This summer my eight-year-old daughter was ready for me to start reading the Harry Potter series to her. I had wanted to begin the books a couple of years ago, but she had resisted because she was worried about being scared. When enough of her friends had read them or were reading them, though, she was motivated to know what all of the fuss was about. She could read the books on her own, but reading to her and sharing stories is one of our favorite ways to spend time together.
Not surprisingly, she fell in love with Hogwarts, all things Harry, and his magical world and all of its inhabitants. What surprised me was her ability to laugh at appropriate, but subtle, lines or plot points in the books. My daughter is learning the nuance of humor and clever language — and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Laughter and a good sense of humor are two of the essentials I want my kids to have in life because being able to get a joke, and having the confidence to make one, can go a long way. Bottom line: I hope my kids are funny people.
Currently, my kids’ sense of humor consists mostly of knock-knock jokes and potty talk. One of my six-year-old twins is capable of delivering the best deadpan lines, but her timing and appropriateness need work. I am optimistic this early sign of comedy will get her through a variety of social situations as she gets older.
One of my favorite assets is my ability to make people laugh. Landing a joke is a great high, but watching a person or a group of people relax after enjoying a laugh is wonderful. I don’t want my kids to use humor to hurt someone’s feelings or negatively manipulate a situation. Aggressive or mocking humor, known as superiority theory, is when we laugh at someone else’s expense and it’s a pretty cheap way to get a chuckle. Humor can create goodwill and opportunities for my kids if they are liked and make people feel good in their presence. The two types of humor that strengthen these social bonds are called affiliative humor and self-enhancing humor.
The ability to laugh at ourselves or find humor in negative situations without becoming too self-deprecating is key to our physical and mental health too. When we laugh, we reduce stress and improve our immune and cardiovascular systems. Blood pressure and tension in our body decrease, while our moods improve with the increase of endorphins and dopamine. People who are able to reframe a negative event with comedy are sometimes able to prevent a depressive episode. For those of us who are at risk for or who struggle with depression, laughter is a great supplement to prescribed or alternative medicine.
Even with the painful and traumatic events I have experienced in life, I have found that everything is funny eventually. Even when something is not actually funny, I use humor as relief in stressful situations. Humor becomes an extension to a sigh. Think laughing at a funeral, or when someone gets hurt, or when dealing with your unruly kids. This last one happens daily for me. When my mood hasn’t extended to pure irritation on the verge of anger, I quietly make snide comments under my breath in order to keep my head from exploding when my kids are acting like banshees. My oldest child has started to pick up on my sarcasm and dry humor, specifically when I am dealing with her younger, batshit bonkers twin siblings. She tells me she likes my snide comments, but what I love is that she is aware of them. While my running commentary is for my benefit, my daughter is benefiting too.
Humor benefits all aspects of life. It strengthens self-esteem, reduces anxiety, and improves creativity and focus. One study done at Northeastern University showed participants several different types of films and then tested their word association skills using puzzles. The people who watched a comedy scored better on the test than those who watched a horror film or lectures on quantum physics. Researchers used an MRI to monitor the brain’s activity before solving a word puzzle. They discovered that “creative insight is correlated with increased activity in the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) just prior to solving a problem.”
The ACC plays a role in regulating attention and problem solving. After watching a funny movie, the happier or more positive people in the study tended to have more ACC activity before attempting the puzzle; this helped them score better than the scared, nervous, or bored participants.
Humor will provide my kids with valuable life skills, and it can also deliver one of the most important qualities in their future romantic relationships. Speaking from personal experience, laughing with the person you love is a huge turn on. Agreeing on what’s funny, or the ability to introduce new brands of humor without also having to explain the nuance of a joke, is almost as good as foreplay. My kids have years and years (and years and years) before settling in with a life partner, but a sense of humor is an attractive and critical quality when it comes to building a solid foundation with someone. One study (albeit very heteronormative) showed that 90% of men and 81% of women ranked sense of humor as the most important characteristic in a mate.
I don’t know what the future holds for my kids, but I know it will have shitstorms, disappointments, and achievements they never imagined. I want their future to have humor too.
All of my kids spend plenty of time being silly, but my oldest child is the one starting to hear the subtle notes of comedy. Her laugh is infectious and watching her test her own comedic skills makes me a very happy and proud parent.