Laughter is so widely accepted that the restraints against it are more apt to be from the inside than from the outside. Somewhere in our past, someone may have said threateningly, Dont make an exhibition. Stand still and behave yourself. Feeling good is allowing my energy to move, to flow and be free. If I stop myself from showing my good feelings, I stop the flow of my life force, and I actually dont feel as good. I dont hurt anyone by enjoying myself. If someone takes offense as I express my good feelings, thats their problem.
Many times, I come through painful places in my life by finding moments when I can laugh at my situation, and find some lightness in my laughter. I cant do this by going around my pain and pretending its not here”I have to go through the pain to get to the other side. But as I go through it, I may find a way to make a joke, or write a song about it. When I can laugh at myself in my difficult situations, I am more open to new ideas and new approaches. Marcel Proust, as he criticized some of the contradictions of the Church in France, also laughed and enjoyed the contradictions.
I can likewise enjoy the contradictions in myself. If my life were only absurd, it would not be worth it to me. When it is so exquisite absurd that I can only stand here breaking up with laughter at myself, its very absurdity is delightful. This humor amidst adversity and absurdity that Proust talks about can be gleaned from the concept of the film La vita e bella (Its a beautiful life). It may be difficult to grasp and many comparisons were made of Roberto Benigni with Charlie Chaplin when the film won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film.
La vita e bella encapsulates the message of humor amidst pain and suffering. A family in a concentration camp in Germany discovers that survival depends on their ability to put a frame of play around what happens to them every day. More specifically, a father helps his child cope with a terrible situation by convincing the child that they are participating in a game. The child wants to win the wonderful prizes and agrees to play. When the film was released in England, people commented, How can you make comedy about concentration camps?
The film had a lot of laughter, but it was a film about how the way in which we choose to view what happens to us in our lives can make the difference between life and death. But for those of us leading normal lives, our perspective only makes the difference between thriving and surviving. We can choose to shut out our emotions in the hope of avoiding pain, or to let pain in and use our gift of laughter to make it bearable. There was a lot of laughter in the film and there were also a lot of tears.
The film was an emotional roller coaster that taught that, better than anything one can ever read or see, the most important skill in the art of living is that we must be able to hold both our pain and our joy simultaneously when viewing our life experiences (Funes & Johnson, 1999, 26-37). In truth, seriousness does not stop because we laugh and funniness does not stop because we cry. They co-exist in our life and we must give ourselves permission to access both when we need to. Instead, we run to the doctor when we feel discomfort and get our choice of mood-altering drugs.
These drugs make the promise of letting us have life on a good day every day. Laughter and Creativity Arthur Koestler was one of the first psychologists to connect laughter and creativity. He suggests that laughter, the luxury reflex, can be used as evidence that we have put together two habitually incompatible associative contexts. The emotions that are associated with the sudden understanding and putting together of unfamiliar realms of experience are often mixed. We favor laughter when our reasoning process ascertains that no danger is present. The understanding of jokes is an example of the process he describes.
It is said in psychological folklore that children laugh 400 times each day whereas adults only laugh 15 times. The search is on for those 385 laughs that have disappeared between childhood and adulthood. My interest lies, not in why we turn away from laughs, but in how we can rediscover a few, to help us live lighter lives. Knowing that laughter makes us feel better, and actually using laughter and a good sense of humor, are not always the same thing. When asked, I say that laughter is good for me and that it makes me feel better, But when I reflect on how many times I laughed this week, I realize, I hardly laughed at all.
I obviously decided that laughter would have been inappropriate in the serious situations I have been involved in during the week. I did not laugh because the situation did not warrant it. I have rationalized opportunities for laughter as serious situations and on reflection discover that I have not laughed in years. And I think that is how the 385 laughs are lost. Knowing that laughter makes us feel better, and actually using laughter and a good sense of humor, are not always the same thing. When asked, I say that laughter is good for me and that it makes me feel better.
But when I reflect on how many times I laughed this week, I realize, I hardly laughed at all. I obviously decided that laughter would have been inappropriate in the serious situations I have been involved in during the week. I did not laugh because the situation did not warrant it. I have rationalized opportunities for laughter as serious situations and on reflection discover that I have not laughed in years. And I think that is how the 385 laughs are lost. It is an unfortunate quality of the human cognitive apparatus that we can hold contradictory living theories.
We act in one way, but believe that we do not. This is because as we grow older we realize that we can create our own rules for living. We no longer have to use the categories others give us and we make up our own. We decide what category a given action belongs to. We thus develop the ability to generalize our actions, to say one thing and do another and, when others point out possible inconsistencies, insist, That did not count! We take work seriously. Play is not serious. Play is for children. Work is for adults. If we are playing, we are not working and the two should never mix.
For if we play at work, or take things lightly with our sense of humor, we cannot be thorough in our work and we are most surely being unprofessional. If we say, Its just a joke, this means it is not real. We are putting a play frame around something painful, as in the case of jokes about national tragedies. William Fry actually defines humor as play, First humor is play. Cues are given that this, which is about to unfold, is not real. There is a play frame created around the episode. From this we could argue that there is no hurtful humor.
If we put a play frame around it, any topic can be used to help us laugh. To some extent this is true, What is missing from this equation is permission. Putting a play frame around some awful event at the office will help us deal with the awful event so long as all the parties concerned have agreed that this is play. But I have an observation that a lot of the laughter that happens in the workplace is what we label hurtful laughter. There is no permission. We tease and ridicule others under the very convenient heading of What is the matter with you? Cant you take a joke?
With that the victim is caught, unhappy about being picked on without permission but unable to say anything for fear of being labeled a spoilsport. Conclusion When there is permission, we can have the kind of laughter that helps us deal with stress. We can put a genuine play frame around work and benefit from all its qualities. If we have a good sense of humor at work, we can achieve that most fundamental of all work skills: we can be creative. When we give a monkey a problem to solve and it expects a reward, it takes longer to solve the problem than when it is just messing around with the problem. Humans are not that different.
If we can think about our work as play, we can free up our imagination and find ways to find laughter in our day even when the content of our work may be repetitive. A good practical model to help us decide when humor and laughter is hurtful and when it is healing is to use Charlie Chaplin as a benchmark. He is quoted as saying To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain and play with it. Some people call this Chaplins equation. It is this that we see him do in all his work. There are two aspects of this approach that we can highlight. First, he does not talk about the pain of others, but of his own pain.
Secondly, a hallmark of his work is that he plays with human pain with heaps and heaps of compassion. It is the same quality that we see in Roberto Benigni. When we explore the ways in which we learn, we define play as an activity that is done for its inherent value. This is significant because it only goes to show that there is no ulterior motive in true play, and it is this quality that we must strive for in our pursuit of real joy. (Funes & Johnson 1999, Chapter 4, 96-98).
Works cited Funes, Mariana & Johnson, Nancy, Honing you Knowledge skills. 1999. Moore, Tomas, On Creativity, Sounds True Recordings, 1993.