The earliest known psychotherapy consisted of getting a patient to laugh.
Laughter includes both surprise and rejection. We’re sure you can think of an example; here’s a start — think of a cartoon or a joke that made you laugh. Now observe the surprising part of it, and observe the idea or concept being rejected.
Let’s take an actual example of a joke:
A man goes to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist says “You’re crazy.”
The man says, “I want a second opinion!”
The psychiatrist says, “Okay, you’re ugly, too!”
The surprise seems to be the unexpectedness of the second opinion; it wasn’t predicted.
An individual who is too serious has lost his ability to predict, and cannot be surprised into rejection. When one rehabilitates the ability to laugh, just by laughing for no reason, it benefits the person immensely.
We recently have seen many examples of people being too serious and unable to laugh. There are Facebook pages devoted to various jokes and cartoons. One such page requires participants to actively ask for admission, so you know they are viewing and posting on that page on purpose. Then, they make comments on the various jokes and cartoons about how it isn’t funny, or how it is offensive, or how much they dislike it. They have essentially lost their laughter, and are going through life serious as a stone.
A person who is unable to laugh will be strictly literal, unable to tolerate confusion, and unable to appreciate remarks made in fun.
Some psychologists and psychiatrists have learned to respect the value of laughter; as the joke goes, how many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, but it has to want to change.
Other psychologists and psychiatrists may mistake genuine laughter for ridicule, which is decidedly not the same thing. And some may consider it only as a stress coping strategy rather than the simpler explanation described above. There was a period in psych-influenced education which considered that if you’re laughing, you’re not learning. We actually knew a high school principal once who thought that children could not learn unless they were quiet and sitting down.
The study of laughter is called gelotology, from the Greek word gelos meaning laughter. There is even a branch of yoga called Laughter Yoga, which incorporates breathing, yoga, and stretching techniques, along with laughter. There are at least fifteen English words and phrases describing various kinds of laughs.
When neuropsychiatrists study laughter, of course they mean they are studying the brain; they get hung up in the physiology, brain waves, serotonin, hormones, and other mechanical aspects. They get all scientific on you, talking about “activation of the ventromedial prefontal cortex.” They seem to lose sight of the simplicity of the effect, so that they can patent it and manipulate it with some drug. You can’t charge someone’s insurance for a prescription for laughter.
They’ve even got it in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as “cataplexy,” which is a sudden, generally brief muscle weakness, like weak knees, due to strong emotion or laughter. We suppose this is where the acronym ROFL comes from (Rolling On Floor Laughing.)
Well, what’s the bottom line? We think that psychiatry is a joke, but we’re not really laughing about it. Perhaps we should. Check out a few of our psych jokes here.