(An excerpt from the bestseller How to Completely Change Your Life in 30 Seconds,
based on talks by Earl Nightingale)
A Commitment to Laughter
One of the enriching blessings of growing older all the time is that it has a way of improving one’s sense of humor – or at least it should. The person without a good sense of humor is a person to avoid as though he were a known carrier of the plague.
Horace Walpole once said, “I have never yet seen or heard anything serious that was not ridiculous.” And Samuel Butler said, “The one serious conviction that a man should have is that nothing is to be taken seriously.” It has been said that seriousness is the only refuge of the shallow. Oscar Wilde said, “It is a curious fact that the worst work is always done with the best intentions, and that people are never so trivial as when they take themselves very seriously.”
I remember that when I was in the service, one of the toughest jobs I had was to keep from laughing at the wrong times – during an admiral’s inspection, for example. There is nothing funnier than the seriousness of the military, especially high-ranking military. The fancy costumes, the panoply, the shining sabers, the serious faces – it was all, to me, hilariously funny.
We can be serious about situations. When a youngster is ill or hurt, or someone insults your spouse, you can get very serious about the situation in a hurry. But that’s not taking ourselves seriously. That’s different.
The thing that bothered me about Hemingway, as much as I admired his work, was that I thought he tended to take himself too seriously. He didn’t seem to be able to laugh at himself. And I think he suffered from this flaw in his character.
I have found it a good rule of thumb to be slightly suspicious of anyone who takes himself too seriously. There’s usually something fishy there someplace. I think this is why we love children so much: Life is like a game to them. They will do their best at whatever work is given them, but they never seem to lose their ebullient sense of humor; there is always a sparkle of humor in their eyes. When a child lacks this, he is usually in need of help.
Dictators are famous for their lack of humor. The mark of a cruel person is that he doesn’t seem to be able to see anything funny in the world. And, a sense of humor was what was so great about Mark Twain. No matter how serious the subject, he could find the humor in it and bring it out. All the great comedians have this ability to see what’s funny in the so-called serious situation. They can poke fun at themselves. There are those who believe that a sense of humor is the only thing that has kept the human race from totally extinguishing itself.
People who are emotionally healthy, with a sense of proportion, are cheerful people. They tend to look upon the bright side of things and see a lot of humor in their daily lives. They’re not Pollyanna’s – they know what’s going on and that a lot of it’s not at all funny – but they don’t permit the dark side of things to dominate their lives. To my mind, when a person lacks a sense of humor, there’s something pretty seriously wrong with him.
Samuel Butler said, “A sense of humor keen enough to show a man his own absurdities as well as those of other people will keep a man from the commission of all sins, or nearly all, save those that are worth committing.”
It took a sense of humor to write that, and only people with blank spaces where their senses of humor should be will find it offensive. There’s something so healthy about laughter, especially when it’s directed at ourselves.
There are times for all of us when all the laughter seems to be gone, but we should not permit these periods to last too long. When we’ve lost our sense of humor, there isn’t very much left. We become ridiculous. We must then go to war against the whole world, and that’s a war we cannot win.
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