Why we choose joy! The Healing Power of Humor and Finding Joy in the Journey
One of the blessings (and challenges) of being in the business of bringing joy and laughter to others is that it requires me to be cheerful, happy and energetic, regardless of what is going on in my life. We have all heard the saying “Fake it ’til you make it”, and this is a skill I have learned to master over the last 25+ years.
Recently I was the keynote speaker at a conference, and the topic I was given was “Joy in the Journey”. This assignment provided an opportunity to examine just how a clown generates joy and laughter…even when there is nothing to laugh about.
And it reminded me of when my youngest child Noah, at age 2 1/2, was diagnosed with Cancer.
The date was Dec. 11, 2003. When we got the news, we grieved. Our oncologist laid out the treatment plan, which included 3 ½ years of chemotherapy daily, steroids monthly, and quarterly spinal taps. We were devastated. Before we could blink, our son was whisked away for surgery, and our dreadful journey began.
Our business is seasonal, and we earn 70% of the year’s income between June & August, plus December, so we had gigs that same day. We tried to replace ourselves that day, but there was no one we could find. I called my client to explain the situation, and she said, “Oh… I’m so sorry to hear about your son. But you are still coming to my event right?” (FYI… when you are a Professional Children’s Entertainer, there is no paid time off, family leave or sick days…) This meant that I had to leave the hospital for 3 hours and go paint faces at a corporate holiday party in Minneapolis. I didn’t want to go. This is when the power of “fake it till you make it” became obvious to me.
The world didn’t care that my heart was breaking. The world didn’t notice that my face had been streaked with tears. I showed up, looking like an elf, and I faked joy. I discovered that after only about 30 minutes of faking it, I no longer had to. Real happiness and joy took over. I was fun and funny, and the attendees were fun back. This is important, because when I got back to the hospital, I had a giant epiphany.
I walked into my son’s hospital room, and the grief was palpable! Family and friends were visiting, and everyone was crying, and Noah was on his bed whimpering. I walked in, and brought all that joyful energy with me, and Noah perked up and said, “MOM!!!”. In that moment, I got my son back. After I greeted him, I pulled everyone in the hall and told them that we were done grieving in front of him.
That experience changed me. From that moment on, WE CHOSE JOY!!! We also chose laughter. I was already a student of the subject of humor and healing. Did you know that laughter releases endorphins? Those are the chemicals that function as neurotransmitters and block pain receptors in the brain. And the best part about it is that your body & brain can’t tell the difference between real & fake joy. Pretending to laugh & have fun has the same physiological impact as genuine joy. Yes. You CAN fake it until you make it.
My husband and I decided that we would practice what we preached and take the humorous path during Noah’s treatment. We laughed about everything. And because we laughed, things were funny (not the other way around). By now, you might be thinking that we sound a little nuts, after all, Cancer is no laughing matter, but we laughed anyway, and we got our kids to laugh as well.
What’s important to note here is that our entire medical team marveled at how our son handled the treatment. The prognosis was the same, but they regularly commented on his countenance and his excitement to come to the hospital for treatment. (No kids are excited about going to the hospital and getting poked!)
They acknowledged his willingness to take his meds at home, especially those that tasted absolutely awful. One doctor pointed out the direct correlation between his joy and the impact of the treatment on his body. It was so pronounced, that his oncologist invited me to create a program for parents of children who are newly diagnosed, to discuss the impact of joy and humor on the pediatric cancer journey.
Here is a 1 minute video that I shared in my keynote, which punctuates this lesson. The video was taken about a year after diagnosis, when Mark (aka “Oscar the Clown”) had to leave the hospital to go to work. At first Noah was upset and didn’t want to say goodbye, but then Daddy diffused the situation with humor…
I am grateful to report that Noah (aka “Thumper the Clown”) is now a healthy, joyful 14 year old, and his memories of that time are positive and pleasant. No, we aren’t happy-happy-joy-joy every minute of the day… only when it’s needed.
I wouldn’t wish this path on any child (or his family, for that matter), but for what we learned… I wouldn’t trade it either.
Humor heals, and even Clowns have to fake it sometimes!
(If you’d like to learn more about humor and Cancer, here’s a great article: http://www.cancercenter.com/treatments/laughter-therapy/)