I have a new favorite Facebook personage whose page I have liked. He’s a writer named Jonathan Carroll, and he posts all of these amazing quotations and excerpts from his work that tend to be quite insightful and make me happy.
Here’s a quote he shared earlier this week: “It is a great art to laugh at your own misfortune.” – Danish proverb
Remember how I said one mark of emotional resiliency is developing a sense of humor? (I know, I know, I keep going back to that, but I’m just so excited to have a name for one of my interests.) I suspect that an especially helpful part of humor is the ability to laugh at yourself, your life, your world. And when I can’t do that, when I can’t find anything remotely funny, even the tiniest bit that is only tangentially related, well, that’s when I know I’m in for a real emotional wringer.
I was talking to someone about absurdity, and how a sense of absurdity in life can result in a loss of meaning. But I don’t think this has to be the case. Sometimes finding that hint of the absurd is the only way I can find humor in a given situation. Absurdity also makes it easier for me to laugh at myself, as I notice my own foibles and eccentricities. The trick, then, is to notice the absurdity around yourself while not allowing it to erode those ideas, relationships, or things through which you find meaning.
Perhaps we can do this by realizing that so much of everything is absurd if you’re looking at it from a certain perspective, and accepting the absurdity while still seeing the beauty and meaning shining through. (Is this a type of idealism, perhaps? Or optimism?) Look at writing, for example. So many things about writing are absurd. The cultural norms reflected both in and around writing, the prescribed structures of fiction, the putting down words and then deleting them and then putting down more words and then deleting them ad nauseam. The basic idea of fiction, of writing down a story that never happened and never will happen, has an element of absurdity in it–enough, in fact, that some people cannot enjoy fiction because of this (although I do wonder if this reflects on their ability to deal with absurdity in other realms of life as well). What about the idea of becoming immortal through your words, an absurd idea if I ever heard one given the low chances of being one of the few writers whose works are still being read two hundred years later. And don’t even get me started on the absurdities inherent in the business aspects of being a writer, because they are legion.
And yet, writing still has deep meaning for me. I can laugh at it (and I do), and then I sit down and write some more. Absurdity doesn’t erase the importance of writing for me; it is a part of writing, and then there are other aspects of writing that call to me and make the time and energy spent on it seem deeply worthwhile. It’s a similar strangeness to that of concurrently laughing at yourself and taking yourself very seriously.
I wish I had something sage but pithy to say about how to develop the art of laughing at oneself. But the truth is, sometimes it comes easily to me and sometimes it doesn’t. I do find that the more I can gain a wider perspective and the less caught up in perfectionism I am, the easier it gets. So I suppose that’s my insight for today: Look outside of yourself. Allow yourself imperfections. Go ahead and hold yourself to a high standard to begin with, but be gentle when you fall down. Cultivate laughter. And spend time around people who do the same.
What are you laughing about today?