“To be serious is to be self-righteous. The foundation of healthy humor is joy. Before we can have a sense of humor, we must be joyous. If we are joyless, we are humorless.” (Dr. Thomas Hora, Beyond the Dream.)
We seem to be in a humorless time. Most of our nations’ leaders and politicians take themselves so seriously, they are incapable of genuine laughter, healthy humor, or lightheartedness. Their energy fields consist mostly of somberness, anger, resentment, anxiety, and judgment, all of which are grounded in fear. These negative energy fields are the main focus of the vast and omnipresent social media and news outlets that continuously bombard and penetrate our awareness, creating a collective consciousness that feels oppressive, burdensome, dispiriting, divisive, hopeless, and joyless. How will this juggernaut of negative energy be reversed?
I am not optimistic the reversal of this negativity will begin from the top down. Too many people in power today appear to have deep-seated character flaws which are unlikely to change. They seem to be incapable of the self-awareness needed to self-reflect, which is fundamental to being able to change. I believe real change will have to come from the bottom up. That means this reversal of negativity starts with you and me.
Lately, I have noticed I am drawn to people who still express healthy humor. They are witty. They laugh at themselves. They express amusement at the vagaries of life. Now I am sure I have always been drawn to these people, but today the attraction is like that of a parched desert animal to an oasis.
What Is Humor?
At a very basic level, humor is thought expressed as form. Healthy humor such as amusement or gentle laughter is energetic thought expressed in a way that heals, harmonizes, and elevates. Unhealthy humor such as sarcasm or ridicule is energetic thought expressed in a way that wounds, divides, and diminishes. Much of humor is wordplay, but the impact of humor is primarily a function of how the words are expressed. So whether the humor is healthy or unhealthy depends heavily on the nonverbal aspects of communication which are facial expression, gestures, position, posture, touch, eye movement, and paralanguage which includes the rate of speech, tone of voice, and emphasis. With humor, there are two additional factors–timing and context.
Healthy humor sparks healthy and/or hearty laughter. A side-splitting episode of laughter has an amazing transforming effect. I recall a time when I was working with a young woman who was very unhappy in her relationship with her boyfriend. She had a litany of complaints about his shortcomings and transgressions. I had encouraged her to first practice being a happy person herself, so she could bring happiness to their situation. I explained if she could be happy regardless of what he did or did not do, she would feel empowered and could make a better choice as to the future of the relationship. She had dutifully tried to do this for several weeks, when one day in a session, she exclaimed, “Why do I always have to be the happy person in this relationship!!” Without thinking, I quipped, “Yes, it’s not fair you’re the only one who has to be happy most of the time!” There was a moment of silence, then she started to laugh, and so did I.” We laughed so hard at the incongruity of her complaint that we were in tears, laughing until our sides ached.
What about that exchange was so funny? In some respects, our exchange was the “perfect storm.” All of the elements of healthy humor were simultaneously present. The prime ingredient was the young woman taking herself very seriously. The timing was also crucial in two respects. First, we had had time to form a comfortable working alliance. Second, we had met often enough for her frustration to build to a point where she was impatient for change. Another factor was how I spoke the words. I responded from “compassionate amusement,” which I define as gently and/or humorously pointing out the overarching seriousness of the ego. So I probably had a wry smile on my face while emphasizing the words “. . . It’s not fair. . .” Fortunately, she quickly saw the irony in her expressed distress over having to be a happy person in her relationship.
Have you been the recipient of compassionate amusement? Although I am certain there are many I do not recall, two occasions stand out for me. The first was in the late 1970s when I was training to be a Naval officer at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. I had a roommate and we lived off-campus in Chevy Chase. Training began sharply at 8:00 A.M. every weekday morning. One morning we got off to a late start, and of course, we got caught in a traffic jam. He was driving, and I became very anxious about being late. I imagined all the disciplinary actions as a consequence of our tardiness. I kept saying, “We’re late, we’re late!” I was the white rabbit in Alice In Wonderland. My roommate tolerated this until finally, he smiled, turned, looked at me, and said “We’re not late yet.” I looked at my watch, and sure enough, he was right. At that moment we were not late. I immediately recognized my extreme seriousness and I laughed. Yes, we did arrive late, but nobody even noticed!
Another time I was the beneficiary of compassionate amusement occurred in the early 1980s when I was busily and ambitiously developing my private practice. I was walking in downtown Fargo when I came to a red light at a busy intersection. I quickly looked both ways and started to cross the street. Crossing the street on a red light was jaywalking, a misdemeanor potentially punishable with a hefty fine. As I stepped up on the sidewalk, I nearly bumped into a police officer standing there. He looked to be near retirement age and had probably been walking his beat in downtown Fargo for many years. He looked at me and smiling, he said, “You must have some really important business to be in such a hurry!” I immediately realized how seriously I was taking myself, mumbled some kind of apology, and with a sense of relief, I slowed my pace, took a deep breath, and kept on walking.
Never Forget to Laugh
I urge you to cultivate the practice of compassionate amusement with yourself first. Always have a readiness to laugh at yourself. When you are able to detach from your ego, you will discover your ego is actually very amusing with its inflated sense of self-importance, its childish need to always get its way, and its constant dramatics to get attention and affirmation. Be of good cheer could mean be of good humor. Good humor is an energy field that heals, unites, uplifts, and transforms. You will have those dark moments. They are the triggers to remind you to never forget to laugh.