COVID-19 and Humour: Is Laughter the Best Medicine?

Thursday Jun 04,2020 | Social Innovation



By Tania Nagpaul

I recently chanced upon two articles hailing laughter and humour as effective coping mechanisms for people during these troubling COVID-19 times. The first article relegated humour to having the potential for bringing “therapeutic cheer,” while the second article took a more balanced view by recognising that humour can bring people together, yet exclude others at the same time. However, both articles echo the insights offered in the positive psychology piece of literature around humour being an important human “character strength.”

Research has shown us that the primal nature of laughter is seen when infants chuckle and break into squeals of laughter in response to social exchanges offered by caregivers. Seeking humour is a natural response for us as it not only induces a positive mood, but also enables us to regulate negative thoughts and emotions. In fact, there is empirical evidence demonstrating that humour based interventions (such as remembering three funny things at the end of the day or recounting the funniest incident in your life) can enhance life satisfaction, psychological well-being, health, generate a more positive mood and encourages optimism. It even goes to the extent of mitigating depression, feelings of stress or suicidal tendencies.




Yet, despite the scientific evidence and understanding that humour can do wonders for our social well-being, I couldn’t help but recall how I felt about the countless memes, jokes and videos I've come across over the last two months. For the most part, they appear as mindless, insensitive and micro-aggressive, to say the least. But I also began to take a step back, and question my own sense of humour. “Have I become too serious in life?” “Why don’t I find this joke funny?” I even started to wonder if humour belonged only to the wealthy and powerful. And so I decided to let my guard down (about humour) and soon chanced upon a riddle that actually cracked me up. It goes like this:

Question: What are the two professions that will do extremely well after the lifting of lockdown?

Answer: Barbers and divorce lawyers!

Maybe you found that funny, but if you didn’t, that’s alright. Different people have different comic style preferences. Some may feel uplifted by fun, slapstick comedy, while others rejoice in sarcasm and cynicism. Irrespective of the preferred comic style, I’m confident that there is enough humour out there that tickles the funny bone for different people without having to resort to mockery and ridicule for the sake of upping the funniness quotient.




After all, humour is the redefinition of a sociocultural reality into a “lighter” state of mind which may be expressed in the form of laughter. It is the unique ability to spread good cheer around. Successful humour  should heal, repair, and act as a balm to temporarily provide relief from the heaviness that surrounds an ongoing crisis.

The popular adage, “A joke should make both sides laugh” has deep roots but can be easily forgotten in the race to churn out humorous content that is relevant to the current state of affairs. With that in mind, I beseech the quick-witted ones out there to generously circulate humour that is tolerant, non-hostile and builds interpersonal cohesion, while keeping the more aggressive, self-defeating and disparaging humour at bay.

In the words of the great Charlie Chaplin, “A day without laughter is a day wasted”. So let’s keep the mirth coming and continue to put a smile on another person’s face. I hope you are smiling right now.

If not, maybe this cartoon by Walt Handelsman might do the trick.


All images via rawpixel.


Tania Nagpaul is a Programme Manager (Research) at the Lien Centre for Social Innovation.