For Mother’s Day, embracing our lost sense of humor

Published 11:54 am Friday, May 11, 2018

You’ve lost your sense of humor, and you need to get it back!”

Such was the admonishment my mother gave me many times over the years when one of life’s temporary failures gave me license to indulge in self-loathing.

“Life is full of difficulty,” she’d say. “And you can either find the humor in life or let its continuous challenges make you miserable and self-absorbed!”

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In my mother’s world, nothing is worse than self-absorption — nothing is worse being trapped in the narrowness of your own point of view.

During each of her “corrective sessions,” she’d have me laughing out loud before long.

You see, laughing loudly at life’s foibles was the greatest gift she ever gave my five sisters and me.

Most nights after dinner, when I was young, my sisters and I sat around the table, relating stories about we’d done that day or week and laugh deep into the evening.

On her 80th birthday a year ago, each of her family members (including 17 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren) shared stories, on video, about how her nurturing, love and humor has touched us all — a video presentation that was side-splitting funny.

One of my mom’s funniest stories dates back to the 1980s.

While other moms got real jobs in companies, my mom, much to my family’s embarrassment, staged children’s birthday parties as Clown Clara. She wasn’t embarrassed, though; she couldn’t have cared less what other people thought. She loved nothing more than making children laugh, and children loved her Clown Clara character.

Regrettably, a male thief dressed as a clown had been robbing area banks; the clown robber had been widely reported upon in the local media. One Saturday morning, the clown robber struck again and the cops were on high alert.

Coincidentally, my mother, dressed as Clown Clara, was speeding to a gig that same morning (she still has a lead foot). A police officer spotted her and the chase was on. He barked at her to exit the station wagon, hands up, no funny business.

It took some time to clear up the confusion — at one point, the cop thought my mother was in cahoots with the guy who’d hired her to stage his kid’s party. When the confusion was finally ironed out, my mom had but one response: a giant burst of laughter.

My mother knew of laughter’s benefits long before scientific studies confirmed them.

Laughter, reports Forbes, releases endorphins in the brain and induces euphoria. It “activates the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin,” which provides a similar effect to antidepressants. It helps us form social bonds and strengthen our relationships.

My mother also knows that not all laughter is created equal. Self-deprecating humor is the best kind. It uplifts us and brings us together. By poking fun at ourselves, we escape ourselves and focus more outwardly on others.

However, she greatly dislikes sarcasm, mockery or ridicule — “humor” that is popular with many late-night comedians in our divided and polarized times.

Such “humor” does not uplift. It demonizes those we disagree with. It encourages us to harden our thinking. In increases polarization. It tears us apart.

Regardless of one’s politics or ideology, most of us agree on the issues of the day more than we disagree. Our differences have to do with approach, not necessarily the outcome. All of us want to eradicate poverty, educate our children, and solve a zillion other problems.

We need to re-engage in civil conversation to more effectively do that. One way to get started is to heed my mother’s advice.

“Hey, America, we’ve lost our sense of humor and we need to get it back!”

Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood,” a humorous memoir available at, is a nationally syndicated humor columnist.