Look Who’s Laughing Now!

Let’s do an experiment. Read the two texts below and then try to answer these questions:

  • What is each text about?
  • Which nationalities or social groups do you think the people come from?

Text 1

“My findings indicate that while there may indeed be something distinctive about [our] humor, the real ‘defining characteristic’, is the value we put on humor, the central importance of humor in our culture and social interactions.”

Text 2

“If there’s something we have that we can export to the rest of the world, it’s humor…

…Going around everywhere making jokes is a hallmark of our identity.”

You would be forgiven for thinking that these texts described just one group of people. In fact, these are two groups which apparently have ‘humor’ in common as a ‘defining characteristic’ or ‘a hallmark of identity’. I have, of course, taken these comments out of context and both are part of longer, more general discussions including other characteristics, but I would say they reflect what many people from these groups actually believe.

So, where are these people from? Well, Text 1 was written by English anthropologist, Kate Fox, and Text 2 by Spanish psychologist (specialised in Laughter Therapy), José Elías Fernández González

Surprised? Does it surprise you that they say exactly the same? Not me. I often hear this kind of thing from members of both nationalities. I sometimes reply, isn’t humour just part of human life? Yes, there are undoubtedly differences between national senses of humour, as both experts suggest, but that doesn’t mean there are national identities with no humour. Everyone needs to laugh, at least, sometimes.

When I hear people talk about the much maligned German sense of humour for example – or rather their lack of humour –  I wonder what these people imagine it must be like to live in Germany. Do they think everyone goes around all day stern-faced until someone falls over or walks into a lamppost? Even if we assume that the reason schadenfreude (literally harm joy, meaning something like malicious glee) is not easy to translate into other languages is that the phenomenon is unique to Germans  (which I don’t think it is), we can’t conclude that they don’t have a sense of humour. It’s just a particular kind of humour and, unfortunately, is not unique to them. It represents something we all do sometimes: take pleasure in other people’s misfortune. Anyway, I prefer to think that, right now, there are loads of people in Germany laughing about all sorts of things.

Ok, so a sense of humour and laughter are not unique to a few select groups. But if it’s a basic human characteristic, I hear you say, why do some people need Laughter Therapy and Laughter Yoga?

If humour is so central to all of us, why do we need therapy to help us laugh? Good question. The answer appears to be that this kind of laughter actually has no connection with humour at all. It’s all about health. It’s yoga and is based on the idea, attributed to Dr Madan Kataria, an Indian physician, that making yourself laugh results in ‘the same physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laughter_yoga).

Ok, so laughter is not always connected with humour, but it is most of the time. Humour makes you laugh. That’s probably its main purpose and you would expect that in places where it has ‘central importance’ in ‘culture and social interactions’, where it’s ‘a hallmark’, you would have plenty of opportunities to laugh. You wouldn’t need to learn how to do it. Not so. In fact, therapy appears to be needed all over the world and England and Spain are no exceptions. Here are a few examples, but you can find many more online:

Laughter Therapy in Spain

Laughter Yoga in England

Humour Trainer in German

Laughter Workout in India

Did you get the right answers to the questions at the beginning?

How important do you think humour is for English people and Spaniards compared to other nationalities?

We’d like to know what you think, so please write in with your opinion.

Vocabulary: 

a hallmark (noun) of our identity’ – a distinctive or defining characteristic of identity (pattern = a hallmark of + noun phrase, e.g. Reexamining old beliefs is one of the hallmarks of adolescence. Or her/his/their hallmark is, e.g. His hallmark is producing wine that punches above its weight.

lack of (quantifier) ‘lack of humour’ – absence of or deficiency in humour (both meanings are possible, i.e. no humour at all or not much humour)

loads of (quantifier) ‘there are loads of people’ – there are lots of people

all sorts of (adjective) ‘all sorts of things’ – many and varied things

have plenty of opportunities to laugh – have more than enough opportunities to laugh (pattern = have + plenty of + opportunities/chances/time/reasons + to + verb)

most of the time (adverbial) – on most occasions, usually (pattern = most of + the + time; not most of time*

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