One evening recently, I joined my son as he watched The Daily Show, the satirical news show, as it spoofed Sen. John McCain's biography tour.
One pseudo reporter was on location at Gettysburg, Pa., where she reported that just before giving his historic address, President Abraham Lincoln received a cool drink of water from the young John McCain.
Maybe my soul was parched, but I laughed out loud and couldn't stop laughing. It was deep down gut laughter. And I guess my son sensed that his grumpy old dad needed to lighten up, because as soon as my laughter subsided he placed his headphones over my ears so I could listen to a podcast of the Onion, a satirical online publication.
Making fun of Sen. Hillary Clinton's famous 3 a.m. telephone call national security campaign ad, the Onion Radio News broadcast a "story" of Clinton receiving a 3 a.m. call from a slurring, drunken Bill Clinton.
It was all make-believe, of course. But it was also laugh- out-loud funny. It felt like I hadn't laughed like that in so long that I might strain a muscle.
My son is about to graduate from high school and head off to college. I hear outbursts of laughter coming from his room all the time. Comedy and humor, even though often juvenile, are a big part of his life. Twenty years ago I graduated from college.
I'm all grown up, but where did the laughter go?
Studies show that laughter bolsters your immune system, exercises your heart and lifts your mood. Clearly, I've been living without those benefits.
One clue to my malady could be my diet — my media diet. What I read and what I watch. After a day of slogging through stories about fatal accidents and robberies, I go home and turn on CNN, MSNBC or Fox for the political coverage, the battle for Democratic superdelegates, the humorless contest for the Democratic nomination, the Iraq war, soldiers dying, the looming recession, housing foreclosures — you get the drift.
The bad news wears us down. That's understandable. But when did life get so surly and so serious? Unfortunately, the problem isn't life. It's me.
I'm suffering from what certified laughter leader Bunnie McCormack calls a "Laughter Deficit Disorder." There's not nearly enough laughter in my life. We've all been there. In our headlong pursuit of happiness, we take life much too seriously.
"People get kind of cranky; they get stressed and forget to laugh," McCormack said when I called seeking advice. She's a media specialist in Pasco County schools, but in her spare time she teaches people how to laugh. Laughter is less about things being funny, she said. It's a habit, an attitude.
"There's a humor muscle," she said. "The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets."
They say that the only time when your right brain and left brain work together is when you're laughing. You can't be annoyed and you can't feel pain if you're having a good laugh.
If I can do only one thing at a time, I'd rather be laughing out loud.
Andrew Skerritt can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602.