The Positive Power Of Laughter

Contrary to popular belief, joking about things like cancer, death, war, and racism isn’t a bad thing. While it is understandable why people feel these are subjects that should never be talked about in a humorous tone, humor can do something that much other forms of discussion can’t. It can take away their power and help those affected overcome their fear and pain.

Humor has always been a way for people to discuss sensitive subject matter in a less confrontational and upsetting manner. There are numerous examples through American and global society of humor being used to help people in a multitude of bad situations. This begs the questions, why do some say humor should be limited to certain subject material in favor of preserving the emotional state and opinions of certain people or groups? While I understand that not everyone will find every joke funny, especially when discussing controversial topics,  no topic should be off limits to comedy. Humor helps us understand and push forward issues and problems within our society that would otherwise be ignored in favor of not making us feel uncomfortable.

One place where we can see the power of humor is in the medical and psychological fields. The phrase, “Laughter is the best medicine!” while not literally true does have some truth behind it. Multiple studies have shown that use of  humorous coping mechanisms in combination with medical treatment for many diseases has been associated with increased survival rate, fewer symptoms, lower levels of pain, more effective pain-reduction therapies, and improved psychological outcomes for patients . These forms of treatment vary in intensity and subject matter. It is now becoming common for these coping strategies to be used alongside treatments for many forms cancer, AIDs, and sclerosis as more medical professionals see how useful humor is as a medium for discussing and treating these diseases.

Along with physical health, humor is also being used in many different and creative ways to help treat many mental disorders. Many psychologists have begun to use treatments that are centered around the use of satire and humor to expose problems. One of the more famous treatments is called Provocative Therapy. The goal of Provocative Therapy is essentially to change clients’ behaviour by therapeutically provoking them with humour and reverse psychology to locate, verbalise, own and enact their own solutions to their problems. The treatment was created after a therapist  began treating patients who seemed to be unhelpable. The patients were responding negatively to almost every treatment or technique he used in their sessions. He then create Provocative Therapy as a sort of extreme reverse psychology, with Farrelly playing devil’s advocate to all of the patients problems. The treatment was a success and began being used by many therapists and psychologists trying to help people with depression and anxiety.

Although Provocative Therapy is one of the more famous examples of humor being used successfully to help treat mental health disorders, there are many other examples of how humor can be used in these situations. One of the main ways doctors and psychologists use humor is as a medium to discuss patients’ disorders and diseases. Sometimes the hardest thing for someone who may be facing a life threatening illness or crippling mental problems to do is talk to someone or ask for help. This is a common problem among most people facing such scenarios. Because of this growing problem, many institutions have begun to use less traditional means of  conveying messages to those suffering from these ailments. A new and widely used technique is to use a comedy show or stand-up comedy performance. In a women’s prison in Vermont, the staff of the prison organized a show were a comedian performed a set in which they told personal stories of them dealing with mental illness in a humorous manner, during which they also conveyed a positive message about asking for help. After the show the staff in the prison’s health department calmed there were significant increases in patients who stated they would discuss mental health problems and that the show increase help-seeking and improve coping. This is just one example of humor being used as way to allow people to talk about and use their feelings to understand their illness. This is also not a unique case. This technique  has been used many times to help current and past members of the militaries deal with varying forms of PTSD; it’s one of the reasons comedians tour overseas for active duty soldiers.

Much like the serious problems it helps deal with in the mental and physical health of our society, humor has also helped create discussion on serious problems in our political landscape. Political comedy is as old politics themselves; some of the first comedians were Greek mistrals like Aristophanes who used satirical ballads and songs to point out the flaws in the government and among society’s elite. Today things aren’t too different, shows like Last Week Tonight, The Late Show, and Real Time are centered around mocking or using humor to criticize our government and modern societal trends.

Limitations on what can be discussed using humor takes away a part of our voice as a people. We lose a potential outlet for help with our mental and physical health, we lose way for us to challenge our government in order to keep its focus on our best interest, but one of the biggest problems with this is it’s violation of the first amendment. Provocative comedy, depending upon its intention, can be a form of protest, something every citizen has a right to do according to the Constitution. Although a controversial joke may display insensitivity to people who have differing beliefs or those have gone through other negative experience, it should not give a specific group the power to restrict the speech of another. Over the past few years our society has grown increasingly politically correct in order to avoid controversy and further dividing our communities. While it is understandable why certain groups such as schools may limit what can be said due to the maturity of child, adults need to start facing the world for what it is. The main place this can be seen is on college campuses. Colleges have become so focused on an all inclusive experience for their students that they’re forcing entertainers to create sets that have to cater to any belief of any student.

To deny a people the outlet of humor  is wrong. Comedy helps us understand and push forward issues and problems within our society that would otherwise be ignored in favor of not making us feel uncomfortable. It’s something that can unite us and help us heal. Although limits can be seen as acceptable in some situations when dealing with a joke’s intent, they mainly hold back society from a easy way to discussion difficult subject matter in a non-confrontational way.