Why Do I Laugh At Things That Aren’t Funny?

Your friend drops a hammer on her toe and as she hops around in agony, you find yourself overcome with a fit of giggles. Do you genuinely find it amusing that your best friend is having a physical crisis? No, you’re horrified by your own reaction, but the urge to laugh is too strong for you to restrain.

You’re attending a funeral service and the current speaker starts choking on emotion as she struggles to get through her prewritten speech about how much the deceased meant to her. Suddenly you find yourself snickering uncontrollably. You’re fighting hard to hide your reaction, but your whole body is shaking with the force of your giggles and other people are starting to shoot you hateful glares. Yikes, what is wrong with you?

Inappropriate laughter is a means by which your subconscious tries to vent emotional tension out of your system. Your soul can also trigger this kind of laughter, but often it’s your subconscious. The human design is truly fascinating, and it includes many built in “pressure release valves” which will automatically open when a certain amount of internal stress builds up. These valves play a critical role in maintaining your ability to function. If too much stress builds up internally, your subconscious and body will find it very difficult to carry out their normal functions, many of which you depend on to keep you upright and mobile.

When you are born, these pressure release valves are already installed. No one has to teach you how to use them: they will automatically go into effect whenever certain criteria are met. Crying and laughing are two of these valves. The force with which you cry or laugh in any given moment depends on how much pressure is trying to escape. Think of it like opening a soda can after giving it a good shake. The longer you shake it before opening it, the more of a geyser you’ll have on your hands as the pressurized contents try to escape through that small opening.

Now under normal circumstances, you will cry or laugh or do both at the same time whenever you feel intense emotions that are either positive or negative. Normally we associate laughter with joy and crying with sorrow, but because both of these acts vent pressure out of your system, your subconscious might decide to use both at the same time to accelerate how quickly the pressure will vent in a given moment. For your subconscious, the focus is on relieving pressure.

Now in real life, other humans and your culture’s influence on you will interfere with the way you use your natural pressure release valves. The usual effect of this interference is that we form very negative associations with crying or laughing. We are taught that it is wrong to cry or laugh in certain situations. Sometimes we are taught that it is never okay to cry. The problem with these made up rules is that it makes things complicated for your subconscious. Your subconscious is focused on protecting you, and once you are being threatened with social punishment if you cry or laugh in a certain situation, your subconscious feels like it needs to avoid activating those valves so it can protect you from harm. But not being able to vent pressure when you need to causes pressure to start building up to harmful levels. Your subconscious will then have to choose between using the natural, built in methods and risk having you be punished by others, or try to come up with some new method for venting pressure.

Minds and souls can get very creative when it comes to trying to invent new pressure release methods. Typically these methods will involve some kind of physical activity because to get emotional pressure entirely out of your system, the body often has to be involved. The problem here is that minds and souls that are very stressed tend to drift towards experimenting with some very negative destressing methods. A classic example here is the practice of cutting. This involves people voluntarily slicing open their own skin. The location, number, and depth of these cuts varies widely, as do the motivations for doing it. Interestingly, the soul is often the element driving this particular method of self-harming. While many self-harming methods are almost exclusively used by the subconscious, there are some methods which souls tend to be especially attracted to, and cutting is one of those methods. Trying to relieve moral guilt is a common motivation for soul-driven forms of self-harming, and many people cut themselves with this motivation in mind.

So do these alternative methods for venting stress work as well as the built in ones? No. Many alternative methods actually make the problem worse by increasing the very stress they are supposed to be alleviating. The built in methods are naturally more efficient and a lot less harmful, so it’s a good thing to let yourself laugh and cry when you feel the need to do so.

Negative Prompts

When you find yourself feeling embarrassed or disturbed by inappropriately laughing at a negative situation, it’s a good time to learn about the role personal identity plays in humor.

The more you personally identify with a problem or situation, the stronger your reaction to it will be. Strong reactions cause your internal stress levels to spike. A sudden spike in your stress levels can easily cause your subconscious and/or soul to try to vent some of that extra stress out of your system immediately so that things will be brought back to a more manageable level. If they react like this in a certain moment, it can be quite natural for you to suddenly experience a strong impulse to laugh. When it is a negative situation that is prompting you to laugh, it is not because you find it funny. What’s happening is that you identify with the situation so strongly, that it causes you to feel over-stressed. You then laugh to vent that negative stress, not because you’re feeling comical.

