No one will ever accuse me of being funny. Some lucky people just have a natural ability to make others laugh. I envy that talent. But that does NOT mean I don’t have a sense of humor.
I see the humor in perhaps more than I should in a world gone bonkers. But the ability to laugh at life is one of the great gifts we should celebrate. And its importance as we age just grows with each passing year.
In my favorite TED Talk on humor (and one of my favorite and most profound TED Talks ever), the presenter comments that “It’s more important to see funny than to be funny.” I may not ever be a comedian. But seeing the lighter side of life is a skill I’m intensely proud of.
What does “sense of humor” actually mean? Merriam-Webster says it’s “a personality that gives someone the ability to say funny things and see the funny side of things.” Collins says “Someone who has a sense of humor often finds things amusing, rather than being serious all the time.”
The ability to “find things amusing” is essential to dealing with the challenges of aging. Too many consequential and sometimes very serious issues seem to find us and challenge our enjoyment of life’s 3rd and 4th quarter. Youth’s wide-angle lens tends to narrow as we age focusing on that which aggravates us, makes us anxious, generates discomfort or saddens us.
A sense of humor is life’s coping power tool.
We all face life’s challenges. But they just seem to multiply and intensify as we age. Like anything worthwhile, we have to work a bit at mitigating the darker pressures and continually illuminate the lighter side of life’s adventure. “Lighten up” is pretty good advice in this world right now – and increasingly valuable as the years pass by with fleeting speed.
Here are my 3 favorite character strengths that I try to nurture to keep my sense of humor as sharp as possible as the birthdays pass by…
It’s not easy or natural to laugh off our flaws, to be good-humored about slights from other people, to laugh them off and let them go. It’s easy to talk about how important it is to accept ourselves for who we are - without envy or unreasonable self-criticism… and it’s so difficult to find the discipline to make self-acceptance a core strength of our character.
Fact: a truly healthy sense of humor cannot co-exist with obsessive self-criticism, or with a reflexive need to make fun of others at their expense… to make others laugh without hurting someone else’s feelings. Genuine self-acceptance is an elusive state of mind, especially as we age seeing our body and mind falter… children leave us… opinions calcify…grudges sharpen.
But self-acceptance is the foundation on which we can build a natural and enduring sense of humor. It is essential to our well-being as life’s journey picks up speed. Anything that impairs our growth in self-acceptance must be removed from the path.
2. A sense of physical well-being
Many studies have shown that a sense of humor can help us both physically and emotionally. It can stimulate organ function, improve our immune system and even relieve pain. It increases the probability of survival into retirement – independent of subjective age(1). But the opposite is also true.
The greater the sense of our physical well-being, the more secure we feel to open ourselves up to seeing the lighter side of life. It’s much easier to build a sustainable, genuine sense of humor on a foundation of physical well-being – and vice-versa. It’s a perpetuating cycle of good stuff begetting good stuff, making it well worth working on our well-being every day.
A sense of humor is double-sided. One side is the ability to see the humor in life – to smile and giggle and laugh. The other side is to share our sense of humor with others – to make others smile and giggle and laugh. Being humorous requires wit, quick-thinking mental agility and sharp communication skills. It challenges and stimulates the brain. People who have a good sense of humor tend to be more creative. It’s brain fitness on steroids. Laughter can even improve short-term memory(2).
That’s why I continually try to stimulate my creativity. I refuse to let the complacency and energy drain that aging brings with it deter me from continually working on passionate creative projects. The fulfillment that creativity brings me shuts away the dark, makes me feel lighter and enables me to smile more (It’s good for relationships, too).
A genuine sense of humor is a gift. It’s almost impossible to live a truly ageless, aspiring and fulfilled life without a generous and well-practiced sense of humor.
Smile more. Seek out and embrace the funny. Share your smiles generously. Work on it every day.