Monday, June 30, 2008

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the ...

Knock, knock. Who's there? What is humor? What is funny? Why do we want to laugh? Many researchers believe that the purpose of humor is related to making and strengthening human connections. "Laughter occurs when people are comfortable with one another, when they feel open and free. And the more laughter [there is], the more bonding [occurs] within the group," says cultural anthropologist Mahadev Apte. This feedback "loop" of bonding-laughter-more bonding, combined with the common desire not to be singled out from the group, may be another reason why laughter is often contagious.

Human beings love to laugh, and the average adult laughs 17 times a day. Humans love to laugh so much that there are actually industries built around laughter. Jokes, sitcoms and comedians are all designed to get us laughing, because laughing feels good. For us it seems so natural, but the funny thing is that humans are one of the only species that laughs. Laughter is actually a complex response that involves many of the same skills used in solving problems.


Research has shown health benefits of laughter ranging from strengthening the immune system to reducing food cravings to increasing one's threshold for pain. There's even an emerging therapeutic field known as humor therapy to help people heal more quickly, among other things. Humor also has several important stress relieving benefits.


We know laughter is powerful, because we feel good when we laugh. And we know it is contagious; when a person laughs, everyone else lightens up, too. Even when it feels as if your life has spun into chaos, you can put yourself in another state that connects you with who you are and what you desire to create. No one can take away your consciousness. When you know that, you also know you can change your circumstances. The cloud covering the sun is about to move, as you remember who you are. Laughter is a quick route to remembrance.


What do YOU think?

33 comments:

PS said...

An interesting and optimistic blog. But how about the moral conundrum
of malicious humor/laughter? It is a frequent practice in this digital age for videos depicting awful situations on normal people; these situations are meant to elicit laughter but truly this is how one acknowledges another's misfortune. In sitcoms such as Seinfeld we are frequently given a George Castanza dealt into painful situations and we laugh. Cartoons such as Family Guy bring nonsequitors of violence and debauchery and it is 'humor'. A standup comedian makes a joke and for every 100 people who laugh perhaps one is offended. Certainly laughter makes one feel better, but there is also a moral dilemma to be taken into account.

Lee said...

Humour is one of the most important things in my life. I love to laugh and bearing in mind the above maybe that says more about my own psyche than I'm comfortable revealing.

I find humour in the oddest of places, and inappropriate laughter and myself are very good friends indeed. Ohhh I don't do this out of choice, I just can't help myself, if something is funny I laugh, if I realise the silliness of a situation, I laugh, if I can see that there really is nothing that I can do about a given situation, that's right, I'll end up laughing in the face of 'it', just to spite 'it', just to show 'it' that 'it' won't beat me that way.

Laugh in the face of danger, I'm your man! After all, life is rather silly overall.

Gabby said...

I know what you mean. You know the kind of laughter that makes people freeze? Sometimes I forget about the cosy-style-law but I'm sure my American friends will remind me. :-)

Chaz said...

I think applying a "purpose" to any innate human attribute has to be arbitrary and speculative, and whatever you chose you will be able to find factors which directly contradict your findings - so diverse and complex is human life. eg Laughter can alienate as well as strengthen human connections, as it can be useful to ridicule and divide and shun. It all depends.

I think Apte is looking at the positive side and ignoring the negative. We all love e good belly laugh but it is not recommended if you have stitches after colon cancer.

Vamadevananda said...

Sometimes, which is often enough, we laugh because we are impotent at whatever we are facing ! That's the fact we do not wish to face up to, or own up. Genuine mirth arises from the child within us, in the transactional sense.

But I heard the adult advocating the laughter therapy ... ! ?

Molly Brogan said...

I find that I really don't laugh any more at pictures of people falling or being hurt - or jokes meant to belittle or demean. Like Lee, I do laugh at times and hear "It's not funny," when really I am laughing at the joy I feel in the absurdity or transparency. Whether we are laughing with or not, the laugh seems to bring us up a tone.

Taeguk said...

Laughter is definitely therapeutic, and it, along with tears, has always been tied closely to philosophy and religion. In Ancient Greece, Heraclitus with his pessimistic attitude toward human nature and doctrine of "flux and fire" was often called the "weeping philosopher" and Democritus the "laughing philosopher". Oddly enough, in China Laozi's Daodejing espouses similiar themes to Heraclitus' philosophy, yet he has traditionally been depicted as the "laughing master", as opposed to Confucius and the Buddha (although of course after the synthesis of Daoism and Mahayana Buddhism we get Hotei, the fat, jovial "laughing Buddha" of Chan).

