Q: What do you get when you cross the Godfather with a lawyer?
A: An offer you can’t understand.
Q: How does an attorney sleep?
A: First he lies on one side, then he lies on the other.
It seems like there are more lawyer jokes than stars in the sky, and there may not be another group of professionals that takes as much pride in ridiculing itself as lawyers do. But self-deprecation and learning to laugh at oneself aren’t necessarily the same thing.
If you think laughter really is the best medicine, you’re right…and science backs you up. Studies show that the ability to laugh at yourself is a sign of optimism and that a good sense of self-humor can improve your overall mood, aid in the development of a more resilient personality, and even make you more forgiving of yourself and others.
In order to reap the benefits, however, most of us first need to learn how to laugh at ourselves in a healthy way. Doing so requires some introspection, self-acceptance, and the ability to understand what our own thoughts and emotions are and what they really mean.
Who are you and who do want to be, and is your sense of these things derived from within or imposed from without? Are these visions realistic or idealistic? And are you at peace with the “real” you…the person you are today? In order to benefit from laughing at yourself you need to know your own limitations. It’s one thing to laugh at yourself in a group setting, it’s another to be laughed at by the group like you’re some kind of court jester. The difference between the two can mean the difference between empowerment and detriment. This also involves recognizing the difference in the way we see ourselves as opposed to the way others see us.
For some people, laughing at yourself may not come naturally and may even take some practice. For those of you who need a nudge, try to think about a mistake you made in the past that was irritating or frustrating and consider how you might view that mistake as an outside observer. If you would have found it humorous as a bystander, chances are you will be able to find some humor in yourself doing it as well.
Once you have learned to laugh at yourself, apply that to your daily life. When you make a mistake or encounter some frustration, consider your alternatives. Can you fix the mistake, and if not, how serious and long-term will the effects be? Would getting angry or depressed make things better than laughing about it? Sometimes mistakes can’t be fixed, sometimes laughter isn’t useful or appropriate…but many times it is. Learn how to prioritize and classify mistakes and how to respond to them accordingly.
Recognize your own limitations. Remember that it’s okay to be judgmental about yourself (in fact it’s essential to personal growth) but avoid beating yourself up over your shortcomings. In order to laugh at yourself in a constructive way you need to accept that we are all naturally fallible. Look at your mistakes as opportunities to make a better you. Look at your successes as signs of personal growth. And don’t let water under the bridge keep you from appreciating the opportunities in the constant flow beneath. After all, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.”[i]
Learn to forgive yourself and keep in mind that perfection is rarely, if ever, achievable. Try to remind yourself that pretty much everyone will experience sadness and suffering in life, along with happiness and health. The key is managing how these things affect our outlook on life.
Being able to laugh at ourselves cultivates humility, which, unlike arrogance, makes us less sensitive to criticism and more willing and able to disregard daily slights and impositions and instead focus on the positive things going on around us.
Laughter really can be the best medicine…don’t forget to give yourself a regular dose every now and again.
[i] Heraclitus, Greek Philosopher circa 500 B.C.