Picture the scene: two wounded and exhausted cavemen running for their lives with some vicious, hungry predator in pursuit. They run through their fear and agony until suddenly their pursuer slips and tumbles from a height. Glad and sure of their safety, as they stop and gather themselves one turns to the other and smiles a rough and bloodied smirk of relief. Then, from somewhere that smile gasps into a strange sound like the cawing of crows. Not knowing what they are doing, neither early human can help themselves and soon they are rolling in the first ever throes of laughter. All the way back to their cave their shuddering occasionally halts them in more rounds of bellowing until they see the rest of their tribe and confound and infect them with their strange behaviour.
No doubt this is a fanciful thought, but whoever they were, those first humans to laugh, they created a vital tool for our survival. Whether we are hairy, almost-naked Neanderthals or, god forbid, modern, cappuccino-sipping hipsters, we all need the ability to release the tensions of life and to share that relief with our friends and family. It is the most ancient tool to aid mental wellbeing and we all use it daily, but it can also be used to block stress. Throughout my life I have tried to remember to laugh before difficult situations overcome me, even if at times doing so is somewhat morbid. But sometimes we must laugh through tears and sometimes we must laugh through broken toes, or worse, however, that essence – the stepping outside of a problem and separating oneself from the weight of it – is as sweet a cure as possible, albeit temporary.
These days I see so many people with the world on their shoulders that I feel the need to share some of the good fortune I have in being able to preserve my sense of humour in those darker moments. My logic being: if the cavemen could laugh in their harried struggle to become human then we can through our own too. And that leads me directly to the most useful truth I know in this regard – “first world problems”.
It is a little known fact to many of us lucky folk that over a billion people in the world today live without electricity. Think about that. Something that we take completely for granted is an unobtainable luxury for literally tens of hundreds of millions of people. So, when a lightbulb goes and I have to replace it I remember that I am extremely fortunate just to have access to electricity. And when the government raise taxes I appreciate not living in a warzone under some maniacal dictator. I am not being dramatic, I am being bluntly realistic and honest, and it works. Every day I think of my problems as so-called “first world problems” to remind myself that I have far more to be grateful for than to be hurt by. This standpoint allows me to laugh at myself for being annoyed by no matter what the situation is, by remembering how lucky I am to be me and not one of the huge portion of the world who don’t have access to clean water, food, warm clothes or medical care – let alone luxuries. Even now when I have to queue for something, having learned about the queues in Poland in the eighties, I think of in-laws and my fiancé having had to REALLY queue and I have no trouble patiently standing in line indefinitely.
Ironically, in these modern times of instant connectivity it is easy to lose sight of the greater world. I am guilty of it as much as the next person. But in realising that very fact there is a great, comforting mutuality in the knowledge of perspective. So take comfort in the silliness of being annoyed at most of the things that cause road rage and high blood pressure. You have come through too much already just to let minor nonsense offend or upset you. You’re better than that! So laugh at yourself, heartily, then at the situation, then at life as a whole. For if you must cry, cry tears of laughter and remember the two hairy men cawing like crows.
Stephen Fahey – [email protected]