Why we need humor at a time like this
At Oxford University Press blog, William Costanzo explores the social and medicinal aspects of humor.
EXCERPT | OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS | MAY 3, 2020
"Comedy has always offered swift relief in times of stress. A good laugh can be good therapy, can lift us out of sadness and depression. Our sense of humor can restore us to high spirits and renew our sense of hope. Some scientists even believe that humor activates pathways in our brain that circumvent the primitive fight-or-flight response that leads to violence or evasion. A deft joke, then, acts much like a wise teacher in a tense classroom, directing us to take Time Out for reflection, re-channeling knee-jerk reactions toward more helpful, healthful outcomes.
"Today, when the whole world feels the strain of a global epidemic, it pays to notice how people around the globe respond to anxiety with random acts of humor. Soon after news of the virus sent people scrambling for supplies, light-hearted memes began circulating through social media. One showed a pair of Swiss rescue dogs carrying toilet paper rolls instead of whiskey kegs. Another displayed an old-fashioned hoop skirt re-purposed for social distancing. On television, people everywhere watched Italians on balconies bursting into spontaneous songs.
"Every nation uses humor to counter adversity in its own way. For a broader view of this phenomenon, we might turn to the planet’s great traditions of movie comedy. Because comedies reflect the times and cultures that produce them, they can help us understand what makes other people so distinctive as well as what we have in common."