On being humor-challenged

Lately I feel as if all I’ve been blogging about is computer games, novels, movies, and the occasionally weird news story. What happened to my deep, thoughtful posts? (At least I think I used to have some.) Am I too tired, or too busy trying to entertain myself, to focus on serious matters?

On the other hand, maybe I seek escapist pleasure in these forms of entertainment because I tend to be too serious. I do think about theology, science, history, politics, and so forth, but can think of little to add to what has been discussed elsewhere in the blogosphere. (In almost three years of blogging I must have brought up most topics of interest to me already.) I find it much harder to express humor.

The Toastmasters group I am in has nearly all new membership, compared to a year ago. The new members are mostly salespeople, mostly young (last week someone talked about enjoying Happy Meals as a child – and I graduated from high school the year McDonald’s sold its first Happy Meal), relaxed, and informal. There’s a lot more laughter during the meetings than there was when the group was made up mostly of IT people, mostly of my generation.

For the most part I think that’s a good thing (though the group’s president has tried to curb excess informality, as the organization is designed to help people prepare for public speaking situations where professionalism is called for). I somewhat envy their easy ability to inject humor into just about any topic. My last speech, about being a volunteer for Junior Achievement, was praised for the passion I showed, but I was also encouraged to relax more. I’m sure some humor would have helped.

I’ve known I was humor-challenged since I was a little girl. There was a game we played in my Brownie troop, where you tried to get other girls to laugh, but not let anyone make you laugh. I usually won, because no one could get me to laugh. Other girls tried to think of unpleasant things like spinach. I thought about death.

When I was in a study abroad program, we had to rate ourselves as to our strengths and weaknesses. I rated myself highest on intelligence and lowest on the ability to laugh at myself. Then we were told how those traits related to success in dealing with adjusting to living in a different culture. The ability to laugh at oneself was the most important trait. Intelligence was at or near the bottom.

I had never felt as inadequate as I did then. (Though I certainly have since.) How in the world do you acquire or develop a good sense of humor? I ended up doing all right as far as adjusting to life in Spain, not only making it through the summer program (the director had considered me the most likely to want to give up and go home early) but choosing to stay for the fall semester as well. But I don’t know that I did it by being able to laugh at myself so much as pure determination to succeed, no matter how bad things got.

I’ve always been able to endure things that have to be endured (I highly valued stoicism when I was growing up, and thought it a strength rather than a weakness to hide emotions or to suppress them altogether). Being able to laugh at them, or at myself, is much harder. I’m good at being patient and trying hard. But humor doesn’t seem to be a product of trying hard.

I’m one of those people who tends to go around looking serious, often because my mind is on what I need to get done (though sometimes on just getting through the day). People will sometimes say “Smile!” – which I admit to finding very irritating. If I’m focussed on getting something done, I’m not unhappy and don’t need to be told to smile. If I’m unhappy, being told to smile only reminds me how difficult I am currently finding it to act happy.

I have a co-worker whom I found in the past very intimidating, in part because I never saw her smile. When I finally got to know her well enough to mention that fact, she seemed at first surprised, then acknowledged that she tended to look serious because she was generally busy trying to get a lot of things done. I remember being told in the past, at other jobs, that I made co-workers uncomfortable by not being friendly enough, and never really understood the criticism. Now I do.

I’ve been making a conscious effort to smile more at work, and I think I’ve at least partially succeeded. (There are days when I’m tired and have a headache and just don’t feel like trying to do more than get through the day.) But while I can manage to smile more by trying harder, I’m still pretty weak in the humor department. I take comments seriously that are meant as jokes, I take myself seriously, and I take life seriously.

I noticed recently that several books I had enjoyed recently had used humor well. I thought of a story that I’ve worked on occasionally for several years, and realized that humor was virtually absent. It has some serious ideas – but even those are often best conveyed by means of humor.

And of course, I consider being humor-challenged a serious matter, one which I would work hard to fix if I knew how. But somehow I don’t think trying harder helps in that endeavor. What does, I don’t know. Seriously.

4 Responses to On being humor-challenged

  1. Margaret says:

    So do you enjoy laughing at jokes? Or if something funny happens, do you find some pleasure in it (if it isn’t accompanied by a lot of pain)? I remember in high school being told that I look pretty when I smile, and I have been trying to smile ever since (not sure how I come across, though). I guess when you finally publish your serious book, you’ll have to have either a coauthor or editor who can help add some humor to the book.

    • Pauline says:

      I laugh at jokes if I think they’re funny. I just don’t find as many jokes funny as some people do, and some I find funny enough to smile but not to laugh.

      Jon says I laugh more than I used to, since I got on antidepressant medicine ten years ago. But I still have trouble recognizing when he (or someone else) is teasing rather than saying something meant seriously.

  2. modestypress says:

    And of course, I consider being humor-challenged a serious matter, one which I would work hard to fix if I knew how. But somehow I don’t think trying harder helps in that endeavor. What does, I don’t know. Seriously.

    Now THAT’S funny. Seriously.

  3. Peter L says:

    I think God makes some people serious minded to counter those of us who are not. Serious folk are necessary. But at least you can laugh at some jokes. And is the ability to laugh at oneself really important? Perhaps not in the your line of work.

    Now, as a teacher, I have to be able to laugh at myself. if I don’t, I think the students won’t have as much respect. The teachers I remember liking were those who could laugh at themselves. The ones who were too serious were the ones in whose classes I caused trouble or just didn’t try as hard. And it seems the students haven’t changed in the decades since I graduated.

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