"A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It's jolted by every pebble on the road." - Henry Ward Beecher
"A good laugh makes any interview, or any conversation, so much better." - Barbara Walters
How We Become Humorless
Heed this warning from neurologist, Joseph Collins:
“By starving emotions, we become humorless, rigid and stereotyped; by repressing them we become literal, reformatory and holier-than-thou; encouraged, they perfume life; discouraged; they poison it.”
Which parts of this quote are the most desirable? Of course, it is the part which suggests that when our emotional state is healthy, the sweet aroma of life will once again pervade our senses.
Are you that emotionally healthy? That free? Do you understand what is meant by the perfume of life? And are you experiencing it – day in, day out?
The Emotional State of a Humorless Individual
Not to say that all humorless people are in this particular boat . . . but is your emotional side "starving"? Do you feel ignored and empty on the inside? Hurt, depressed or angry because your emotional needs are being unmet? Not that these aren't completely legitimate feelings, but have you shut others out? Perhaps you are shy and protective of your thoughts and feelings and have no interest in revealing them to others - through laughter or otherwise. Are you so wrapped up in yourself and your troubles and so untouched by the humor, happiness and life of those around you that you cannot join in? You may feel that shutting off your emotions is like shutting off the pain and fear.
Truth: We ALL have these types of feelings at times, but the feelings have far ranging effects as people deal with them differently.
Did you know . . .
"A good laugh overcomes more difficulties and dissipates more dark clouds than any other one thing." - Laura Ingalls Wilder
Sometimes when our emotional needs have been forced to take a backseat, it actually plays out in life as though our emotional needs are in the front seat, and everything else in life has been stuffed into the backseat. What I mean is – we find ourselves laughing at nothing because all that really matters or could possibly affect us in a positive way (or help us laugh freely again) is getting our emotional need(s) met.
Therefore, we behave in a “rigid”, “stereotyped” or distant manner. Yet we might behave differently were we not supressing our emotions just trying to do life, such as it is, or as we perceive it to be . . . without laughter.
"A keen sense of humor helps us to overlook the unbecoming, understand the unconventional, tolerate the unpleasant, overcome the unexpected, and outlast the unbearable." - Billy Graham
Why do people hold back their laughter? Sometimes you know they want to laugh because you see it in their eyes or on their lips, but they withhold that joyous sound from the world. Or perhaps there is simply no laughter in their eyes or on their lips; the ability to laugh seems to have faded away. Then again, maybe the person is ignoring you and your wit or repressing their laughter for an unknown reason. Even self-deception may be playing a role.
According to this article from awakeningstate.com, here are 10 signs which suggest someone may be suppressing their emotions, as well as their laughter: memory problems, glaring eyes, being overly sensitive, increased stress, depression or anxiety, weight gain, use of alcohol, sleepiness, attitude of superiority, or lack of interest in things which they used to care deeply.
Consider this proverb from Scripture: "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." - Proverbs 17:22 (ESV)
Managing Your Emotions
Do you discourage your own emotions? Block them out? Human beings were made to feel emotion. So, whatever you feel, own it. Record your thoughts and feelings in a journal. Face the truth of your emotions, especially when they feel extreme and heavy. Don’t pretend that everything is okay when it isn’t. Don’t lie to yourself. Confide in a friend, family member or counselor. Tell your spouse how you feel. Seek professional help. Don’t ever deny yourself the freedom of feeling and facing your emotions, frustrating or depressing as they may be, especially not when hope and help are available nearby.
"A sense of humor... is needed armor. Joy in one's heart and some laughter on one's lips is a sign that the person down deep has a pretty good grasp of life." - Hugh Sidey
That said, once you are ready to deal with the reality of your emotions, you must learn how to manage them. This ability is also known as emotional intelligence, and you can learn more about that by reading any combination of the sixty EI/EQ articles published HERE.
Learning How to Laugh (Again)
Laughter Tip #1:
Can you laugh at something in which you honestly find less than humorous – simply because you choose to enjoy the lighter side of life? Next time you have the chance, choose laughter. Join in. Be intentional. You will know that you have succeeded in real laughter when the humor lightens your eyes and your upturned lips don’t immediately return to their natural set.
"Laugh as much as possible, always laugh. It's the sweetest thing one can do for oneself & one's fellow human beings." - Maya Angelou
Laughter Tip #2:
Do you ever find yourself repressing laughter over a joke with which you find fault? Perhaps it’s not based on fact. Or it’s too metaphorical. It's not even funny. Just not your taste. Maybe it’s a bit on the tacky side. I’m not saying you have to laugh (especially at something truly tacky or personally offensive), but how are you going to prevent others from viewing you as stoic, annoyingly literal and far too holier-than-thou in your attitude toward others? Do you need to loosen up a bit?
