The AtlanticThe Atlantic

The Link Between Happiness and a Sense of Humor

By Arthur C. Brooks

12 Aug 2021 · 6 min read

When I die, I want to go peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather. Not screaming in terror, like the passengers on his bus. If you laughed at that joke, it is because three things happened in your brain in lightning-fast succession. First, you detected an incongruity: You imagined my grandfather lying peacefully in bed, but then you realized he was actually driving a bus. Second, you resolved the incongruity: My grandfather was asleep at the wheel. Third, the parahippocampal gyrus region of your brain helped you realize I wasn’t being serious, so you felt amusement. And all of that gave you a little bit of joy.

I realize that after that analysis, you’re probably not laughing anymore. “Humor can be dissected, as a frog can,” according to the writer E. B. White, “but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.” Fair enough. Humor is a serious business for happiness, however, and cultivating the skill of finding humor in life, even during the darkest times, can be the secret to keeping us from despair.

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