Everybody thinks they have good sense of humor but they can't all have..
June 24, 2014 9:19 PM   Subscribe

I take everything seriously and overthink every last thing. How can I lighten the f- up? [Long, drawn out, unfun, over-thought more inside.]

I want to be "lighter" - have a sense of humor, be a bit absurd, let the superego take a nap for a while, etc. But somehow I've become this kind of dark, intense and over thinky person.

People do tell me how "funny" I am - but it's normally in a snarky, ranty sense or obscure reference "jokes" that are just me making analogies and normally extracted from a sense of fear, disgust or self loathing. (For reference: When the movie JUNO came out, about 10 people said, "I just saw a movie that's just like you in high school" and anyone who saw GHOST WORLD called me to say they saw a movie about me.)

My creative work, however, when I try to be funny is apparently just dark and cruel rather than funny.

I cannot tell a regular joke. Honestly. I make the accordion lesson girl from MY FAVORITE YEAR look like Shecky Greene.

In grad school I had a teacher kick me out of class telling me to, "Get drunk. Get high. Do whatever you need to do to just loosen up." I got very drunk to do my final project for that class and it was the only way I passed.

In my first job, my writing partner said, "I really admire your work, but I'd never want to go through what you do to get there." (basically the whole self torture overthinky thing.)

As I've aged, become more professional, have more responsibilities, I've got a lot less room for nonsense interjecting its way into my life and I miss it.

From therapy to meditation to medication to exercise, things over the last few decades designed to calm me from my overserious, overthinky state have had very little nonsense in them. They're aiming for mellow, not bristling with joy.

There's a complete lack of random fun chaos in my life. And when I purposely add it, it feels like I'm following a cake mix recipe on how to be wacky, rather than anything that's actually fun or genuine.

Please note: I'm not looking for a way to be hip or cool vs. square or have a second childhood in the midst of adulthood. I have pinball machines. My house is decorated in PeeWee Herman posters and Futurama action figures. I read Mad Magazine. I watch Adventure Time and Scooby Doo, Mysteries Inc. I have a tiki-themed bathroom and tin robots in every room. (These just ooze in. I swear it didn't happen all at once.) I'm not Cameron Frye's parents. I'm like a very intense 10 year old that won't crack a smile anymore.

I just feel like that sense of joy, lightness and absurdity isn't coming from me lately. Not that I never was, but that the battle between serious me and goofy me? Someone goofy got a smackdown and isn't rearing its head.

Case in point: Worried about this, the first thing I did was search books on Amazon: "How to Loosen Up", "How to Have a Sense of Humor" then Google Lifehacker for the same thing, then look up if there were a self-hypnosis style MP3 for it as if it's some sort of assignment for work.

Things to caveat:
- Yep, I'm in therapy. No need to suggest more. I have had "dance where no one can see you" as a prescription/assignment. I'm worried that therapy is partially contributing to the "no fun" lens on the world.
- I can still get totally geeked on things, even really goofy things, still, but I end up making them make sense in some way, either with doing lots of research or analyzing it to death until I've sucked the fun out of it like a crazed, fun-less vampire. This does not make me the life of the party.
- I come from a long line of people with substance abuse problems so, besides an occasional drink, I'm not going the chemical route to loosen the heck up. More than 2 drinks and I start playing out nightmare scenarios that I'll end up drinking vanilla extract like the uncle in "Family Ties."

So, how exactly does one chill the f out, lighten the f up and loosen up?
posted by Gucky to Human Relations (36 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
No one can tell a joke without practice. Some have been lucky to have been practicing since childhood, but just find a couple good ones and start telling.
posted by sammyo at 9:51 PM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

And heck, your book tweet just needs a rimshot, ba ding!
posted by sammyo at 9:53 PM on June 24, 2014

This is not a great solution because it costs money, but can you find a way to take a vacation and visit some of the friends who knew you when you were funny and loose? I find being away from my current life and back with people who knew me as a more lively person puts me right back into my old self. It often carries into my regular life when I return too.
posted by superfille at 9:55 PM on June 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

You can't make yourself loosen up. Just let yourself be the way you are.
posted by facetious at 9:56 PM on June 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

Have you considered joining an improv theater group?

