The spirit of laughter

The journey of a thousand laughs begins with one chuckle

Man with a mocking face

Rules for reading this article:

Rule One – Do not attempt to read it in the dark. It’s not good for your eyes and I can’t believe I even have to give you this rule!

Rule Two – You must smile within reading every five lines or stop reading and return to the article later. Not smiling is a sign you’re too tired to read and will not get as much out of the reading as when you are more alert; the only exception to this rule is if you can’t sleep and are trying to put yourself to sleep, in which case you should go directly to the most boring parts in this article. No one really knows where they are though.

Rule Three – Don’t take notes—this is not a test. Feel free to mark it up though. Underline clever phrases and parts that give you clairvoyant insights.

Rule Four –There are no rules. Whoever heard of laying out rules for properly reading an article anyway?

First, we need to talk, so please sit down and relax. Get comfortable; put that velvet Elvis pillow behind your head.

Laugh when you think something you’re reading is funny. If you happen to be on a plane right now next to someone, just laugh out loud and say something like: “Wow, this is great!”

Let’s get one thing straight before we get any further. This may be a highly humorous article written by a certified, authentically highly humorous person, but that does not mean that it is frivolous, or without important content.

This is a ‘fun’ article full of substance and with an underlying serious message:

HUMOUR CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE FOR THE BETTER. HUMOUR CAN GET YOU THROUGH THE MOST CATASTROPHIC EVENTS OF YOUR LIFE. A HIGHLY HUMOROUS PERSON IS THE MOST RESILIENT PERSON ON THE PLANET.

So what is humour?

Every thing ever written on this subject struggles to resolutely define what it is. I would like to say this article is an exception. I would like to say it, but it is a matter of fact that the definition depends on so many mitigating factors that there is no one proper definition that will please everyone. So if this one doesn’t please you, I’m sorry, but you’ll just have to live with it. Since we all perceive humour through our own senses, which clearly only belong to us, then it is fair to say there are billions of definitions of humour.

What if there wasn’t any humour in the world? Think about that for a moment. What if humour didn’t exist? Could you live without humour? Would you want to? We need laughter sustenance almost as much as we need other basic necessities. I’ve experienced many hardships in my life including the loss of my father at age eight and a diagnosis of severe arthritis at age 22. I lost physical abilities, lost a pain-free body, lost my self-confidence, lost my wallet, but that’s a different story.

Did humour make a difference in my life? Yes. I can’t promise that humour can turn you into a strong, handsome, successful, intelligent, and modest person like myself, but I can promise that you will be better off for reading this and trying than doing nothing at all. If I had to sum up what I would hope you walk away with after reading this, it would be the message of the following poem I wrote during an arthritis flare-up:

A Place for Pain

I open the door, pain walks in

Filling my home with darkness and discontent

I open the door, love walks in

Replenishing the bedroom

I open the door, faith walks in

Illuminating my living room

I open the door, hope walks in

Filling the kitchen with wonderful smells

I open the door, joy walks in

I explain that she has the wrong address

She should be next door

She comes in anyway

Joy, like pain

Knows not of manners or proper protocol

I open the door, humour walks in

It fills the empty spaces

Pain is still here

But it has little room.

All the positive emotions will reduce the power of pain and put it in its proper place, leaving it with less room to roam free and fill your life. Of all of these positive emotions, it is the power derived from a high sense of humour that has been my anchor, to hold me fast throughout the chaotic storms of life.

What is a highly humorous person and how will you know when you run into one? First of all, if you are a highly humorous person and you run into a mirror, it will be obvious you are running into one. You will also recognise a highly humorous person because if you run into one, you will feel happy, you’ll be drawn to the person. You’ll want to spend time with the person. You will enjoy their company whether simply on a flight seated next to them, or listening to their humorous observations while sitting around a fire with your homeless friends.

