Humour: The hidden power

Healing, Humour, Laughter

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Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.” Despite the buffoonish imagery that comes to mind when one considers the joker, the clown or the pie-in-the-face comedian, humour is more than mere silliness. It is an advanced intellectual means of developing new perspectives and coping with extreme circumstances..

A maltreated animal has two potential responses to an abusive master: attack to stop the abuse, or cower/flee to avoid it. He cannot disarm the bully with a witty remark or ironically imitate his master behind his back for his own amusement. One of the first government actions in Nazi Germany was the establishment of a law against treacherous attacks on the state and party that made anti-Nazi humour an act of treason, and there was a reason for this. Research has shown that humour is the most effective means of preventing the indoctrination of brainwashing.

“Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.” Mark Twain —
Used as both a shield and a weapon, humour has the power to soothe the most wounded and threaten the most evil. These qualities speak to its inherent potential — a potential that has not yet been entirely tapped or even recognized. Holocaust survivor Emil Fackenheim said, “We kept our morale through humour,” and many other survivors of the Holocaust, POW camps, torture and abuse have shared his sentiment. The stories of these survivors and findings of modern medical research support the notion that humour is an extremely effective tool for managing our advanced awareness and for creating new perspectives to cope with otherwise unbearable environments or circumstances.

Evidence for the direct benefits of humour lie in studies of the body’s chemical reaction to laughter. Among other things, laughter has been shown to reduce stress, boost the immune system and enhance brain chemistry through the release of serotonin and endorphins. Many popular antidepressants target the neurotransmitter serotonin by either blocking its reuptake or increasing production, but one can “self-medicate” using one’s own serotonin supply by watching a funny movie, going to a comedy show or playing a fun game. For the rejected lover or laid off worker, this self-induced boost of serotonin activates a neurochemical reaction that enhances their ability to tolerate the stress response and think creatively of coping options. Humour is a very effective means of dealing with overwhelming emotion and taking control of a situation.

“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 —
Hunter “Patch” Adams, the physician portrayed by Robin Williams in the movie bearing his name, continues to use laughter as a primary tool in his treatment of patients, to great success. He is just one example of many who have witnessed and reported first-hand accounts of how essential humour is to both physical and emotional health.

Whereas educators teach us what has been written by other serious academics, comedians tell us what is going on in the world around us through a first-hand account that we can immediately identify with and understand. Comedic news programs such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report owe their phenomenal success to the common desire to hear the truth and face the world, but in tolerable terms. The comedian is not afraid to talk about the fears and concerns that most people try hard to conceal or deny. By not only bringing them into the open but also laughing at and minimizing them, the comedian puts himself and his audience in control and the concealed fears dissipate in the shared light of day.


“A well-developed sense of humor is the pole that adds balance to your steps
as you walk the tightrope of life.”
William Arthur Ward —
We have all heard of the “Way of the Warrior” and the “Way of the Buddha,” and we live the “Way of the Professional,” the “Way of the Academic,” the “Way of the Spouse,” the “Way of the Parent,” etc. But for those looking for an easier and more fun path to a happier, healthier life, the “Way of the Comedian” could be the way to go. To those who avoid comedic opportunities in an effort to preserve a reputation as a serious professional, Wittgenstein said, “Never stay up on the barren heights of cleverness, but come down into the green valleys of silliness.” Widely regarded as the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, he speaks words of wisdom.

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