Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.” Despite the buffoonish imagery that comes to mind when one considers the joker, the clown or the pie-in-the-face comedian, humor is more than mere silliness. It is an advanced intellectual means of developing new perspectives and coping with extreme circumstances.
A maltreated animal has two potential responses to an abusive master: attack to stop the abuse, or cower/flee to avoid it. He cannot disarm the bully with a witty remark or ironically imitate his master behind his back for his own amusement. One of the first government actions in Nazi Germany was the establishment of a law against treacherous attacks on the state and party that made anti-Nazi humor an act of treason, and there was a reason for this. Research has shown that humor is the most effective means of preventing the indoctrination of brainwashing.
Used as both a shield and a weapon, humor has the power to soothe the most wounded and threaten the most evil. These qualities speak to its inherent potential — a potential that has not yet been entirely tapped or even recognized. Holocaust survivor Emil Fackenheim said, “We kept our morale through humor,” and many other survivors of the Holocaust, POW camps, torture and abuse have shared his sentiment. The stories of these survivors and findings of modern medical research support the notion that humor is an extremely effective tool for managing our advanced awareness and for creating new perspectives to cope with otherwise unbearable environments or circumstances.
Evidence for the direct benefits of humor lie in studies of the body’s chemical reaction to laughter. Among other things, laughter has been shown to reduce stress, boost the immune system and enhance brain chemistry through the release of serotonin and endorphins. Many popular antidepressants target the neurotransmitter serotonin by either blocking its...
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