The science of humor is a serious business. Humor makes us more positive and resilient. Clowns are used for therapy and funny animals may improve your well-being. I take humor very seriously. Each year I write an article about humor and publish it on April 1st. Enjoy. More reading here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
In Israel, we have many medical clowns. They go into various hospitals and make kids smile. It is a therapy not just for the kids but also for the clowns. Many of these clowns are ex-military with PTSD, victims of violence against children, survivors of car accidents, and hard disease. Just how do the medical clowns help?
After surveying 70 participants in clown therapy, the Israeli Ministry of Social Welfare published the following results in 2010:
- Improved relationships with children as well as other family members
- Enhanced balance in life and the ability to move beyond conflict
- Improved emotional flexibility without the need for drugs or alcohol
- Better coping mechanisms
- Increased creativity in finding solutions to problems
- A newfound sense of achievement and focus on personal strengths
- Increased self-awareness with the ability to laugh at themselves and their issues
- Improved self-esteem
- Openness to others
When you study personality traits associated with happiness, this is one of the lists you will find!
Grown-ups are just big kids
Honestly, all of us think about our spouses that they did not quite grow up. When they are with us they behave like teenagers. They might be smart, elegant, and respectful at work. Possibly they are role models for their students and their kids. When playing with other kids of their age they become childish. Be it in their 20s or 60s… Our spouses are often either very boring and full of themselves or very funny and insecure. Like teenagers.
Once I saw a guide for standup comedians. When asked for the best advice for a comedian, the consensus was: remember the way you were in high school and exaggerate. That will immediately be funny. The rest is hard work and attention to detail.
Medical clowns work not just for kids. They work for most people of any age, religion, and social status. Maybe we call our clowns differently. Standup comedy entertainers, sitcom creators, and funny youtube videos curators have their dedicated crowds.
Grown-ups derive the same benefits from humor as kids do.
The most wonderful achievements of mankind were produced by weird and disturbed individuals. Take a genius, look deeper, and you will see pain, aggression, or strangeness. We need diversity yet we are afraid of it.
Humor allows us to cope with strange and different individuals. Their thoughts, their behavior, their perspectives on life are shocking. To deal with the shock we often laugh. And people who shocked us also laugh, transforming the shock into a positive and bonding experience.
There are variations in all human traits. Large variations and outliers are weird. Depending on the circumstances, they can act both as positive and negative factors. Through humor, we introduce a positive perspective on the most irregular traits.
No safety net
We are somewhat afraid of clowns. For a very good reason. Humor is an excellent coping mechanism. It may disguise a lot of pain and aggression, without disclosing the true thoughts of the comedian.
Many comedians suffer from substance abuse, prolonged depression, and suicidal tendencies. What happened to Robin Williams shocked my entire generation, because he was such a successful individual and a good person in any sense I am aware of. Yet it should not surprise given the career choice or the extreme energy on stage with lethargy off stage. Even more so provided the selected occupation. Strangely, while the most common suicide technique for a white American male is a gunshot, the comedians choose to hang themselves or cut their wrists and throats.
Some comedians can be intimidating. The story of Bill Cosby, the court case of Woody Ellen. The smile can be hiding something cold and cruel. Our most successful supervillain is Joker. Joker was played by some of the most acclaimed actors, and his role was their crown achievement. Joker is not very strong. His vision is not frightening. Possibly he is the most surprising supervillain, as he is totally unpredictable.
In humor, there is no safety net. An entertainer either makes people laugh or fails miserably. And we do not want to know what hinds behind polished jokes and funny gestures.
Most of us live our daily lives slightly depressed. Before COVID19 we suffered from fear of missing out, always feeling that we missed some important opportunity. Our life can be objectively very good, and yet we can be sad and troubled preoccupied with some small nuances. Or life can be quite depressing, yet we will feel joy of missing out. Freedom to ignore the nuisance and have a cup of coffee, write a haiku with a fountain pen on a virgin white piece of paper, or play guitar.
There is something very liberating in accepting yourself and the world in all of its imperfection. Some do this in meditations, others in humor. If you learned zen stories, the moment of realization is somewhat similar to getting a punchline. Moreover, some of the great zen masters were quite comical in their total disrespect of social conventions.
Everywhere around the world, the comedian was the only figure allowed to tell the truth even if it was unpleasant. Comedians were very smart, and their messages were very powerful. Yet they were not taken seriously, and thus not dangerous for the authorities.
We get used to our lives, and cannot enjoy how good they really are. This is called homeostasis. Quite often we need a serious shock to enjoy the life we used to have. Here are 10 reasons why the world in 2018 was better than ever before. I quote:
- The percentage of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has plummeted since 1950.
- The percentage of the world’s population who can read has skyrocketed in that same period.
- Homicides and deaths in war have been decreasing for centuries.
- Motor vehicle deaths are dropping
- Life expectancy has been rising
- Clean energy is getting cheaper and cheaper
- More and more countries are adopting democratic forms of government
- Racist, sexist, and homophobic attitudes are becoming increasingly rare
- School bullying has decreased
- People are working fewer hours, and nevertheless earning more
Clearly, 2020 challenged some of these achievements, yet the setback is temporary, and incredibly fast adoption of new technologies and cultural changes probably permanent.
We find animals funny because they teach us something shocking about ourselves. For example, ants are sort of compassionate beings. They lack mirror neurons or limbic brains, but they care for wounded comrades in some sort of nursery. The ant caregivers probe sick individuals twice more than they probe their health comrades.
When we see cute animal behavior we activate our huge brains and discover some deep truth about ourselves and what makes us humans. Animals do not laugh like we do, except for hyenas, but animals definitely have their own sense of humor. I can swear that British cats smile, and this smile is one of the cutest things I have seen.
Playing cubs are extremely joyful, energetic, and cute. Even when they practice hunting or fighting. When a kitten plays with a mouse, the mouse does not think that the kitten is a bundle of joy. A mouse has mirror neurons, and it may be accusing the kitten of cruel sadism and providing false hope. Yet everybody else is absolutely delighted.
Animals are funny because they act so much like us. After all, we are hairless bipedal animals with large brains. If you are religious you may believe that we are so much more, yet we still find animals funny. We often find animal behavior and emotions anthropomorphic, but we also often find human behavior animal-like.
We use a lot of animal metaphors to describe funny and weird people. Strong as a horse. Stubborn like a donkey. Loyal like a dog. Cheating weasel. Fat cat. Treacherous snake.
Then we take different animals and write funny stories about them. The tradition probably predated Aesop, and there are still people writing funny fables. Nowadays mostly for cartoons, like Pearls Before Swine, which are published by some of the most respected publishers.
To be honest, animals are not like us. They have a different brain, prioritize different senses, and most of them are not omnivores. Horses and dogs are loyal and smart and can guide blind people, only dogs are predators and horses are essentially their prey. Women tend to ride large horses and carry small dogs in their pouch. Riding huge wolves and carrying miniature horses is something out of Russian folklore, not real life.
Peel carrots with a smile
There is a strange zen recommendation: practice smiling while you peel carrots. Boring, weird, cheerful, funny… These are not absolute concepts, but a state of mind.
Humor is a serious business, so do not forget to smile even when you are peeling carrots.