The Humour Spirit Theory

“Analysing humour is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.” -E.B. White

Humour has a spiritual aspect, derived from what some call our eternal soul, that is often overlooked while being defined. Not only is there a higher power, there is a humour power. The basic premise is “humorgy.” Humorgy is what I call the humour force. We know that humour is the quality that makes something laughable or amusing. Its definition is based on your unique personality and the life experiences that shape your perceptions. This is why what you find amusing may not be amusing at all to another individual with totally different life experiences and personality. Humorgy is intuition, insight on a sub-cellular, inter-spiritual level [whatever that means] that comes from a place deep within your inner being. Many have thought of these concepts before, but never put them into words, or died suddenly just as they were about to tell someone else about it, or they used a different format to explain the same concepts. For whatever reasons, many of these concepts are universal; therefore most highly humorous people [Note: In order to save paper and trees, from this point on I will be referring to highly humorous people as HHPs] will recognise these concepts and say “Hey, that’s my idea.” I know I have said that while reading many others such as Dave Barry and some books by my colleagues in the National Speakers Association.

Humorgy is more than a thought process, more than a physiological reaction, more than a “mind trick” and more than a response to any of your senses such as sight or sound. You’ve heard of the spirit of alcohol. Most of you know when you are under the influence of the spirit of alcohol. Many have experienced team spirit. A very popular spirit is the spirit of belief. Many claim to have been moved by the spirit.

There is also a spirit of humour. We have all felt the spirit of humour. Sometimes it seems to just come upon you and you laugh. Sometimes you share a spontaneous humorous moment with another. You’ve looked into each other’s eyes and both started laughing. You felt the connection. You are jointly experiencing the spirit of humour at that moment. There is truth in this statement, whether you have a personal belief system or not. It has nothing to do with religion; it is universally human. It has everything to do with an unexplainable feeling that causes you to experience joy in the moment.

I recall one time I was overtaken by the spirit of humour during a serious lecture in a Yeshiva in Jerusalem. I was sitting with a friend across from me and the Rabbi said something that wasn’t particularly funny. What was funny was the look on my friend’s face of total confusion and not understanding a word the Rabbi was talking about. I started laughing and then so did he. We were laughing hard enough that we had to bury our heads in our arms on the table. The fatal mistake we made, which gave the Humour Spirit total control of us, was that as we were regaining control, we both peeked up at each other at the same time. Seeing his eyebrow and one eye appear above his buried face beneath his arm and elbow was too much and I started cracking up, much louder than him. Then he became even louder when he looked under the table where I pointed and he noticed that I had totally pissed my pants. We were laughing so hard we had to get up and leave the room. As I left, still laughing quite loudly, my soaked pants were revealed to all and the spirit of humour spread throughout the room. Fortunately, the Rabbi also had a sense of humour and ended the lecture early, also laughing and explaining that sometimes we come closer to the almighty through laughter “as David apparently has done today.” I believe the almighty was pleased, because as I left the building a heavy rain began, blessing and soaking me and hiding the evidence of my laughter-torn bladder, so it would not be revealed to the public at large.

Do you use the lightness of humour to diffuse anger?

Thin man showing off his muscle
Your sense of humour is like a muscle; the less you use it the weaker it gets, the more you use it the stronger it gets

Your sense of humour is like a muscle; the less you use it the weaker it gets, the more you use it the stronger it gets. Repeat this positive self-talk statement to yourself: “By exercising my sense of humour it grows stronger like marble-…cake.”

If you expect the best, but experience the worse, you can still make the best of the worse experience; the opposite is also true. Humour is a great way to show gratitude. Gratitude is just an attitude with a grrr in front of it.

Several years ago I was invited to give a guest sermon at a Universalist Unitarian Church on the subject of “Humour and Spirituality.” The church was on the other side of the city and I was already running a little behind. I jumped in the car and was on my way. I was getting stressed out watching the time. As I was rushing along in my lane, a guy cut into my lane right in front of me and his back bumper barely missed my front bumper by 1/16th of an inch, two atoms and one electron. We were heading for the light and I couldn’t wait to catch up to him and pull up next to him at the light so I could give him “the look.” You know, “the look,” that angry expression that tells someone “Gee, you are such a moron.”

As I was pulling up, I thought about where I was going and for what purpose. I decided a different approach would be more in-line with my sermon and purpose in life. When we reached the light, the guy that cut me off turned to see my face. Just as I was reaching the light, I put my disabled placard on the mirror, pulled my arms out of my sleeves, tucked them in my shirt and bit the steering wheel with my teeth! He turned toward me at the light and saw a man with no arms, biting the steering wheel with his teeth.