Great way to get out of your head and enjoy your entire package in that you have to use your body too.
posted by rw at 9:59 PM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, "loosening up" and "telling jokes" seem pretty opposite to me, actually. People who actually "tell jokes" instead of just naturally being funny usually come up off pretty "sweaty" and desperate to be liked- think the uncle no one wants to sit near at holidays.

I tend to take things seriously and analyze a lot, too. I'd say just continue with the therapy and do the assignments. If you're the kind of person who likes to work seriously on things, work seriously on loosening up. I don't see why it can't be learned as a skill like any other.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:01 PM on June 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

This is going to sound overly simplistic, but I suggest you turn on some music on a regular basis. Music has magical properties, it really does. Music can make you feel things. (Make you feel some type of way, as the kids would say) It can make you feel happy or sad. Energized or sleepy. It can make your body move, it can bring back memories, it can get you singing, it can make you smile or cry. To me, that's a tool.

I'm way, way too serious sometimes, and I hate that about myself. Music (and dancing) help me blow off that steam. You don't want to dance, that's fine, no need to. But don't forget the wonderful tool of music you love to relax your mind and to inject some joy straight into your veins.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 10:08 PM on June 24, 2014 [9 favorites]

Do you have a cat or can get one or foster one temporarily? Or a dog or some other silly creature? Is there something local you could join where you get to dress up and/or roleplay? Vampire LARPs or any roleplaying game played in a game store are usually safe (I find them a bit too boring even!). You could play a Jester-type character and be unfunny and that would be hilarious!
posted by meepmeow at 10:13 PM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your success with snarky humor and your existing interests in light-hearted but external things make me ask what else is there to a sillier, friendlier sort of humor or joy. And the answers I keep coming up with are things like sincerity, kindness, optimism, openness, and living in the moment.

The most pure joy I've had in weeks came from things like playing with a dog and supplying a running voiceover for what he was up to. I think aiming right at that kind of thing could be hard, although the improv suggestion above does call to mind an exercise from Keith Johnstone's Impro where you're supposed to walk around, point at things, and call them by the wrong name, which has the effect of sharpening and brightening the world around you.

But what I really think is you should approach this sideways by practicing kind, open, sincere things that aren't hard--whatever's missing in that respect, whether it's praising other people or trying to make them feel better by smiling at them or surprising them with something simple like a cupcake or you get the idea. Telling them simple, pleasant, earnest, friendly jokes is probably just one step more advanced?
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:13 PM on June 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Hang out with little kids. Get down on the ground and play with them.
posted by ottereroticist at 10:15 PM on June 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

In my experience, loosening up / chilling out / relaxing is synonymous with feeling unburdened. When there are not many things to worry about, emergent spontaneous me comes out, a light goes on behind the eyes, fun things happen. But if I am worrying -- which I am very often -- that all gets shut down. I identify pretty strongly with the idea of attempting to purposely add fun chaos, which of course is self-defeating as you know. Likewise I identify with trying to forcefully will myself to be more relaxed, more funny, more easy-going, but I've come to recognize that these things tend to happen, and in fact can only happen, during times when I'm not trying.

I don't have a specific answer for you, except to suggest that if your therapy is not feeling helpful for you it's perfectly okay to look for another therapist. In terms of a guiding philosophy, though, maybe think about examining all the rules you have for how you're supposed to be, and you have a lot of them, it seems. In my experience, such rules kind of crowd over you like weeds blocking out the sun. They choke. If you can clear them away, things emerge.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:16 PM on June 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

To clarify some points:
- I have multiple therapist-like people - a life coach, a therapist and more! They're all good at the things they're helping me with but, "Make me more fun" isn't quite their wheelhouse. I completely understand the recommendation to find a new therapist, but finding the current set of not-assclowns took almost a year of trial and error.

- Improv workshop was likely the darkest, more cynical place I've been in my life. Is there a "oh, we're not here to discuss how comedy is really pain and despair" code word I'm missing in the brochure when I sign up? Or perhaps the San Francisco comedy scene is really tragedy with hipster glasses.

- I have a wonderful dog who I'm nursing back from major surgery into doggie physical therapy. She still manages to crack me up, but is kinda sad and needy all the time. There will be no frisbees or similar in our future until she's able to walk again.

Tons of great pointers, everyone. Thank you.
posted by Gucky at 10:30 PM on June 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Are there any little kids in your life that you love? Hang out with them. I personally don't enjoy random children as a group enough to really enjoy hanging with them, but my own kids and my cousins and nieces and friends' little kids -- they are the best, the funniest, the lightest hearted people. A toddler puts on a Groucho Marx mask and the whole world takes on a different (better) light.

