Jocularity: a Therapeutic Cure to the Disease of Seriousity
by Janice Florent
Originally posted in the Australian Association of Family Therapy Newsletter
Volume 38 No.2: June 2016

In light of all of the tragedy and trauma in the news over that last week I thought that we should maybe meditate for a bit on the power of laughter.  Even in the most traumatic situations laughter can lighten the burden and lift the load.  Ancient King Solomon from the Old Testament prescribes that a merry heart is as good as medicine.

A note on the power of laughter from Lisa:

I am a baby from the early 60’s and come from a very eccentric family whose number one priority, even in the most inappropriate times,  is hilarity and jocularity.  It is only just recently that I realised with shock that my mothers family grew up in poverty in struggle town in the inner suburbs of Melbourne’s  Collingwood/Richmond from the 1930’s to  the late 50’s.

I never realised this of course because every single family memory and recollection was told with one common denominator, humour.  The retelling of my families lives was so punctuated with funny stories and practical jokes that I thought they were the most amazing and incredible family one could possibly have.

Now in my 50’s I realise that seven people living in a one bedroom single fronted town house in Collingwood couldn’t have been all that fun.  Baths once a week and vegetables only on Sunday’s seem like life on another planet.  My grandfather filled in the front porch to make a bedroom and filled in the side way to make another.  My mother tells of her despair at not finishing school, which she loved so much, because as soon as she turned 14 she had to get a job to help support the family.  Never the less one family legacy remains.

A wicked and irreverent sense of humour that has carried us all through the darkest of days and a it is a legacy for which I am very grateful.

In these photos you get a tiny glimpse of the insanity. Above are my siblings at my 50’th birthday morning tea.  My brother thought it would be hilarious to surprise me and arrive as Stephanie instead of Steven.  The drunken and passed out women above are my aunt and sister at THE WINDSOR high tea for my mothers 81st birthday party.  Pretending that they couldn’t hold their liquor.  Mind you my aunt doesn’t even drink.  And the final photo is of my beautiful mother, crying with laughter at her birthday high tea.  Needless to say we are often asked to ‘keep it down’ a little.  Quiet, we are not.  You could say that our family motto would be:

Life may be grave but it doesn’t have to be serious.

Jocularity: a Therapeutic Cure to the Disease of Seriousity by Janice Florent

The risk of a lack of humour might be graver. We might miss the opportunity to be curious, creative and observe alternative viewpoints. We risk seeming judgmental and rigid: the expert rather than person- centred. Imagine the poor client who tries to relieve their awkwardness with a little humour and is met with a therapist’s straight-faced nod of intensity. Without humour in our practice, we risk burnout and of course being cursed with seriousity.

Humour allows for playfulness; connecting to the inner child; can reduce anxiety; can help us to see the absurdity of situations.

Underwater portrait of happy child

Underwater portrait of happy child. Summer vacation

The ability to laugh at ourselves and our human frailty may perhaps allow us to be kind to ourselves, to forgive, to give permission to identify our strengths and opportunities for joy. Humour or jocularity is thus a powerful tool.The question arises however whether humour truly is a tool or a stance? Do we use humour in a calculated way; prepare jokes or jocular responses? Moshe proposes that we should not ‘use’ humour that way, but rather cultivate humour as a state of mind. He likened humour to empathy, in that we don’t use empathy, we are simply empathic.

  • Humour, like empathy, requires authenticity. When we are authentic and attuned to our clients, we have an opportunity to respond to affect in a number of ways
  • to respond accurately, which supports therapeutic alliance;
  • to amplify or intensify, which will either support insight and awareness or misfire and increase distress; or
  • to de-intensify with the use of humour. This will either misfire and fracture the alliance or allow for brevity and therefore a well-timed lifting of a heavy burden.

A burden need not always be heavy. The burden of parenthood, the worry of raising children for example could be seen as the joy of watching children grow and explore the wonders of the world. We need not always be literal Moshe says, there is always another way of seeing things. Maybe the glass is not half empty after all?

As Moshe stated, it is all in the interpretation; how language and its nuances can create different meanings.Moshe shared his experience as a new migrant with formal English as his second language and the hilarity of misunderstanding ‘strine’. Like Nino Culotta in the book, “They’re a weird mob”, one man’s confusion is another man’s comedic genius. We can spend a session in complete confusion with our client due to language, with both parties failing to understand the intended meaning. Do we become frustrated and argumentative, or do we take a step back and laugh?

If we can learn to see the humour in life and figure out when lightness is appropriate we can revel in the jocularity of being part of the weird mob and thereby free ourselves from the constipation of the bowels of despair, otherwise known as seriousity.

Janice Florent

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Love Lisa

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