Morgenson is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier
been laughing at ourselves for centuries. The comedies of Aristophanes
(circa 450. B.C.) still play to appreciative audiences in 2003
A.D. And in England there exists a book of jokes published in
1526, almost ten years before the Bible enjoyed its first complete
printing in English. What joy - levity beat piety to the punch!
not all of us enjoy jokes; it appears that the world is divided
cleanly into those who adore jokes and those who are left absolutely
cold by them. Critic Robert Benchley once said: "The world
is divided into two kinds of people -- those who divide the world
into two kinds of people and those who do not."
and artist Max Beerbohm whose work has brought so much laughter
and fun to so many once said: "Only the emotion of love takes
higher rank than that of laughter." And he went on to make
an even more insightful observation that love often has its origins
in the physical and ends in the realm of the mental while laughter
has its origins in the mental and ends in the realm of the physical.
Brooks once said that the best laughs are the "dangerous
laughs" -- implying the possibility of a stroke, heart attach
or loss of bladder control may be at the end of the guffaw. It
is those comic situations -- the off-the-cuff witticism, the unpredictable
fling of whimsy, the surgical puncturing of pretension, the predicament
to bleak that it allows nothing else but laughter -- it is these
which cannot be wrenched from their human context that make for
the keenest laughter.
research now suggests that laughter has a positive effect on blood
pressure, oxygenating the blood, laughter massages vital organs,
it facilitates digestion and during laughter, apparently endorphins
are released in the brain. Endorphins are the naturally occurring
opiates secreted in the human brain and during laughter, such
biochemicals ease psychic and physical pain.
late Norman Cousins (The Anatomy of an Illness/Head First) once
said that humor is "the apothecary residing in all of us".
He or she who laughs, lasts - it is form of internal jogging.
And even newer evidence suggests that laughing can have a favorable
effect on our immune systems (that system which helps us resist
diseases). Measures of T-cell counts (cells which seek out and
kill antigens causing illness) in our saliva show that there is
a significant increase in such cells after a healthy bout of laughter.
Allport, the psychologist who has studied human personality more
deeply than any other has this to say: "I venture to say
that no person is in good health unless they can laugh at themselves,
quietly and privately, noticing where they have overreached, where
their pretensions have been overblown. They need to know when
they have been hoodwinked, too sure of themselves, too short-sighted,
and above all, too conceited." Allport suggested that the
three central characteristics of the "mature" personality
were: a sense of empathy, a sense of perspective, and a sense
me, being able to laugh at oneself is the highest form of self-criticism
and a sense of mirth involve exaggeration, understatement and
an absurd juxtaposition of different aspects of the human condition.
Most important -- a sense of humor is capable of restoring a distorted
perspective. What is being communicated is a perspective on life
itself. And speaking of perspectives, I found an interesting one
on the side of a plumber's pick-up truck: "A flush beats
a full house."
has so many fine functions: in absolute despair laughter may be
a substitute for weeping. Coleridge once said: "Laughter
is oft an art to drown the outcries of the heart." Laughter
may be used to keep up one's courage or reduce one's fear. Laughter
may be used to cover an insult, our mistakes or errors. Laughter
is often the mortar which cements communities; laughter has a
unifying and consolidating effect. Shared laughter can create
communities. And laughter through satire is often the most eloquent
criticism -- ridiculing some of our silliest prejudices.
so many fine functions why is it that we, as individuals or in
groups, tend to be laughing less and less? Surely we have not
lost our sense of mirth; surely the humorous spirit is not dying.
. .perhaps the quality of our times makes such signs of the buoyancy
of the human spirit more difficult to bear. For example, today
there are many more people and more social contacts but the contacts
seem more impersonal, more mechanical -- we are increasingly strangers
to each other. And laughter often emerges from meaningful contact
possibility -- change may be blunting our sense of the incongruous.
With so many shifting scenarios, shifting values, etc. what once
may have been perceived as a ludicrous juxtaposition of elements
of existence no longer seem to be. The unexpected has lost much
of its effect.
satirical, too, has lost much of its sting, chiefly because people
(strange, here in the midst of the so-called "knowledge explosion")
are so lacking in knowledge regarding many situations they fail
to see the humorous aspects of them. With so little real knowledge
of the world we do not recognize the world as having contradictory,
disorderly, or eccentric aspects. Perhaps we have lost our sense
of the absurd, so essential for stinging satire.
finally, perhaps the standardizing effect of the mass media has
caused some of our laughter to diminish. The mass media do tend
to standardize the emotions, interests, tastes, attitudes, and
the thought of millions of us. Perhaps this is why there is less
laughter of sympathy/empathy, less laughter of comradeship, less
laughter of compassion, less laughter regarding human indiscretions,
foibles, and failings.
so laughter and a sense of mirth/humor remain our greatest blessings.
The old adage states: “Wit gives freedom and freedom gives
wit.” In our stressful lives, laughing together may be the
last form of anxiety-free communication we have. It is through
laughter and shared humor we keep our imaginations and intuitions
smiles and laughter as we need love. Laughter is like the pearl
which the oyster forms around that speck of irritation and there
are certainly plenty of specks of irritation in our lives today.
But smiles and laughter are out there . . . sometimes staggering
around . . . but they are there simply needing care and exercise.
I can assure you -- they will enrich our lives.