By Christopher Simon
“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushedspirit dries up the bones.” ~ Proverbs 17:22
Why do we laugh? To say that we laugh because we find something funny begs the question why we find things funny. We may laugh for a variety of reasons, and not always because something is funny, since we laugh sometimes when we are nervous or in other situations where we are essentially “breaking the ice.”
Plato and Aristotle thought that we laughed because we felt superior in some way to the object of our laughter, whereas Kant thought that we laughed when something seemed incongruous. A good joke, according to Kant, raises certain expectations and then dashes those expectations at the punch line. Modern theories of humor tend to side more with Kant, some of them speculating that when social norms are violated in a way that isn’t overly threatening we find it funny. And indeed, most jokes break some rules of propriety and if we don’t find that violation too offensive, we’re likely to laugh. We are wise to think carefully before telling a joke, making sure it doesn’t make someone in the audience the object of ridicule.
In any case, we ought not take ourselves too seriously, and should take every opportunity to laugh.