The Value of Laughter
s, negative emotions and social isolation. No wonder so many people turn to humor as a coping mechanism!
An antidote to fear
This kind of humor shows that people are now less afraid of mental illness and its stigma. But I’d go a little further: I’d argue that humor is also a way to make people less afraid. Sometimes, the best way to conquer our fears is to laugh about them.
There’s a perfect illustration of this principle in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series. At one point, the students of Hogwarts are introduced to a Boggart – a monster that takes on the appearance of their worst fear. In order to defeat it, they must concentrate and conjure up the funniest thing they can think of: once the monster realises that it’s being laughed at, it disappears.
Unfortunately, we can’t make our mental illness go away by waving a magic wand. But the lesson still applies: try to picture your disorder as a Boggart. If left unchecked, things like depression and anxiety can feel like they’re taking over our whole life: and the more we ruminate, the more overwhelming they become. Laughter has the exact opposite effect: it makes problems seem smaller and allows us the distance to see the big picture.
This isn’t to say that dealing with your mental illness will suddenly be a piece of cake. But after you have a good laugh and take a deep breath, you might just be able to tell yourself, “ok, this is scary – but it’s manageable. I can take care of this.”
A Time to Be Serious
While it’s great to be able to joke about mental illness, laughter is not a substitute for honest communication. If anything, we should use humor as a segue towards a genuine conversation. There are definitely worse defense mechanisms to have, but we shouldn’t get to a point where we can only speak about our mental health through jokes and memes.
If you think that your friend’s increasingly dark humor may be a cry for help, don’t be afraid to check in with them. Simply asking them, “seriously though, are you okay?” would suffice. Sure, it might feel a bit awkward to interrupt the laughter. But in the long run, you’ll be happy you did it; and chances are, your friend will understand and be grateful.
Laughing makes us feel better, whether it’s by producing feel-good hormones, or by changing our perception of our feelings. As long as we know when to get serious, finding humor in the darkest of times can be a great way to deal with life’s adversities. As the famous writer Melville said, “I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.”