Getting back to the lighter side

A psychological reflection for the coming new year.

The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter. Mark Twain, US Author (1835-1910) What a summer it has been. Who would have ever imagined -although perhaps we should have-that one third of Israel would have been under attack by thousands of missiles indiscriminately targeting against innocent Israeli civilians, and killing and maiming so many people. One million Israelis were made refugees as many fled their homes to take shelter and provide safety to themselves and their families. And, our brave soldiers -young and old, husbands and fathers - fought against a new and very different type of enemy. Now, the kids are going back to school and the High Holidays are approaching as Israelis watch and hope that the cease fire will hold and most people are demanding a serious national introspection and investigation to see what can be learned from this war and what we can do to make sure we are better prepared in the future. Nevertheless, it's time to lower the adrenalin and anxiety flames that Hizbullah and Hamas have been continuously trying to inflame. It's time to try to be positive with ourselves and our loved ones. Don't stop doing the things that you know make you happy; put a smile on your face or someone you care about. Whether it is going to do your favorite aerobic exercise, telling a good joke, playing games with the kids or taking them to the park, taking a family day trip, taking a walk on the beach to watch the sun go down, curling up in your favorite chair and reading a great novel or a book of poems while sipping a calming drink, getting together with friends, making a party, going to the movies, eating at your favorite restaurant, or making love to your spouse, do it, don't put it off. All these positive experiences will make you feel better, laugh a bit and put a happy smile on your face. Think about what you have and turn those negative thoughts into positive ones. What I am suggesting is what the cognitive therapists have been telling us for years, positive thoughts bring positive mood states. It's our emotional weapon against the bad guys that are trying to break down our spirit. Well, don't let them. In fact, it has been proven that laugher and doing things that make us smile actually enhances our general well being and promote health and resiliency during times of crisis. Norman Cousins taught us in his book, The Anatomy of an Illness, why laugher is one of nature's wonders. Many years ago, Cousins was diagnosed with a terminal disease and his physicians stated that he had only a short time to live. Cousins, a believer in holistic medicine, decided to try to do whatever he could to lift his spirit and hopefully strengthen his immune system enough to beat his illness. He got a hold of all of the humorous books and comedy movies he could read and see, and lo and behold, his illness actually disappeared. His physicians were amazed and to this day, residency-training programs in medicine require their students to read this book to grasp the importance of our emotional states in countering disease. More recently, the trend of using humor therapeutically was portrayed in the movie of "Patch Adams," starring Robin Williams. In fact, the movie is based on a true story of a physician who decided to humanize medicine and incorporate humor and laughing into the therapeutic care he gave to patients. It works. In other words, what psychologists know today is that helping people to look at the lighter side of things during tough times is in fact a very powerful coping mechanism. Just as our physical immune system protects us from toxins in our environment, our psychological immune system protects us from the toxins generated from psychological stressors that we experience in the world around us. While the physical immune system produces antibodies to help protect us from biochemical toxins, the psychological immune system produces "antibodies" to help protect us from psychological toxins. Humor strengthens both our physical and psychological immune systems, reduces stress hormones, aids in combating emotional distress, and improves people's attitudes. During difficult times, humor helps to sustain the psychological immune system by altering how we feel, think, and behave. Well, I believe the above examples provide a powerful message and give us some tools to transform our current worries into more positive moods. After all, the way terror groups fight their wars is by using terror to instill enough fear in people so that they can no longer function and enjoy life. It truly is an evil psychological weapon. Let's fight back against it --don't let fear get the upper hand. Let's show ourselves that we can be happy and enjoy life in spite of terror groups' attempt to rob this from us. My message to you is that while it is necessary to deal with the real threats we face and to be prepared, nevertheless, it is essential that we try to get back to life and have some fun, and make each moment count. And don't worry, the good guys are going to win this war and the dictators and terrorists will lose. And our choosing to keep our spirit positive, hopeful, and happy each day can be a powerful weapon against the forces of evil.
Dr. Mike Gropper is an American trained child, adolescent and adult psychotherapist and marital therapist, and the director of SmokeQuitters [] Contact him at Golan Center, Ahuza 198, Ra'anana, (09) 774 1913, or Jerusalem Medical Center, Diskin Street 9A, Kiryat Wolfson, Jerusalem, (02) 563 6265,