Humor, the Bane of Pain

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…Or something like that.

So, as you can tell, I’ve been thinking about humor today. It’s something I tend to do when I’m feeling stressed, anxious or just discontent, because it’s during times like these that I become aware of the potency of humor as a sort of psychological cure-all. Now, I’ve always been something of a “troubled child” and as I’m growing older I’m finding that only the latter half of that seems likely to change. I struggle. That’s not uncommon, and there are plenty of people who have it far worse than I, but I struggle nonetheless. Through reflective thinking and philosophy, I am starting to figure out how to address my various little issues, but I sincerely doubt I’ll ever be entirely free of them. I’m starting to think that for some of us, that’s something we just have to accept. We can fight it, and we might someday beat it, but until then it’s important that we figure out how to accept and tolerate it.

Studying existentialism and the thoughts of philosophers like Epicurus on the nature of happiness has helped me to heighten my personal contentedness, but I still have bad days. So, I’ve started to work out various coping mechanisms (in fact, I’ve been working on them subconsciously all my life, which I think is true of most people). My primary coping mechanism is reading, and I do so very frequently. The escapism that literature makes possible is a wonderful thing when a little distraction is needed. My other coping mechanism, one I’ve really come to rely on recently, is humor. As far as I’m concerned, one of the few things we can say with any certainty about life is that it’s hard. We’re faced with challenges almost every day. Learning how to see the funny side of such challenges has helped me quite a bit. Humor, as far as I’m concerned, could mean the difference between laughing and crying hysterically on those days when everything just seems to go wrong. Not that I ever cry. I am a man, after all; crying is strictly forbidden to members of my sex.

So today I got to thinking about this marvelous thing. Now, I’m not exactly a psychologist, but humor strikes me as a very interesting aspect of the human psyche. It seems to be one of those distinctly human things, like art and music. The vast majority of us are drawn to it, and we tend to revere those who have a firm grasp of it. So what, exactly, is it? And what purpose does it serve?

I’m thinking humor’s the ultimate coping mechanism. The bane of pain, if you wish to indulge my penchant for rhyming post titles. I see it like this: over millions of years, our species has developed a uniquely powerful brain, one that’s capable of astonishingly deep and reflective thought. We all know the cost  of this – we’ll never be as care-free as our dogs and cats appear to be. We’re too intelligent; we see things too clearly; we think about things too much. And we all know what happens to people who take things too seriously. Without a bit of levity every once in a while, people simply break down.  We need a good laugh now and then. I believe our capacity for humor evolved alongside our capacity for deep thought, not necessarily as a bi-product of our intellect but as a sort of counterweight. It’s simple evolutionary biology; the ones who knew how to laugh didn’t get all wrapped up in existential angst when they were out hunting saber toothed tigers, so they got to survive and have babies. Of course, I’m not a scientist (as I never tire of pointing out), and I’m all for non-scientific explanations for things. Maybe God is actually the Ultimate Joker and in order to help us appreciate the occasional divine prank he outfitted us with the ability to appreciate comedy. Regardless, it seems clear that humor’s a pretty big deal. Comedy’s a serious business.

Here’s my point: humor is vitally important. This is something I’m becoming gradually more convinced of. You have to be able to see the funny side of things, to appreciate the comedy of life. Because if you look at it the right way, life’s kinda funny. Look at us all, running around constantly trying to find some sort of meaning in a world that doesn’t necessarily contain any, solving complex maths problems and composing beautiful symphonies but still having to get up in the middle of the night to take a dump. It’s absurd! It’s funny! But that’s not always easy to appreciate, especially when the going gets tough. Some people find it more difficult than others. I know I’m not always very good at it. You don’t need to laugh at every single little thing, but I recon it’s good to sit down every once in a while and try to look at things in a humorous light. Imagine you’re a comedian looking for material – all of a sudden every obstacle becomes a potential joke.

As Chesterton said: “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.”

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One response »

  1. Ahmmm you have a very open way of presenting what you wish to say and what perhaps might also be said. In this frezy of mordern world humour is our only solace otherwise we shall get bitter like Schopenheaur and ofcourse will lack flexibility of thought ,as he himself lost. It is very easy to become a dupe of our own mind.

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