I bring this up because it is interesting to note that one's metaphysical convictions can be understood tragically or comically, and whether a philosophy brings laughter or tears is often in the eye of the beholder. Schopenhauer's interpretation of Vedic philosophy and Buddhism was a lot more depressive than his source material, and perhaps because of him and other dour, 19th century Idealist thinkers Germany was once known as "the land without comedy".

Laughter is tied to comedy, but it can also be malicious, as in the German Schadenfreude. Henri Bergson noted that often humor often requires a "temporary anesthesia of the heart", essentially a temporary numbing of empathy. As Mel Brooks put it, "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die."

As with any other human phenomena, laugher can be used to unite or divide.

Molly Brogan said...

Knowing that humor can unite or divide is very insightful. I think it speaks to the individual "sense" of humor as it reflects who we are in the moment. What strikes us as funny can be very revealing, as is the sound of our laugh itself.

Perry said...

As you pointed out, there are many different beliefs about the nature of death and 'afterlife', none of which I can say I certainly believe in. But I will mention the one thing that I do believe when it comes to the topic of death, and that is that I do not believe death is something to be feared. A transition of states or simply the end of experience, either way I think that death should be greeted with a smile

I have recently, with the passing of comedian George Carlin, taken a liking to the mock-religion of Frisbeetarianism. He defined it as the belief that when a person dies "his soul gets flung onto a roof, and just stays there", and cannot be retrieved.

ornamentalmind said...

I think that some materialists here will present an entirely bio- chemical ontological view/explanation of laughter and demand that it is exhaustive and that the rest of the 'choir' drink the kool aid.

Francis said...

So that we can all be merry pranksters?

ornamentalmind said...

No, one had to be 'on the bus' to be a prankster. To drink kool aid in this context would require a trip to "The People's Temple"...in Guyana.

Molly Brogan said...

Not much funny there.

Francis said...

Oops. Right. Feel a shiver going up and down my spine. Molly's right, not funny at all.

Molly Brogan said...

Sorry, but I don't look at tragedy when I go looking for a laugh. Silly me.

Molly Brogan said...

I suppose this really speaks to individuality and what makes us laugh. We are all different. There is the Don Rickles humor that strikes at ridicule and cruelty and there is an audience for it. He played Vegas successfully for many years. In terms of deconstructive humor I prefer the post modern approach of Family Guy or the Simpsons, which is somehow more palatable yet still pokes fun at the human race. But there are times when this cannot bring a laugh for me, it all seems so sad instead of funny.

Perhaps humor is more a reflection of who we are in the moment.

FallingLeaves said...

I can't imagine a world without laughters and humour... how dull and pointless will that be! I enjoy satirical/ironical humours more than anything else and cannot find humour in tragedy as well :). I laugh at the way a particular politician talks, the clothes people are wearing, and the ridiculous speeches they sometimes make...

If any of you have been to Taiwan, you'd have seen a celebrity show that basically has all the actors dress up as particular politicians and they'd have a gathering, debating about everything... some of the best shows I've ever watched! I've always wished that they'd do a similar show in other countries... I wonder what it will be like if all the candidates of this year's American election have a gathering and discuss their plans for America TOGETHER... gosh, that will be the best entertainment of the year. Especially if they try to add a few reporters and critics.

John said...

Laughter, is founded on a situation consisting of someone's ignorance as compared to someone else's knowledge with regarding a situation in question. The "smart" person laughs at the "dumb" person... whether laughter is really funny or not is a personal question, depending to some extent upon whether one is the "laugher" or the "laughee". Someone spoke of "irony" above... Irony (literary device) is "funny" because the contrary "thing" or happening occurs to what was expected by some person (or character).... the audience or the standers-by "laugh" at the poor sucker who's expectations were totally reversed. Satire is the other sort of "literary device" cause for laughter. It too is founded upon the "ignorance" of some character as compared to the others... visual Satire is the more obvious, I suppose. Consider Charlie Chaplin as his tramp character. What is so funny about his looks, say? Well his hat is "too small" on his head... His coat is "too small" on his body... but his Pantaloons are much "too big" and sometimes, so are his shoes "too big" for his feet. Satire works on either "excess" or "diminution" as compared to what is "seen" to be actually required by a "knowing" other person. So... is it really a "kind" thing to do to laugh at another's "ignorance"?.... kind or not.... that's the way it goes, more often than not...

Molly Brogan said...

I don't think that everyone feels the need to be superior and so not everyone will laugh at such humor. Irony and satire can either unite or divide depending on the involvement of judgment in the humor. You can have humor of the unexpected without demeaning. There is irony that leads to an embrace of paradox that brings joy and thus, a laugh. Satire, also, can unite if we are taking a gentle look at ourselves and accepting our limitations together. But quite right, there is a market for divisive humor - as there are many folks with the need to feel superior.

ornamentalmind said...

of course, the best and most effective laughter is at ones self. Thus, the action of being has a reaction of a differing view, transformed by the function of self observation resulting in greater clarity and unity.

