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There’s been some talk at our “office” about telling jokes during waiting times in video calls. Everybody cracks one from time to time, and it gives me life.
From a simple smile, cracking puns, or the role that professional comedy performs in general society, here is my take concerning why humor is so important to all of us.
Disclaimer: In this article, I address mental health and psychological mechanisms, but I am, by no means, an expert on these matters. The statements presented here are the result of informal education and my own personal experience. If you or someone you know is in need of psychological help, then I urge you to seek the help of qualified professionals and sincerely hope that you will get better soon.
Humor helps you create and deepen social bonds
In the primitive, lizardy parts of our brains, something unfamiliar is seen as having a potentially dangerous element hidden in it; shyness and social anxiety kick in. But it doesn’t really make sense when we’re enthralled in the day-to-day workings of living in a developed society.
That’s when laughing and smiling together shows people you’re comfortable around each other. These actions help us to put down our defenses, break communication barriers that keep us from bonding with each other, and/or to deepen existing bonds with people we are already familiar with.
Humor is a powerful tool to break negative mental states
As protected as we commonly are from the physical dangers of nature, there is not as much infrastructure in place to keep our mental health in check. However, we are increasingly aware of such problems and, consequently, in a better position to employ techniques that benefit us in the mental state department.
Depression and other similar disorders, from what I understand, can originate from negative feedback loops – a cycle in where you feel down, so you don’t do something that would benefit you, which leads you to feel down again, and the loop goes on spiraling someone deep into depression, despair and/or self-harm. So by force of habit, a negative mental state can become your default modus operandi.
By giving us the option to perform an emotionally positive action, humor gifts us the possibility of slowing down a negative feedback loop. With constant reinforcement, we train our brains to break this negative state completely, reversing it into a positive feedback loop. Along with it, we also start to recognize future negative mental states and break them before they even begin to affect us.
It takes courage to face deeply crippling situations like this, but it has shown results, as Tony Robbins commonly demonstrates.
I can vouch for myself that this technique has helped me immensely when dealing with negative thoughts by making it clear that discarding the ones that I’m not going to learn something from is always an option. Negative mental states are often unwillingly trained by ourselves to be self-sustaining, so the counter is to willingly train ourselves to defeat this mechanism.
Humor helps us confront adverse situations
Given that in some bad situations, you either accept the role of victim or you stand up for yourself, sometimes in life, confrontation is inevitable and beneficial for all sides. However, confrontations should always be maintained with minimum necessary force, and humor can often help us keep attack and defense levels down, deescalate tensions when they’re high, and in that way keep an argument in the healthy exchange of information territory.
Asides from confrontations, the tension-relieving properties of humor are also perfect for social situations. We’ve all had awkward social interactions, and these cases are often better served by humorously acknowledging what happened and even better if a joke is cracked by either you or someone else about it. If this is not done, the tension just sits there unattended, making everyone uncomfortable.
If you’re reading this, you probably are from a developed country and have all of your basic needs met. But these conditions are the result of millennia of human effort to make things better. They are not the baseline for life, and even if they were, things could still get pretty bleak. Death, famine, and disease are still prevalent today and can make it seem that we were born just so the universe can make us suffer while we are alive, and eventually, time takes away everything that we cherish.
But this is exactly why I think that humor is such an essential aspect of humanity. It’s one thing that proves to us that darkness and chaos do not exist without light and order.
Remember this thing?
Humor reminds me that in spite of living in an absolutely terrifying and soul-crushing environment, we have the resources and the strength to overcome every hardship and even find some time to perceive the beauty in life. TL;DR: All we are is dust in the wind. But hey! That’s life! And every second of it is infinitely valuable.