ARE YOU SERIOUS? THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HUMOR AND SERIOUSNESS

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Everything we do with utter seriousness can drive us to despair. If we could adopt the attitude of ‘fooling around’ not just in telling jokes but in the trying areas of our daily lives, we would frolic through our years.*

Nine Practical Action Tips to Help You Facilitate Your Play Behavior are Included in Red.

dpj-mime-5Action Tip 1: List three times or periods in your life during each week when you are free from responsibility. 

In its capacity for freeing us from unremitting involvement, our sense of humor represents an enormous psychological asset. To the extent that we can adopt a detached, playful outlook, an open-eyed but not-too-serious stance from which to observe the human scene and our own parts in it—to that extent we can become reconciled to our society, to our friends, to our families, and possibly to ourselves. If we perceive the irony of our tragic plight, the unimportance of our downfall, the comedy of our despair, we will in that instant have risen above it.

dpj-mime-5Action Tip 2: Go back to your own childhood and think about the kind of play you enjoyed at that time.

We need this playful attitude much more than we care to admit. The events of our lives conspire to siphon it out of us as soon as we enter adulthood. Completing our education, establishing ourselves in society, getting married and raising a family, paying our bills, becoming involved in social issues: all these actions and commitments rob us of our childish/childlike nature. We proceed into maturity, half reluctant but half proud, and settle into the responsibilities of adult behavior.

dpj-mime-5Action Tip 3: Pay attention to your dreams and daydreams about play. For 21 days keep a journal record of your dreams. Pay attention to the ones that are particularly free, spontaneous, and joyful.

Yet something in us recalls the bliss of the carefree spirit and delights in its reawakening. If we are not too deep in our dotage, we should be able to get a kick out of some foolishness.

dpj-mime-5Action Tip 4: Plan to spend at least two hours each week watching children play. Do this for 21 days. Do you find yourself smiling inside as you watch them? What kinds of activities are they experiencing?

Nevertheless, most adults experience only limited enjoyment of the purely playful spirit. While delightfully carefree, it seems too light, too innocent, to deliver deep-going satisfaction, and the free-associative process on which it rides is too unbridled for most of us to emulate.

dpj-mime-5Action Tip 5: Plan to play with children during the week. If you have your own children, make a special effort to play with them ”just for the fun of it.” Did you laugh out loud during your play with them?

The aim of our sense of humor is not to reduce us to a childish state of mind but to enliven our adulthood with injections of our childishness. Once we have acquired the ability to take things seriously, we need to revive the ability to take them playfully. Once we have learned how to care, we have to remember how not to care. This aim is easy to formulate, but more difficult to put into practice than we are ready to admit.

dpj-mime-5Action Tip 6: List three friends who are most playful and fun to be with. Think about how you could plan to spend more time with these people.

If we intend (humor) to infiltrate and inform our personal lives, we will have to let two antagonistic sides of ourselves come to grip with each other. We cannot eliminate our vital concerns but, if we really mean to cultivate our sense of humor, we cannot continue to take them as seriously as in the past.

dpj-mime-5Action Tip 7: Think about the kind of environment or setting that you need for play. Do you need to be outside your home? Do you need to be wearing special “play” clothes? Is there a special room in your home where you feel most free and spontaneous?

Life is a game, or can be seen as one, our sense of humor tells us. If we take it that way, we may never make a million dollars, win the Nobel prize, or be elected governor, but instead of pacing we may skip, instead of shouting we may sing, and instead of an ulcer we may develop a joyful heart.

dpj-mime-5Action Tip 8: Lock the bathroom door and look at yourself in the mirror. Try to think serious and then humorous thoughts. Smile at yourself in the mirror for two minutes.

Links to more tips for developing your sense of humor:
How to Have a Sense of Humor
How to Develop Your Sense of Humor
Your Sense of Humor
10 tips to help you increase your sense of humor
Signs of a good-sense of humor

dpj-mime-5Action Tip 9: Practice laughing with a friend. If necessary, have that friend tickle you. Tell each other jokes. go to a silly movie. Make a tape of yourself laughing and plan to play it back in privacy when you are feeling low.

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Steve Wilson, Psychologist, Joyologist, Gelotologist

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*Some content is adopted, adapted, or modified from “Laughter and Liberation” by Harvey Mindess, Nash Publishing, 1971.