At first I was a little overwhelmed, while reading Descartes, Spencer, and Freud’s theories of laughter and humor. They focused on the physical and psychological reasons for laughing, more so then other theorists. For me, laughing is not about where blood, and oxygen move throughout your body to cause you to move the muscles in your mouth and utter absurd sounds. Nevertheless, the physical and mental reasons why we laugh need an explanation. Rather then ignoring the first halves of the texts, I did my best to sift through, what I consider, medical jargon. I remembered from my high school physics class, the law of conservation of energy states that energy cannot be created nor destroyed. When a humorous situation arises it excites the brain, which essentially shifts feelings, or energy to other parts of the body. This energy has to go somewhere, so it heads to the muscles, and thus we laugh. In my layman mind, I took away that laughter is the result of a transfer of energy.
Both Spencer and Freud are considered relief theorists, in regards to humor. The major causes of these “feelings” that move throughout our nervous system are the highs and lows of our humorous experiences, but where do the in-between emotions come in and why are they so satisfying? Spencer describes this in-between emotion, as simply “a pleasure in escaping from mental restraint.” Freud describes two ways in which humor can take place. The first is when, “one person may himself adopt a humorous attitude, while the second person acts as a spectator and derives enjoyment from the attitude of the first.” The second is when, “one of whom does not himself take any active share in producing humorous effect, but is regarded by the other in humorous light.” These are the experiences that I experience every day. They usually don’t make me laugh out loud, but they do make me smile, and in that sense they “liberat[e]” and “elevat[e]” me (Freud).
On Monday I had a humorous situation, similar to Freuds examples, at my weekly community service. I have been volunteering at C.A.R.E.S since the first semester of my freshman year. C.A.R.E.S is a food pantry that gives needy families in the Govans area food and financial assistance. I assist in a number of areas within C.A.R.E.S, and thus have acquired a number of close relationships with the volunteers around me. Lately, I have been working in the back helping to facilitate the packing and organizing of food donations. Bebe is the woman that “runs” the pantry aspect of C.A.R.E.S. She is a cranky, old lady that loves to bitch about everything. She has volunteered twice a week for God knows how many years. Most of the volunteers find her to be quite the pessimistic nuisance, but I love her. Bebe is terrible at communication, but very gifted in rebellion. That’s where I come in, I laugh at her comments, and communicate her intentions. I get and give the best of both worlds. Like most old ladies they get very worked up over unreasonable things. When I left for the holiday break, I gave Bebe the days I would be away; she forgot them. I called the week I got back, and sighed with relief. Bebe had thought I died or was in the hospital, because I showed up in weeks. When I arrived in Monday, she caught me up on all the gossip, and miserable things the Wednesday volunteers had done, since I had been away. After, service I walked home and had to smile. Bebe was so happy to have me back; she expressed it in a humorous way, but that’s why I love her.
These little situations that we experience every day do not cause energy to run down our nerves and make the muscles in our mouth move about in fits of laughter, but they do bring us pleasure. Freud describes the principal meaning of humor as, “Look here! This is all that this seemingly dangerous world amounts to. Child’s play – the very thing to jest about!” The pleasure that arises when we make light of the little things is what makes life worthwhile.