Our Town: Family humor is no joke

Dr Tom Ferraro

I am in the arduous process of writing a book entitled “Unpicking Depth Sport Psychology: Case Studies in the Unconscious.”

There’s a section of the book called “Defenses athletes use to win.” Athletes use things like banter, horse play and jokes to break the stress and tension before and during games. This may seem obvious to you, but nary has a word been written about the use of humor by sport psychologists.

Sport psychology is by no means the only field to ignore the value of humor. In fact, I cannot recall much attention to humor in all those textbooks on family or marital issues either.

Yet ask anyone alive what drew them to the person they love and one of the first things mentioned is a good sense of humor. The ability to laugh, joke around and make light of life’s many stresses is a very big thing indeed.

Years ago, I met David Essel, an author, life coach and motivational speaker, and he told me of the time he interviewed mystic genius Maharashi Yogi, the guy who made transcendental meditation famous by teaching the Beatles about it.

When he described the interview, Essel said every question was prefaced with light-hearted laughter. David called back the Maharashi three weeks later because he couldn’t seem to remember much of the content of the interview except for the laughter, to which the Yogi’s assistant said: “Congratulations, you have learned of how the Maharashi lives joyously in the moment.”  True wisdom I would say.

Sigmund Freud noted the lack of philosophical interest in humor and wrote the book “Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious.” He thought the use of humor was one of mankind’s highest and most mature defenses, allowing us to express, get on top of and overcome some of our painful emotions.

The film industry takes humor seriously as well. Proof of this is seen in the fact that Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler are among the two highest paid actors on Earth. Advertising takes joking seriously too, with about 25 percent of all commercials using comedy and humor to charm and woo potential customers. Who doesn’t love the Geico caveman or that odd Liberty Mutual man dressed in yellow with his ostrich sidekick?

It is strange that family therapy doesn’t seem to focus on humor because some of the fondest memories I have are about those quirky family jokes that develop over the years. I don’t have the best of memories, but I do recall with clarity the joke that kept getting more elaborate about the worst drivers on Earth.

My father, my brother and I were always in a hurry to get places and when we encountered slow drivers, it got us very mad. And after careful observation we slowly determined that the world’s slowest and worst drivers were men of about 70 years of age, drove Nash Rambler two-door wagons with wood paneling on the side, ways wore a hat, had glasses and smoked a pipe. We hated those drivers for delaying our swift passage from home to wherever.

And there is only one joke I can recall without a problem, and it was the one from my little sister Chris. The joke went as follows: A girl named Jeannie was walking along the railroad tracks and was suddenly hit by a train. Her body parts were all over the place and Chris came along picked up an arm, a leg, the torso, the other arm, the head and shouted “Jeannie, pull yourself together!” to which my sister would laugh hysterically. From that point on I knew my sister was a little touched in the head.

And it was years before I realized that all the comments my parent were making as they watched a television show were actually not to be taken as what they actually thought but meant the opposite.

When they would say things like “Isn’t she attractive?” referencing some slightly overweight singer on TV, they did not really mean she was attractive but actually meant she was rather fat and ugly. This mental confusion was what probably drove me into the field of psychology.

And to this day there are only three people who can make me laugh uncontrollably, one of whom is my older brother, then my best friend Billy Cullen and my friend David Weiss. who was a television host and part-time comic.

I recall once being at the PGA Expo in Orlando and David was interviewing me for a show he was hosting. Every time he would open his mouth and ask a question I knew how his mind was working behind the question and I would burst out laughing. This went on for a few minutes and thank the Lord the show was not live.

Life is a grim affair filled with anguish and anxiety. And then it ends. This is yet another cruel joke.

Sartre said: “Hell is other people” with which most people agree.

One of the best ways to conquer all this anguish and anxiety is to hang with people who joke around and laugh easily and frequently. I bet that if you think about it, your family had their own unique, quirky jokes that developed over time and helped you to remain sane and intact.

TAGGED: Tom Ferraro

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Dr Tom Ferraro

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