He had a shocked look on his face and appeared to feel awful for cutting off the poor pathetic armless guy. I was happy, he felt guilty, and this really defused the anger. I wasn’t mad anymore and he wasn’t either. Because humour was a necessity rather than a luxury at that moment, a potentially explosive situation turned into a milder humorous situation that was totally non-threatening.

Note: Apology to those with no arms: If you have no arms and were offended by this story, I am sorry, and don’t have a leg to stand on. Please use your humorgy to forgive me.

Apology #2: If you don’t have a leg to stand on and were offended by the above statement, I am sorry about that too. Please use your humorgy to forgive me.

Humour is also associated with the lungs, with the breath, and the element of air. Just as we breathe life into another with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, so humour breathes energy into your spirit. Laughter, too, involves the lungs; without lungs you can’t laugh. Come to think of it, without lungs you can’t do much of anything. The result of regular laughter is a healthier person and the ability to improve your health more quickly. This is humorgy. Hopefully, you will find something useful in the concept of humorgy.

The humour spirit force is an energy field created by all humorous things and things perceived to be humorous. It surrounds us and attempts to penetrate us, [but not like an alien probe would]. It binds us with others so we see our connections. It can sometimes make people laugh, but it can also give someone an inner smile, a feel-good sensation that was inspired by another human being, creature, event, place, movie or book. I have tested this belief many times and have found that the humour spirit force can be used to lighten someone’s mood when they are anxious, angry, depressed, bored or just in a negative space. A master of humorgy is rare, but when you meet one, you will never forget it.

Humorgy is very attractive; even someone who may not be considered physically attractive will be seen as beautiful because of it. I mean, just look at what some of those Neanderthals and other cavemen looked like. It must have been humour that made them attractive, because paper bags weren’t invented yet. It’s their humorgy that made them attractive to one another.

Take your spiritual self, your physical self, your mental self, your social self, your economic self, your political self, and your fish self or your self-fish. When you call take all parts of yourself and add the spirit of humour you’ll experience wholeness in a way that can’t be described, only felt. Be open to that and you’ll have humorgy. Humorgy is the absence of prejudice, judgment, and all negative aspects of life. It is an ideal that we all strive to reach. When you’ll master humorgy you can actually control, to a certain extent, the spirit of humour.

Treat humour as a necessity not a luxury

Man with girl friends having a great chat
Humorgy is very attractive; even someone who may not be considered physically attractive will be seen as beautiful because of it

We need to eat, sleep and use the bathroom. At least I do. I mean, if you’re got the runs and really have to go to the bathroom urgently, you don’t say “Ah, maybe I’ll use the bathroom;” no, you run to it! Treat your humour that importantly and your sense of humour will greatly improve. If you treat humour as urgently as your physical needs, you’ll be well on your way to being an HHP.

We need to smile and laugh and see humour every day, every chance we get. On a first date, is humour a luxury or necessity? I say, if you want a second date, humour better be part of the first date.

While I was in Israel, I boarded a city bus. I looked out the window and noticed a Palestinian mom with her three boys aged about 4, 6 and 10. The mom was giving each of them some chocolate. The four year old immediately crammed his mouth with chocolate, then he looked at his 6 year old brother, grabbed his chocolate and crammed it into his stuffed mouth as the shocked 6 year old with jaws dropped, looked at him in disbelief and the ten year old fell to the ground cracking up laughing. As the bus drove off, I too was laughing. I enjoyed a humorous scene, because I had my eyes open for one.

There are times not to laugh—not many though—like when telling someone very bad news or when someone is changing a flat tire, but other than that… there’s usually a health benefit to laughter.

When you learn something in a humorous fashion, your chances of retaining the information are better, because you learned this new information in a fun way. It is common knowledge now that those who incorporate humour into educational material will have that material remembered by their pupils much longer than those that offer educational material in a drab, stuffy, cold monotone.