Robert said...

i sometimes find it necessary to alleviate the build up of so much absurdity that I've had to tolerate without the advantage of being able to point out to the absurderer that I find myself laughing to the point of tears, with maybe a little hysteria in there, a type of breakdown, when my absurdity threshold gets maxed out. I think that what you see as crazily absurd, pointless, futile, irrelevant, and life is too short why are you wasting our valuable time you idiot? These absurdities are relative to the individual who deems them so, but are the types of things that can lead you to an assortment of mental health issues, maybe even contributing to say one working mail "going postal"...When i see a comedian or someone else singling out a particular segment of the population representing a chunk of absurdity that has gotten to me, the laughter that comes from the deep recesses of my soul seems to "free" me up a bit, loosening up cells on a molecular level that where a bit stuck threatening atrophy, It's some kinda release, for me, though absurd to another, don't take yourself too seriously, but shirley, you jest.

Hannah said...

I think that humor is a response that developed in order for us to deal with grim ideas and situations without becoming overly depressed. It seems to me that humor helps us spontaneously transform "negative" situations into positive feelings by making it mean less, or "making light of it." I think this is why humor often centers on things that makes us frightened or nervous. Death, politics, and injury, when dealt with in a jovial manner, lose their sting for us, and are put in perspective.

I think humor's an activity that temporarily de-emphasizes the meaning or value of the object of the humor, and I believe that this explains why humor can be both wonderful and terrible. It's wonderful when it helps us relinquish our grasp on things that we take to seriously, such as personal ills or one's reputation, and terrible when it leaches value from things that really do mean something. That's the way I see it anyway.

Ulysses said...

Great Thread Molly!
It started out really well but somehow became overly analytical. The humor aspect has lost it's sheen. What I found most interesting was that humans seem to be the only species that engage in laughter. I do sometimes notice that when I'm in play with one my dogs and she realizes that I fooled her with a trick, she has this look on her face as if she would laugh if she could. I suspect that internally she is experiencing laughter without the external display of it. As with their other obvious emotions animals must somehow understand laughter. Personally I find laughter to be essential in my everyday world and will avoid people and situations that are otherwise. Peace, Love and Joy!

Molly Brogan said...

Q: What do whales like to chew?
A: Blubber gum!

Ulysses said...

That's funny Molly!
During the Great Depression there was a poor man vending apples on the street for 5 cents each. Every single day a man would walk by and drop 5 cents into the can and walk away without taking an apple. Six months later the poor apple seller finally stopped the man. "Excuse me, why all this time you put 5 cents in my can and never take an apple?" he asked. The gentleman responded "Well I am employed and make good money and thought that I would help you out during these hard times, but tell me, why in all this time did you not asked me about it?" The poor apple seller told him simply "I just wanted to let you know the apples are 10 cents now".

Ulysses said...

I failed to mention that I did think for a moment whether or not you were being facetious with the joke and just toying with me because I made comment of the depth of analysis concerning humor. Sure there are dark sides of humor but I gathered from your original post that you did not want to go there. Some members responded to the obvious positive aspects of humor while other entered and began dissecting it. If the intention of your initial post was to cover every minute particle then excuse me. I'm fine with it either way.

Molly Brogan said...

Nah, I don't toy, but do enjoy people. Your post was a good one, I could almost see your dog next to me, smiling.

Ulysses said...

Well no problem, if you change your mind though about the toying, I'm your puppet.lol There are animals that make sounds that mimic laughing and sometimes I wonder, like the Dolphin which is claimed to be highly intelligent and of course the Hyena.

Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist at Bowling Green State University says, "neural circuits for laughter exist in very ancient regions of the brain, and ancestral forms of play and laughter existed in other animals eons before we humans came along with our 'ha-ha-has' and verbal repartee" She further states that when chimps play and chase each other, they pant in a manner that is strikingly like human laughter. Also rats chirp while they play, again in a way that resembles our giggles. Panksepp found in a previous study that when rats are playfully tickled, they chirp and bond socially with their human tickler. And they seem to like it, seeking to be tickled more. Apparently joyful rats also preferred to hang out with other chirpers. Also; In a research study at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, Sibe Doosje in the Department of Psychology's humor lab has gathered information on the psychology and health aspects of humor.

So perhaps if anything laughing is not unique to humans but only our ability to joke and create pranks. I would guess more research is needed in this area. In the meantime I will continue to laugh as much as possible. After all maybe life itself is just a big joke.

