Humor Will Help You Finish Any Race
EXERCISES FOR THE SOUL
by Dr. Bernis S. Siegel
As we get older, it is important to maintain a childlike sense
of humor and to let your inner child express itself; otherwise,
life can become oppressive and difficult. I know from experience
how easy it is to focus on what is troubling me rather than on
what heals and sustains me. Our souls are light, and we must be
willing to see the light side of life and to encourage laughter
on a daily basis.
When we are children, humor comes naturally. As adults, it can
take effort to inject humor into our lives. I have tried to cultivate
a childlike perspective when I am out in the world, seeing things
as if through the eyes of a child. I follow directions exactly
as they are given. When I am asked to “sign here,” I
write “here” on the slip. That keeps things light and
in perspective. When I buy lottery tickets, I always ask the woman
selling them if she will marry me if I win. Some of the answers
have been very interesting! I also ask for senior discounts no
matter what day they are offered, telling the clerks that seniors
can’t remember what day it is anyway, so I want my discount.
It takes courage to be a clown. One must have self-esteem and
not worry about what others think of you. Another example is the
mailbox at the bottom of our driveway, which is fifteen feet in
the air. Painted on the side are the words “Air Mail.” Everyone
knows our house at the post office. Most of all, when you act like
a clown, you meet and encourage the clown in others; you discover
children of all ages. I once entered an area that said, “Nobody
allowed here,” saying to the guard, “I am a nobody.” The
guard earned my respect and a hug by telling me he was making me
a “somebody” — and so I had to leave.
One time I even dressed as a nurse at a surgical department dinner.
I wore a white nurse’s outfit I borrowed from our office
staff, plus balloons for breasts, a wig, and makeup applied by
my wife. And like Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, I got up and gave
a critical, impassioned speech. I was amazed by the positive comments
I received the next day at the hospital. Humor makes everything
easier to digest.
It is wonderful when your ability to laugh brings out the child
in another person; you both then experience a much better day.
At my post office recently, the clerk told me some jokes while
he processed my package. I told him I was going to mail empty boxes
just to come in and hear his jokes.
Humor helps us get through even the toughest of times. The exercises
in this chapter will supply you with ideas and sources to bring
humor back into your daily life and uplift your soul.
Keep a Smile Journal: Humor in Your Daily Life
Throughout my life, my tendency has been to make notes about painful
events, and not the humorous and healing ones. I had to learn to
become aware of the latter events. In this way, what is stored
within me are not just the hard times but the joyful ones. In general,
I suggest you always make notes to keep yourself consciously aware
of the meaningful moments in your life.
For the next week, however, do something more specific. Carry
a small journal, and every time you find yourself smiling or laughing,
pause to write down the details of the moment. Write descriptions
of the events that make you smile, from emails to chance encounters
in the supermarket. Read your pages every evening before you go
to bed, and in the morning reread your notes to prepare yourself
for another joyful day.
Notice what type of humor appeals to you and inspires your childlike
laughter. Keep this journal as a resource so you can refer to it
when the clouds block the sunshine out of your life. You will discover
you can make your own weather.
Share a Funny Story: History and Laughter
When you laugh, you transcend the physical aspects of your life
and your troubles. Humorous stories shared with family and friends
are a great way to bond with others while having a great time.
For this exercise, accumulate material in your life that makes
you laugh and share it with your loved ones. If you are not sure
how to begin, schedule a family dinner and an evening around sharing
stories, old photos, and videos. This will bring you all closer,
heal wounds, and help you to smile at the past.
Ask friends and especially senior relatives to share memories.
To get a storytelling session rolling, you need only ask them questions
about old times. Believe me, you will soon find yourself immersed
in humor and love.
Watch a Comedy: Laugh Together
It’s true — laughter is the best medicine. In his
book Anatomy of an Illness, Norman Cousins demonstrated a positive
therapeutic response to watching Candid Camera videos. Studies
reveal that just anticipating seeing a comedy changes people’s
This exercise couldn’t be easier. Set aside an evening to
watch a funny movie at home with your family and friends and just
enjoy some laughter together. Those are the moments in life that
we always treasure. Now, don’t fight over which movie you
choose: follow my prescription of an initial dose of Mel Brooks
with a booster shot of Woody Allen. Or, treat everyone to a movie
in the theater and make a point afterward to spend some time together
retelling the jokes and reliving the scenes that you enjoyed the
Your world is not likely to experience a disaster because you
weren’t serious for every minute of your life, and it may
well avoid one because humor heals wounds. Who can get angry at
a clown? So kick back and find something that makes you laugh!
On a side note, if you want to enjoy a car trip with the family,
bring along a CD or tape of Mel Brooks’s 2000 Year Old Man
with Carl Reiner and play it as you drive. Just keep your eyes
on the road as you laugh.
Read the Comics: Laugh through the Week
Here’s another easy exercise: take time to read the comics.
This is worthwhile not just because they will make you laugh but
because they contain wisdom about the nature of life. Charlie Brown
and Blondie are part of my morning ritual and help me to start
the day with a knowing smile.
Next time you read the comics section of the newspaper, cut out
a cartoon that makes you laugh. Post it wherever you need it most,
such as on your refrigerator, a bulletin board, or at work — so
that every time you see it, you will smile and feel your spirit
lifted. Share your favorites with your friends and family so that
everyone can get a good laugh, too.
Take your comics with you when you go to visit sick friends who
can really use a good laugh. And don’t forget your doctor,
Do the Unexpected: Make People Laugh
If you can bring variety and childlike humor to the everyday situations
in your life, it will definitely make your life more interesting.
For instance, when I go to Ernie’s Pizza to pick up an order,
I always ask if my Chinese food is ready. The boss knows me and
laughs, but his staff always tells me I am in the wrong restaurant
and tries to help me figure out where I should be. Well, guess
what was waiting for me the last time I went to pick up our pizza?
Right! Three containers of Chinese food, and the whole restaurant
was in an uproar.
Love and humor benefit both the giver and the receiver. Creating
a situation that makes others laugh lifts everyone’s spirits.
Finding ways to do the opposite of what people normally expect
keeps life from getting drab and dreary. Playing the trickster
is good for the soul.
So keep the child in you alive, and for this exercise do three
unexpected things. These could be small things — like sitting
down with your child to draw and coloring only outside the lines
or throwing a dinner party and serving breakfast. Be creative.
The street where I live is a dead end, and on the sign that says “no
outlet” I hung one that says “bring batteries.” Do
what Bernie would do: get a kick out of your day and bring out
the child in everyone.
Excerpted from 101 Exercises for the Soul: A Divine
Workout Plan for Body,Mind, and Spirit by Bernie S. Siegel.
Copyright © 2005 by Bernie S. Siegel. All rights reserved.
Excerpted by arrangement with New World Library. $17.95. Available
in local bookstores or call 800.972.6657, Ext.52 or click