That’s why I urge you to acknowledge the importance of appreciating humour. It’s not how many jokes you can tell, it’s how much you can appreciate a good one, how much you can appreciate the humour that surrounds you.

When my father died, my third grade class all made sympathy cards for me. When I came home from school, my whole family was there and I began to read the cards.

One of the cards said “Don’t be sad, I would be sad too if my fat dad died.” The word ‘fat’ was crossed out. My uncle said, “Her dad probably saw her card and crossed the word ‘fat’ out.” We all laughed. It was the first laugh we had had together since his death. It was a healing laugh and very cathartic. Humour allowed us to vent our welled up emotions. My father had a great sense of humour and all his children were blessed to inherit it.

Parts of the humorgy whole

Some of the parts of the humorgy whole are inherited traits, personal experiences and the influence of your environment. Also chicken wings, but they don’t play a very big part. Though a humour gene has not yet been discovered, I am willing to bet that there is something in our DNA that helps to shape our sense of humour.

My parents had a great sense of humour, although my mother has tendencies toward sarcasm, which can be positive or negative, depending on its use. Where and how you grow up and live also has an impact. If you were raised in a home where at dinner you could joke and laugh and make mashed potato balls out of the mashed potatoes, like at my house, you are more likely to be more comfortable with using humour at the dinner table. If you were raised in a home where dinner was a sacred time of grace and gratitude, then you may have a little more difficulty being comfortable sharing humour over dinner. One isn’t right and one isn’t wrong—they simply represent different life experiences. Two more parts of humorgy are imagination and fantasy. These provide us with the ability to create in our mind actions, scenes and stories that don’t exist in what we call reality.

Events and reactions

We can’t control the events that occur in our life but we can control our responses to those events. If you haven’t heard this a hundred times already, you haven’t heard enough speakers or read enough self-help books. When conflicts and problems occur, they are usually the result of one of three situational areas: Our actions, the actions of others, or our memories of past actions or thoughts about future actions and situations.

Using our habits to change the way we influence ourselves and others is within the realm of our Humour Spirit’s influence. Those that treat their humour as a necessary component of their life evaluate their own behaviour, find the humour in their actions, laugh at it and, as Paul Riser has said, “use humour to confront their problems, not avoid them.” The need for revenge and other petty useless actions dissolves. Humour brings wisdom to some, joy to others and smiles of amusement to just about everyone else.

We can’t control the behaviour of others, but we can control our response to those behaviours.

As human beings, we are responsible for our own lives. An HHP is someone who has the strength to accept things that they can’t change and change the things that are within their realm to change, for example, their underwear. A person with a poorly developed sense of humour is a person who is driven by feelings, circumstances, conditions, and the environment. They are tossed like a boat in stormy water without oars. An HHP is a person who is guided by his or her own purpose in life, with a clear mind, tempered with humour. A person with humorgy takes the bull by the horns and hangs wind chimes on them.

So from this time forth, whenever you hear laughter, ask yourself, “Why did they laugh”? This question will improve your HHP skills and help you get a better idea of how humour works.

Appropriate and inappropriate humour

Inclusive humour brings people together. It is shared with all and builds rapport and trust. It decreases prejudice by focusing on the universal human experience. It encourages a positive atmosphere. It is based on caring and comes from a place of love. It is supportive and builds confidence. It can be self-effacing, role modelling how to poke fun at oneself without being negative or too self-critical.

The basic rule is that any humour that is exclusive, separates people, puts someone down or ridicules others, destroys self-esteem, uses stereotypes of groups, encourages a negative atmosphere, offends others or lacks awareness of others’ feelings is always inappropriate.

Don’t poke fun about your ability to work with those you treat, or serve, on regular basis. For example, I could never joke about sending a patient to hospice. This is a sacred and special time at the end of someone’s life. It deserves to be honoured, not made light of. If they are highly humorous, I might still have a laugh with them, but I will be very thoughtful about the things I laugh about. There are many humorous interactions I have had that involve hospice, but they do not detract from the underlying message of the grief of losing a loved one. I mentioned that I am a licensed clinical social worker. That means a lot to me. It would be difficult to downplay the impact I have in someone’s life at the time that his or her life is coming to an end. That is of course unless it’s my own.