The mechanics I just described occur in every human, and once you understand these things, you can put them to use to try to get certain reactions out of people. Sitcoms are a good example here. Sitcoms are situational comedies in which you watch a bunch of characters go through a string of situations which are anything but funny. In one episode of a sitcom, the main characters usually end up getting bombarded with all kinds of embarrassing troubles and stressful dilemmas, yet as we watch these things happen from the comfort of our couches, we are frequently laughing. Why is this? Why do shows that are intentionally focused on the negative side of life come across as so funny to us? And why do we feel so drawn to them? The answer is that these shows help us reduce a lot of internal stress. By focusing on problems that many of us can identify with to at least some degree, sitcoms keep spiking our internal stress levels and prompting us to vent the stress we feel about those same problems in real life.

Suppose your boss is a jerk to you in real life and you don’t find it funny at all. When you then watch a sitcom in which a character is being bullied by her boss, your identity with the situation causes your own stress about your real life problems to surface. You are then able to vent some of that stress out of your system through laughter. So first the sitcom helps you access reservoirs of stress that are building up inside of you, then it spikes them high enough for you to go into automatic vent mode. As you laugh, you end up bringing your stress load down a bit lower than it was before you watched your show. By the end of a particularly funny episode in which you really identified with the characters and therefore kept bursting into fits of giggles, you actually feel a sense of relief inside. It feels as though a burden has been lifted off of you for a bit and this helps you to relax. It is the stress relieving effect of sitcoms that makes them so enormously popular among humans. Before we had sitcoms on television, we were acting them out on theatre stages. Comedy has always been popular with humans and it always will be, because when it is well done, it helps us in a very practical way.

The Effects of Suppression

Once you understand that laughter is a means of relieving stress, if you suddenly start finding yourself laughing at very inappropriate times and at things you never laughed at before, it’s useful to consider the possibility that you are using too much emotional suppression in your daily routine. Emotional suppression is a common defence strategy in cases of psychological trauma. Your mind’s goal is to protect you from harm by keeping your true feelings hidden from other people. Emotional suppression often results in you acting quite differently to how you actually feel when you are around other humans. You might act solemn when you feel happy, or you might act happy when you really feel sad. Another form suppression can take is when you try to act very indifferent and detached in every situation, as if you have no emotions at all.

The problem with suppressing emotions is that they don’t just evaporate like a snowflake landing in a cup of hot tea. Suppressed emotions intensify in strength when they are locked away inside of you. They then start causing a build up of internal pressure, and over time your average pressure level grows higher and higher until you’re barely managing to not to fall apart. Once your stress baseline becomes too high, your subconscious will be come desperate to get it back down again. Often in these cases, there are intense fears about revealing your negative emotions to others–things like fear and grief. This makes crying feel like a non-option to your mind, so it resorts to using laughter instead. When something upsetting happens in front of you that genuinely bothers you, you can find yourself suddenly laughing. This feels like a mismatch when you’re not used to having your mind use laughter to express negative emotions. But once you understand that laughter is used to vent stress, you can interpret your inappropriate laughter for what it is: a sign that you’re feeling stressed, not a sign that you’re some kind of sociopath.

Keeping Labels in Perspective

When you are concerned about your mental health, it’s easy to let diagnostic labels like sociopath, psychopath, and schizophrenic freak you out. Because many of these terms are defined in very vague ways, it’s often quite easy to find at least a few similarities between your own behaviours and a whole host of scary “mental disorders.” In my opinion, fancy diagnostic labels are far more of a hindrance than a help, which is why I don’t focus on them in my material. The only time I get into the fancy terminology is when my clients or readers specifically ask me about a certain diagnostic term, and that’s usually due to them becoming distressed by something they read online. As I said, the labels are more of a hindrance than a help. You’ll do a much better job of keeping things in proper perspective if you focus on understanding your own internal mechanics instead of trying to find a single term to define yourself by.

As a human, you are far too complex to be well-described by any diagnostic label. Rather than define yourself by a few of the problems you’re dealing with right now, remember that you are like an acorn that gets planted in a forest. You might not look very impressive right now, but internally you have the potential to turn into a beautiful oak tree. Maturity is a process that takes time. Where you are at today isn’t where you’re going to stay so if you find that you’re developing a habit of trolling through articles on human psychology and mental disorders, anxiously looking for more scary words to link to yourself, it’s time to switch to some lighter reading material.

Education is a good thing only when it’s benefitting you. Information that helps you is going to have an inspiring, uplifting effect on you internally. It will make you feel interested, hopeful, and encouraged. But information that is not good for you to absorb will cause you to feel sad, discouraged, anxious, and burdened. Start paying more attention to the way information is causing you to feel internally as you digest it and cut ties with any sources that keep dragging you down.

This post was written in response to Dave.