Skip to content

Skip to table of contents

Facing Illness With a Sense of Humor

Facing Illness With a Sense of Humor

Facing Illness With a Sense of Humor


CONCHI is a cheerful middle-aged woman who has been battling cancer for seven years. Since the first diagnosis of breast cancer, she has undergone seven different operations to keep malignant tumors at bay. How does she cope?

“When the doctors give me bad news, if I feel the need, I cry as much as I can to get the grief out of my system,” she says. “Then I try to get on with my life and do things that I enjoy​—such as learning Chinese, attending Christian conventions, and going on holiday with my family and friends. I always remember Jesus’ words: ‘Who of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his life span?’​—Matthew 6:27.

“And I always try to keep a good sense of humor,” she adds. “I make jokes with the doctors, watch films that make me laugh and, above all, try to have regular contact with friends and relatives. Having friends with whom you can laugh is a wonderful tonic. On one occasion, just before surgery some friends and relatives told me about an amusing incident that had occurred the night before. I laughed so much that I went into the operating room totally relaxed.”

Conchi is not the only one who has discovered that a good sense of humor and a positive disposition can help us cope with health problems. Modern medicine has also begun to recognize the valuable role of humor in our fight against pain and disease.

Beneficial for Body and Mind

This concept is nothing new. Three thousand years ago, King Solomon wrote: “A glad heart is excellent medicine.” (Proverbs 17:22, The Jerusalem Bible) Lope de Vega, a Spanish author of the 17th century, likewise wrote: “If we could spend good humor, I think we would live healthier.” But in today’s stressful world, it seems that humor is hoarded rather than spent. We apparently live in the golden age of technology, but the decline of humor. The work El arte de la risa (The Art of Laughter) notes that in modern society it seems that “Homo sapiens [mankind] has been replaced by Homo digitalis.” Sometimes digital bytes and computer monitors seem to be supplanting the language of laughter, gestures, and smiles.

A good sense of humor helps patients to have more positive thoughts, emotions, and behavior. According to a recent article by Dr. Jaime Sanz-Ortiz, a specialist in cancer and palliative medicine, humor “facilitates communication, strengthens immunity, alleviates pain, lessens anxiety, relaxes emotional and muscular tension, and inspires creativity and hope.”

The Invaluable Sense of Humor

Why is a good sense of humor effective as a healer? Because it is a quality that allows us to handle situations in a positive way, even in the face of unfavorable circumstances. “By including humor and laughter in our daily lives, we maintain our energy level, we alleviate fatigue, and we expel self-pity,” asserts Sanz-Ortiz.

Naturally, what makes us smile or laugh differs from person to person and from culture to culture. “Just as beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, so humor depends on the mind of the spectator,” explains Sanz-Ortiz. But whatever our background or education, a good sense of humor is often an effective way to communicate and a useful outlet for accumulated anxiety, tension, or insecurity. If it can help us so much, what can we do to cultivate a good sense of humor?

The first step we can take is to stop focusing entirely on our problems or our sickness and start trying to enjoy the positive side that every moment gives us. Furthermore, we should strive to think in a rational way, rejecting distorted or irrational thoughts that only exaggerate our predicament. We can also develop a sense of humor by learning to look at things in a different way. We don’t always have to laugh or smile, but if we see the amusing side of a situation, it will enable us to cope. “Humor momentarily transfers our attention away from our concerns and gives a new perspective to the problem . . . , allowing us to deal with it with renewed options,” Sanz-Ortiz maintains.

Of course, a good sense of humor is not an antidote to every crisis we face in life, still it will often help us to confront problems in a more positive, balanced way. As Conchi recognizes, “it’s no joke being sick, but you have to try to keep your sense of humor. I imagine my life as a vegetable garden that has many different crops, one of which​—unfortunately—​is my disease. Yet, I try to keep it in a corner so it does not overrun the others. Of course, I can’t say that I have beaten cancer, but I am still enjoying life, and that is very important.”

[Picture on page 27]

Conchi receives encouragement from her husband, Felix, and her younger sister Pili