Dealing with negative humour

What should I do when someone uses inappropriate humour around me and I don’t like it?

There are several responses open to you depending on the type of person you are or mood that you are in.

  1. The make-them-think approach: You can ask them to retell the joke or story again, using themselves as the main character instead of the race, religion, nationality or sex they used in the joke or story. Most will say, “Then it’s not funny.” Exactly!
  2. The direct approach: You can simply state that you don’t appreciate that kind of humour and would they please not use it in front of you.
  3. The indirect approach: Choose not to laugh or smile at the end of the joke. You may go as far as putting on an angry face if that’s how you feel.
  4. The educational approach: You could educate them by explaining the differences between inclusive and exclusive humour. This will permit them a face-saving response. Say something like “I’m sure if you were aware of how mean-spirited that joke makes you sound, you wouldn’t use it.”

Any of these responses could be done privately or in a group. The peer pressure of a group would have a stronger impact on the person and let others know how you feel about offensive humour at the same time.

Most people offend others and tell poor jokes out of ignorance. We all have different tastes in humour, like we do in food. What is offensive to some is often funny to others.

In certain professions, there is humour that the general public may not understand, but works as a coping mechanism in a stressful or dire workplace, such as an emergency room. Another exception is with friends/family. Sometimes ‘inappropriate’ humour is the funniest between friends/family. When there is agreement that it isn’t offensive to either party, then there’s permission to use it. My friend Kevin and I share a lot of ‘arthritis’ humour that others wouldn’t find funny and some with arthritis may even be offended by, but for us, it’s hysterical and healthy.

Use self-effacing humour

Self-effacing humour gives others the message: I’m a human being just like you. I’m a human listening—listening half heartedly just like you. Laughing at yourself is the highest and healthiest form of humour. Using self-effacing humour is the safest way to introduce humour to those you don’t know that well—it helps build rapport and trust. Poke a little fun at yourself to open some communication. This does not mean to constantly put yourself down, that’s different. “Yes, David, but I’m so perfect, there’s nothing to poke fun about myself.” Oh come on! You’re not really that blind to think you are perfect, are you?

Know your weaknesses and turn them into strengths. My wife came home after her complete physical check-up when she turned 40. She was standing in front of the mirror admiring herself. I came home not in the best mood. I saw her and asked her “What are you doing?” She said Dr Wristen just did my physical check and said I should be very proud at the shape I’m in. I have four children and yet have the physiology of a twenty-year-old. “Did she mention your forty year old ass?” I joked. Laurie gave me a look, thought for a second and responded “No, your name didn’t come up at all.” Okay, Laurie will tell you that this story isn’t true, but I love it. It is the epitome of taking a potentially volatile situation and defusing the conflict with humour. Actually, you are always safe when you make yourself the butt of the joke, but never joke about the butt of someone else.

Twist your reality

Man on a wheel-chair with a great smile on his face
Take your negative thoughts, your painful problems and twist them into something silly

I have found that what makes me different than most, isn’t my incredible will power. Although I do have a strong will, there are many people, possibly including you, that have stronger will. I have no super human ability to tolerate pain. I have average intelligence, [okay maybe a little smarter than average according to my mother and my wife] but there are a lot of depressed intelligent people out there. There are a lot of depressed wealthy people out there. There are even a lot of depressed successful people out there. What made me different, I discovered, was that my daily thoughts are much different than those of others. They are highly humorous thoughts. Do you try to think of silly things every day? Do you try to see the absurdities of life in all your interactions? If you did, you would be so much healthier, it would be incredible. One clarification, happiness and healthiness are related, but not the same thing. I am not saying, “Don’t worry, be happy!” although I believe strongly in that philosophy. What I am saying is, take your negative thoughts, your painful problems with living on this planet and try to twist them around into something silly. When you can do that, you change thoughts that depress you. The messages you tell yourself of what a tortured life you have, how depressing your situation is and how things may never get better can change into something else.

Remember, the journey of one thousand laughs begins with one chuckle.

Adapted with permission from The 7½ Habits of Highly Humorous People by David M. Jacobson, published by Virtualbookworm.


A version of this was first published in the September 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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