, even—a shaking of the head, a private, “Huh?!” conversation in our mind, a hidden smile. Or it can be connecting with others with a joke and a grin. Doesn’t matter, really; it’s just nice to remember to laugh. It’s medicine, after all. Good medicine.