How Your Sense of Humor Works

The Dali Lama’s Sense of Humor


The Dali Lama calls himself “a professional laugher”. He has known many tragedies in his life, yet he laughs easily and often. He points out that a sense of humor is a holistic perspective. The fullest expression of the great wisdom traditions through all ages have one thing in common: love of what is, without resistance, in good humor.

Life continually confronts us with surprises. So does humor. We are hardwired instinctively and psychologically to be wary of anything unexpected. We “put up our guard” to get through everyday life. Meditation practitioners find that humor loosens the grip of everyday guarded expectations and allows our unguarded self to briefly emerge.

If you have ever experienced a real belly laugh, you know how unguarded such a moment is. And it is always momentary: an essential but necessary psychological dilemma that we all share is the maintenance of a guarded personality. The unconscious has to work with and negotiate with the guards at the gate of conscious personality. Humor is one of the most important currencies of negotiation.

Humor runs deeper in human consciousness than we often realize. Babies begin to laugh in the first few months of life, long before we acquire language. Beginning in infancy, we laugh at perceived incongruity and pleasant surprises. Human consciousness is hardwired to look for patterns of congruity and incongruity; it is a basic dimension of our intelligence. Everyone has been taught to look for “what doesn’t belong here.” It’s a game most parents play with their children. But whether we are aware of it or not, we all play this game everyday of our lives.

We go through life believing that nothing ever completely belongs. In psychological terms, not belonging is a feeling a separateness and even alienation. Humor brings together things that, on a conscious level, we assume don’t belong together. But where the ego sees things that are separate and don’t belong, our higher consciousness sees perfect unity. Your sense of humor can see the underlying unity that transcends egoic separateness.

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“I love smiles, and my wish is to see more smiles, real smiles, for there are many kinds—sarcastic, artificial, or diplomatic. Some smiles don’t arouse any satisfaction, and some even engender suspicion or fear. An authentic smile, though, arouses an authentic feeling of freshness, and I think the smile belongs only to human beings. If we want those smiles, we must create the reasons that make them appear.” – The Dali Lama

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