"Humor can alter any situation and help us cope at the very instant we are laughing." - Allen Klein
Laughter Tip #3:
Are you able to laugh in the privacy of your own home? Own office? Own car? Or are things so bleak that you find no laughter to be had anymore? It may be that even a smile is personally challenging for you at this time. If so, start there.
Practice smiling at others as you say good morning. Practice makes perfect. Build up to laughter. Practice being funny with whatever type of humor suits you best. Self-deprecating humor is relatively simple and effective – as long as you don’t use it to indirectly solicit compliments.
"It is a curious fact that people are never so trivial as when they take themselves seriously." - Oscar Wilde
Laughter Tip #4:
Make yourself laugh. Watch a favorite childhood television show. Comedic preferences for me would be programs like The Carol Burnett Show or I Love Lucy. Listen to a favorite comedian. Read a book with a delightfully witty character. Listen to morning radio humor. Watch some funny YouTube videos. Whatever you do, start exposing yourself to humor again. Allow yourself to laugh at something everyday. By doing so, you are giving yourself the freedom to feel and get outside your own circumstances for a while. It can bring health and healing to your emotional state.
"Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place." - Mark Twain
Laughter Tip #5:
Spend time with a child, a teacher, a police officer, a nurse, a waiter/waitress . . . or a friend. These people usually have the best stories to tell of shocking, funny, and all-too-true tales. Invite them into your life. Get outside your own head. And laugh.
" . . . science confirms that positive emotions invoked by humor have healing effects." - Charles Hunter, Healing Through Humor
Laughter Tip #6:
Learn to tell your own funny stories. Have 2 or 3 readily available. Just look for an appropriate opening and start talking.
"Story has the power to transmit emotion, and humor helps to deliver positive emotions. Hence, humorous stories make for one of the best mediums to connect with an audience." - Ramakrishna Reddy, Connect Using Humor and Story: How I Got 18 Laughs, 3 Applauses in a 7 Minute Persuasive Speech
A Smile for Today
Allow me to share a couple of my all-time favorite stories from decades ago when I was teaching in Belize, Central America. Once a day, I would leave my class of 7th and 8th graders to go and teach English to the 5th and 6th graders. One of the classes had extra difficulty in following my instructions, so I orchestrated a plan to correct this problem. It was test day – all about locating subjects and verbs. I wrote the instructions on the board and read them aloud. Then I demonstrated exactly how I wanted everything labeled, explaining as I wrote. Finally, I asked the students to begin the assessment.
Within 1 or 2 minutes, my most conscientious albeit individualistic student slowly and hesitantly inched his hand up with a question. I knew it was coming; I was just biding my time. He asked, “Excuse me, Miss, but would it be okay if I . . . instead of . . . ?” He was asking if he could do it his way rather than according to my prior instructions. This was exactly the reason I had begun the testing by going over the instructions so carefully. I responded, “Yes, you may do as you wish . . . if you want to fail.” He immediately got the most panicked expression on his face and began speedily erasing all the work he had completed thus far.
If you knew this wonderful child (a doctor now) and all his perfectionist tendencies, you would understand how completely humorous this was to me and his other teachers. To this day, the event ushers in not only a good laugh, but also another story about this young man’s older brother.
One morning the 7th and 8th grade classes were preparing to perform a skit during the school-wide chapel program. As we were trying to rehearse, it felt like everything was in utter chaos, and I was quite stressed. It was at that moment that the brother raised his hand and said (with a smile as if he were telling a legitimate story), “Miss, when I woke up this morning, I had one nerve left, and YOU are getting on it.” Silence ensued.
What would the teacher’s response be to this outburst from one of her most well-behaved and respectful students? Well, before I answer that question, I have a confession. I am well-known for saying that things/people are sometimes getting on “my very last nerve” – in the most lighthearted way, but I used to say it often. Obviously, my students had picked it up and were now attempting to use it against me – in a most humorous way. So, I laughed, and they all laughed with me although the brother making the joke was also breathing a sigh of relief. I don’t recall him ever making another joke in class, but I think it felt good for him to break out of his shell that day.
I will never regret responding in laughter rather than with a reprimand, which was never a real temptation anyway. Besides, in all my directing and disciplining during the chaotic rehearsal, I’m quite sure his comment was a complete and accurate assessment. By the way, the skit was played out perfectly by the students, and I was so proud of them. And this brother also became a doctor!
Sharing Stories and Laughter
What are your stories – the ones that make you smile, giggle, or howl with laughter? Remember and share them as you have opportunity. Laughter does the heart good. So, don’t resist it. Engage in it. Laugh with others. Laugh at yourself. Laugh out loud and enjoy life with those nearest to you. See if it doesn’t have an immediate and positive impact upon your current outlook on life. Consider it a challenge!