Laughter. That’s what the late comedian Robin Williams is synonymous for. As his wife Susan Schneider said in her tribute for him “This morning, I lost my husband and best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings… As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions”
What Susan his wife expressed I find to be beautiful & on the mark. He brought lots and lots of laughter and joy to millions of people. Now that is no small feat. We live in a world with lots of pain, loss & disappointment. Artists, whether painting on canvas, architects, interior designers, musicians, comedians and countless others all have something very unique in common. They have the ability to bring out the beauty from the everyday life, from the mundane, and from the usually overlooked.
Yes, Robin publicly acknowledged his struggles with depression & substance abuse; however, we find that many comedians are depressed and eventually decide to commit suicide. Very unfortunate, but what would be underlying this depression? After all, they are the ones who have that great sense of humor, the ability to make others laugh, bring joy to millions, have a new and almost optimistic view of life, and are constantly surrounded by admirers.
There are many, both in the laymen’s & medical/research worlds who feel that laughter is the best medicine. Melinda Smith, MA & Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. explain that there are numerous psychological & physiological benefits to laughter.
• Laughter helps dissolve stressful situations, decrease anxiety, anger, & sadness. It also helps you shift perspectives. When you laugh it can relax you and in a more calm state of mind you can view situations more objectively.
• Laughter is usually common with more than one person. This can create nice social settings and less feeling alone. Friendships can be developed easier.
• Be able to laugh at yourself and life. It can help keep things in perspective. We all mess up. We’re human beings and judging ourselves does not help. Laughter helps ease those judgments.
• According to the Mayo Clinic laughter enhances intake of oxygen which is great for blood flow which also increases the endorphin amount released from your brain. Endorphins are a natural “happy” drug comparable to opiates & morphine.
Dr. Gil Greengross Ph.D. has done research on why people actually become comedians. Is it possible that something from their childhood promted their career choice? Previous research indicates that significant stress from the home can be a factor. Some of these pressures can include dad who was not satisfied with their child’s accomplishments and other reasons for feeling inadequate in their father’s eyes. For female comedians it was frequently their mother who placed similar pressure & displeasure with their daughter’s falling short of her expectations. Becoming a comedian was not as popular a career in parents’ eyes back then, but the child saw this as an opportunity to show & prove their value. This career choice was a method to kind of escape and use humor as a coping mechanism to block out the feelings of pain & anxiety. Dr. Greengross feels that today’s younger generation of comedians can be analyzed differently. He conducted a research with questionnaires filled out by 2 groups of students some who became comedians or were becoming comedians & other students. In his findings he did not see much of an influence from peer or parent experiences which led some to become part of the more humorous club.
It’s a hard thing to pinpoint what exactly leads comedians to depression but I along with some of my colleagues have some theories. One of the theories was that people of the arts can be on a different frequency than the rest of humanity. They are so creative; they think about everything in a way that most people cannot relate to. Sure, people who watch the TV shows, the stand-up routines, and the movies laugh and enjoy, but they cannot fathom how this comic actually does what he does; how he thinks of these brilliant ideas. I would venture to say and add to this that when someone is so smart in their own way it can be really lonely and even depressing.
Another theory we came up with is that yes laughter is a good medicine. Doing something that relaxes you; whether a game of tennis or shooting some hoops, listening to music, watching a movie or comedy show can all be healthy and encouraged outlets. The wise mind is able to do these and know that it’s for a specific period of time and set boundaries for themselves. They are in pain and yet they want to be happy & positive. I would say that unfortunately comedians may sometimes get so caught up with life and forget vital skills of combining their emotions with rational and logical thinking to help bring them to a good place. They’ll still be in pain; we all are from different experiences, but anyone not only comedians need to have a dialectic thought process that helps them cope. It’s a lifelong journey.
Robin Williams will always be remembered for his laugh & smile, for his ability to put others at ease and help people get on their feet. He was the energetic and fun actor as the voice of Alladin, Peter Pan, the maniacal DJ in Good Morning Vietnam and last but not least his role in Good Will Hunting. The lesson for us is to remember that laughter is the best medicine. But just like any medicine needs a prescription and used in moderation we too need to view comedy, letting our hair down and other forms of outlets to be within measure.
There are a number of resources for those suffering from depression including Laughter Yoga for Depression. For those who have suicidal thoughts, they can contact The Suicide Prevention Center Hotline at 877-7-CRISIS or visit their website here. Additionally, there is The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline available at 800-273-8255 or visit their website here.
To end off, please enjoy the video below where Robin was a featured character in “Don’t Worry Be Happy”; a motto to remember him for.