Even though old age is a fact of life, the truth is, we haven’t learned to cope with the mounting years all that well. When we’re young, old age seems a lifetime away, and being old doesn’t sound like an exciting prospect.

Partly this is the fault of our youth-obsessed culture. But partly, we “old-timers” too often forget that age is an achievement, and that it can be as satisfying, or even more so, than any other life stage. Old people can be interesting, jovial, lovable, active, wise, witty, and holy, if only we could cast aside the prejudices of our culture and our own negative attitudes toward aging.

Take a good look at laughter. Our laughter can help balance the difficult side of the human condition. When we’re going off the rails, as we’re prone to do, humor can step in and point out what is silly or just plain ridiculous about our situation.

Use humor to help you heal. For the majority of us, a certain number of ailments await us down the road, if they are not already at hand. Some of us, sadly, give up and simply hunker down to wait for the bitter end. Others fight back. The poet W. B. Yeats said an old person is like “a tattered coat upon a stick,” unless he or she responds to aging with clapping and singing. Celebrating life is what humor is all about. Be of good cheer!

Feel free to feel good. The key is that body and soul are a unit, and each influences the other. We know that stress saps our immune systems: The mental takes its toll on the physical. Likewise, laughter is not only an abstract flight of the imagination, it has a physical side, too, and does subtle but positive things to the body. These bodily changes are observable and measurable. Among other things, laughter releases endorphins, chemicals in the brain which help control pain. This in turn allows us to stop worrying, to become mellow.

Use humor to gain perspective. The power of humor to transform our heads and hearts as we age is no accident. It does this by putting our lives in perspective.  Life is a tantalizing mix of tragedy and comedy, one constantly playing off against the other. We can preserve our sanity by laughing at our own silliness at times.

Look beyond the laughter with hope and faith. If we can create attitudes and beliefs that enable us to look beyond the sometimes uncomfortable present situation with optimism, we’re surely sailing more smoothly to the promised land. Many call this hope. With hope in our hearts, it is easier to laugh, even in the presence of pain, even if we’ve lost our hair or our confidence or our friends.

As you age, even if laughing is the last thing you feel like doing, life still begs you not to give up on humor. We don’t need to belly laugh or backslap our way through old age. Humor is perhaps at its best when it is quiet and subtle and understated. The shy smile or sly grin may be more telling than the howl. Irony and parody and puns and all sorts of wit are lying in wait to amuse us, divert us, drive away our demons, heal us, and make our days happier.

Excerpt from “Humor — It Helps Us As We Age” by CareNotes

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