When was the last time you laughed? Really, really laughed? Can't remember, can you? Depression is such a thief. It steals all the fun out of life and leaves you trying to cope without the tools you need. Humor is one of those tools, and it's more important than you might think.

There are many kinds of humor: the gentle ribbing that family and good friends enjoy, the silliness of the Three Stooges or the Marx Brothers, the sarcastic, biting humor that some comedians inflict on their audiences, or the helpless kind of laughter that sends tears streaming down your cheeks and leaves you feeling drained, but oddly restored.

Whatever form humor takes, it has the ability to lift you out of the moment and out of yourself. It can lift your mood and your spirits. Humor may be absolutely the last thing on your mind right now. “There's nothing remotely funny about the way I'm feeling,” you say — and you're right. The goal is not to laugh at yourself but rather to find the absurd in the situation.

The Whole World Loves a Clown

Actually, the whole world doesn't, and many people are afraid of them. Clowns are paradoxes. The masks painted on their faces show either exaggerated expressions of laughter or pathos. There's no real emotion, and you can't tell what they're feeling inside. You may feel like a clown if you're working to put on your “happy face” and it doesn't feel right. You're not a clown, however, and you're actively working to change your perspective on the world. You're not a sham and your efforts are real.

Making Humor Work for You

“Did you hear the one about the short-tempered psychotherapist?

“Yeah, he lost his patients.”

Learning not to take yourself too seriously is important for managing depression. Humor can reduce stress, help you cope with anxiety, and put events into perspective. Humor gets the point across without being tedious, and an occasional joke can help you cope. Making the jokes relevant is the key! Each profession has its inside jokes, and so do most medical conditions. Why? There are a couple of reasons. First, humor is a bond. It's insider knowledge. It builds camaraderie and a shared world view. Second, and of specific relevance here, when you can laugh at something, it loses its power to control you.

Laugh and the World Laughs with You, Cry and You Cry Alone

It's true. People are sympathetic to a point, but after a while, if all you're doing is feeling sorry for yourself, pretty soon you'll be the only attendee at your pity party. Take action, after you've shared what you're feeling. Use that initial outpouring of sympathy and empathy to gear yourself up for some forward progress. The encouragement will continue if you're making a good effort.

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