Here, Have A Good Laugh >>>>>>>> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdOjCAtOn9o

Molly Brogan said...

I know that for me, laughing provides a kind of release - like from a good pun that allows me to see something differently or puts things in an unexpected light. It is also bonding - there is nothing like laughing yourself into tears with a buddy. With interest, I observe the more divisive kinds of humor - ethnic jokes - jokes that are against, or highlight the darker side of society. I remember a rash of Nichole Simpson jokes during that trial that mesmerized so many. I feel sadness there, and don't see the humor in it. But I do see that others do. And recognize that it might just be a release from tension of our shadow aspects. Like laughing at the horror or absurdity of life.

Ulysses said...

I see your point. Sometimes personal tragedies can become fodder for late night shows only because the object is in the public eye. I too sometimes feel sad at the occurrence of such humorous floggings. The release aspect is one that I can identify with as well. There is a certain feeling that occurs after a good gut wrenching laugh that results in the expression "ah gee that was good". Even with the tears and the tightened stomach muscles it is really good. On a daily basis I engage people in laughter and have been thanked many times by someone who spends the entire day in the blahs of the boring job. If I can give a smile to someone it somehow brings me joy as well and ultimately makes me feel better. When we take life seriously we set ourselves up for disappointment. I think the funniest thing about ethnic jokes is that most often the characterizations are accurate. We sometimes feel remorse for laughing at something we know is true but probably only because we are living in a more politically correct society. I get very apprehensive these days laughing at jokes that are derived from racist slurs. It's just not the same as it was 50 years ago even though I know the pertinence of the joke is still retains it's relevance.

Molly Brogan said...

I know that for me, I stopped enjoying the racial jokes when I could visibly see their painful effects on people of that race. Empathy serves well here. But I think we need to reach a point of maturity to understand - get to that point where we understand that the world is bigger than me and my group. I worked with high school aged kids for a couple of years and watched some of them make this transition the hard way. They would tell a racial joke in a group that included kids of the race they were mocking. I did not usually have to mediate, and it was fascinating to watch the discovery unfold. I could look on with compassion because of my own experience.

Your joke above is a good example of a good poke at humanity - how often do we overlook the gifts we have been given when we are fixated on what we don't have but want? If understanding of the common human flaw comes with the smile, the joke unifies and connects us with everyone else. If the smile is cynical, and the understanding is that this poor greedy bastard will never "get it" and the world is full of "them", then it separates, and allows us to feel our outrage or condemn our experience, which is what we need in the moment. Same joke, different take. Still a smile...

Ulysses said...

I think the hurt starts in the belief implied in the joke. Years ago I worked with emotionally disturbed children ages 8 through 12 in a university setting where the ED children were bused from ISD's. The university psychology students would spend time in the class as part of their applied curriculum. It was a unique experience and I learned a great deal from it. Primarily I found that the children were imbued with a sense of failure as a result of negative bombardment from the parents. After penetrating their safety net I was able to guide them to life changing paths. Trust was a huge factor as some had experienced serious abuses. However, I want to tell you about a specific example with a child whom I will call TC. Of course I want to back track as this may be parallel to the example that you presented about kids telling racial jokes amongst others of that particular race. Well TC was quite the bulbous individual and would often come to me with the complaint that someone was making fun of him because he was fat. I started to realize that he wasn't really that fat but merely responded to accusation. This conversation followed;
Slip; Well can I ask you a question? Are your ears green?
TC; (in a jovial way) NO!
Slip; So if someone said your ears were green would you get upset?
TC; No Way.
Slip; You don't get upset because you know the truth is your ears are not green. Right?
TC; Well yeah
Slip; Well do you think you are fat?
TC; No I don't think I'm fat.
Slip; Well you don't think your ears are green and you don't think you are fat. You only get upset if someone says you are fat.
Just then at that very moment in time he figured it all out and never responded to that insulting accusation again. Because he knew his ears were not green and he knew he wasn't fat, though he was overweight but he would toss every comment out as if the comment was "your ears are green".
So racial jokes are hurtful when the recipient has a belief that the joke relates to their personal assessment.

Tiffany said...

I’ve always been far too serious. Age has helped me to loosen up. I laugh more at myself and it helps. Helps to make the issues I’m struggling with (summed up in what they term the human condition) more endurable.
I don’t trust people without a sense of humour! I realized that the other day. I was reading a book titled A species in Denial, and although I agreed with a lot of what was being said, it was all far too serious … and I realized, anyone that can’t see the funny side of the situation makes me feel (regardless if this is the truth or not) that they are to inhuman.. that they are willing to suffer for their ideas… and then.. its all gets a bit too much for me. After all, life is life…