Funny stuff and a cure for boredom

Every year, for the April 1st I write a post about things that are fun and funny. This is a serious blog that deals with learning, self-help and career. If I choose to write about fun and funny, I must have some very serious reasons. Today I will share why I think that funny is important. For more reading I welcome you to check out here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Spontaneous laughter

When we experience spontaneous laughter, we experience relief. Our body releases endorphins. We feel deeply engaged and alive. This is just the opposite of the depressive boredom we so often feel. Sometimes our laughter and amusement is predictable, for example when we watch a great stand-up performance or try to visualize a funny situation as a mnemonic device. Other times we may laugh in unpredictable situations, when experiencing mindfulness moments, after successful sports exercise, during creative flow situation or when we see something grotesque. All kinds of laughter may be helpful, they definitely are better than boredom.

Boredom as a not so modern epidemic

Some amount of boredom is required for creativity. We come up with some pretty crazy ideas out of boredom. Any more boredom should be avoided. Being bored is bad for our satisfaction and health, reduces our energy and focus, and makes us act impulsively and carelessly. And we get bored more than any other generation before us, not because our life is boring but because we are less adapted to deal with boredom. Two hundred years ago, a farmer used to spend most of his life in one field watching the rear side of his horse, with a dozen of friends, neighbors and family neighbors he knew all of his life. Today we use multiple screens and our patience last around 7 seconds. Two hundred years ago, a bored farmer would become a cowboy, a gold digger or a soldier. Today, when bored, we may use extreme sport and wild parties. In either case, we might use some addictive and unhealthy substances just because they make us feel better. We take excessive risks and often get hurt. Depression and suicide is often simply another face of boredom. Hence, fighting boredom is a serious business.

Mindfulness as the first line of defense

Mental fatigue can be caused by repetitive tasks. Boredom in such a situation is understandable. Even the replay of a favorite movie feels boring and uninteresting. We cannot fight our boredom by doing more of the same things we do anyway. The first line of defense against boredom is increasing the attention span and ability to focus. Mindfulness training or meditation allows us to focus on small details, and avoid boredom in a trivial situation. Spending half an hour simply observing our surroundings, minding our breathing or keeping a single thought, we become more resilient to boredom. Observing nature, our eyes focus on infinity and rest. Our lungs slowly breath in clean air, pushing oxygen into our brain. The thought calms down and carefully follows the path we set for it.

ADHD and avoidance of boring things

Unfortunately, mindfulness is not for all. We have many duties, some of which include boring meetings, books, and tedious tasks. If the control of our focus is not very good, we can become easily destructed or overfocus on the wrong things. Meditation or mindfulness would often be too boring for something who has ADHD. Sports might be an easier way to burn energy and clean up the mind. An interesting practical challenge would be an even better way and for an exciting way to focus for a hyperactive person. Yet, even a young and very active person eventually needs to rest.

Burnout and laughter

If we become overly excited or tired, our brain becomes less susceptible to stimulation. Everything becomes boring. The very things that get us excited, may generate the most extreme kind of boredom. Boredom is an emotion, a state of mind. An abrupt change in the viewpoint may shrug the boredom. The best cure for the most extreme and stubborn boredom is pure laughter. As we laugh, we get less tired and more curious, we shrug the weight of responsibility from our shoulders, and we even do not feel pain. The tensest situations often cause uncontrollable laughter as a way to deal with the situation. People in burnout often laugh to protect themselves and deal with the situation. Preventive laughter may help us avoid bad situations.

When do we learn to laugh?

Even small babies laugh. That’s how they learn to enjoy the world, communicate with their loved ones, and deal with confusion. Babies laugh when they experience some extreme change in their viewpoint which is not threatening. When we play peekaboo with a baby, the baby starts to laugh. That’s their response to surprise. Babies do not yet have understanding of humor or language. They do not even entirely understand what they see. Yet they already know to laugh when they are surprised, as a way to award boredom and get attention and as a way to calm themselves. They laugh more when somebody is there to observe them. I quote from one of the articles I linked in the first paragraph:

Laughing – in many ways – has the same effect on social partners as playing. While the pleasure of playing is a way for juveniles to bond with each other, the pleasure of laughing is a way for adults to do so, as across mammalian species, adults rarely ‘play’. Shared laughter is as effective as playing in finding others to be a source of joy and satisfaction. Thus laughter biologically reinforces sociability, ensuring the togetherness needed for survival…. The psychologist Vasu Reddy of the University of Portsmouth has found that, by eight months, infants can use a specific type of humour: teasing. For example, the baby might willingly hand over the car keys she’s been allowed to play with, but whip her hand back quickly, just before allowing her dad to take possession, all the while looking at him with a cheeky grin. Reddy calls this type of teasing ‘provocative non-compliance’…. Humour nearly always requires a social component. Using naturalistic observations, the psychologists Robert Kraut and Robert Johnston at Cornell, and later the neuroscientist Robert Provine at the University of Maryland, discovered that smiling is more strongly associated with the presence of other people, and only erratically associated with feelings of happiness. That is, smiling is more likely to be socially rather than emotionally motivated. Thus, the presence of a social partner is one key component of finding something funny.

Surely, a skill we learn so early must be evolutionary critical. It’s a pity that many people choose to unlearn this vital skill.

Grotesque

While babies laugh in social situations, older children often find grotesque funny. Our youtube and facebook addicted culture is not that different from a never ending medieval carnivals, celebrating the grotesque as funny and not boring. Carnivals were simply subversive, turning upside down the official feasts and pageants regularly staged by throne and altar. All sorts of deformed creatures, performing artists and clowns used to entertain the crowd. The grotesque and deformed used to be the great source of laughter. The grotesque was memorable, it captured the attention, changed the viewpoint and often was pivotal to conversation.

The chase of happiness

While socialization, meditation, sports and grotesque cure boredom, the search for happiness may cause boredom. The search of happiness in itself is linked to depression. Probably we would not know what happy is, unless we had a basis for comparison. We should probably allow ourselves to be sad, uncomfortable, and puzzled, so we will enjoy happiness afterward. Once in discomfort, it does not make sense to run from it. Running from difficulties is boring. The brave way to face discomfort is stop, listen to the symptoms and look for the clues of resolution. If we face a hard challenge, and we are adequately equipped to face it, we will experience some sort of uplifting. Alternatively, when we accept the hard situation as an integral part of our life we may experience relief and occasionally laughter.

Not a waste of time

Enjoying the funny in our lives is not a waste of time. Funny fights depression. We open up for further learning and remember things better. If anything, a day with nothing funny in it is a lost opportunity. To feel the funny we need to open up and experience vulnerabilities and discomfort. Humor is a cure for burnout and boredom, an evolutionary development we so often underestimate.

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