Now, that said, I also agree with whoever said, above, that there's not much point in trying to change who you are. As long as you're not depressed, who cares if your sense of humor is darker than other people's? I mean, a lot of people seem to enjoy stuff like Two and a Half Men. I can't watch it, and it wouldn't occur to me to try to change that about myself.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:34 PM on June 24, 2014

I agree that being funny and being light-hearted are very different things. Wanting advice on both makes it kind of difficult. I found your follow-up comment funny, and it sounds like other people think you are funny. I think you are over-thinking your over-thinking. Enjoy the fact that you have a dark sense of humour. If you want advice about how to make that work in your profession, ask that as a separate question. I don't think it is part of one big issue that you should change, as you seem to think it is.

As to how to become more easy going or light-hearted-- the usual prescription is to do things that take you outside of your mind and your thoughts about yourself. Physical activity and helping others can both help with that. I don't think you can do a sort of hard-work session on how to become less intense. That sort of runs counter to the point.
posted by jojobobo at 10:43 PM on June 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

There's a complete lack of random fun chaos in my life. And when I purposely add it, it feels like I'm following a cake mix recipe on how to be wacky, rather than anything that's actually fun or genuine.

I've been taking on more responsibilities lately and I asked a mentor of mine how he prioritized tasks and how I could learn to focus on one task at a time instead of always being anxious about the things I wasn't doing. He advised me to stop what I was doing every hour or so and think about what I was doing and how I felt about it-if I paid attention to my feelings and tried to do more of what produced the good feelings, the scheduling would take care of itself. I've mostly found this to be true. The 'cake mix recipe' metaphor for a certain feeling sounds familiar to me from when I was working on things that I thought that I was supposed to think were important or satisfying, but didn't actually think were important or satisfying.

In this context, I think it's helpful to be able to free yourself from thinking too much about how to sort yourself into groups. For example, I discovered that I liked working in the garden. But that didn't mean that I was in a rush to label myself as a gardener and then start thinking about the things that a gardener would do and try to do them. I just work in the garden more and don't feel like I'm missing out on other non-garden things when I'm doing that. And if I think some gardener-type-stuff is bullshit (or more to the point, if I *feel* a certain way when I try to do those things) then I just don't do it.

So I guess I'm wondering *why* it's important to be more lighthearted. Serious people exist and lead happy, satisfying lives. The you of today may just be a more serious person and in lieu of some good reasons otherwise I'm not convinced that it's a project worth tackling to change that.
posted by Kwine at 11:09 PM on June 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

The advice that I've heard (in improv) is that you should not try to be funny or work at being funny. The funniest and best moments come from honesty and vulnerability.

But there's a big difference between having more joy and amusing other people, and what I'm reading between the lines is that what you most want is the former. The last time this happened for me I was with a close friend and we were sharing vulnerable but silly events from our younger years and feeling close. I felt comfortable being completely honest about some things I would normally hide for fear of being criticized, I felt loved and accepted, and therefore I was able to laugh at my follies.

Might not be expressing this well but I think there's something key in being comfortable with and accepting your flaws and vulnerabilities and loving yourself as you are, to feeling more open to joy and spontaneity.
posted by bunderful at 11:25 PM on June 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

How much time do you spend outside, in nature? I'm a total stress-basket 24/7 until I see the city limits in my rear view. Camping/caving/hiking etc. is the thing that calms me the fuck down most effectively. Sit on a rock. Look around. Appreciate this amazing planet we get to live on.

I make an avocation out if it by carrying a camera with me whenever I go, which keeps my nerdy purposeful utilitarian side preoccupied, and it sort of works. When I can get out for multiple days, I am mellow for a bit when I get home. My wife literally throws me out of doors when I get too insufferable, and I love her for that.

Big Blue Room FTW!
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:36 AM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I can't tell you how to have more joy in your life apart from what you are already doing and what others are suggesting, but I would like to adress this:
Your professor threw you out of a class and told you to get drunk?! And you thought you were the failure in that situation???
Sometimes, we are told we are wrong when we're not. And when we've been told the same things too often, we start to believe them. Yes, maybe you're too serious, and I'm not being flippant about how that affects your life, but maybe other people aren't serious enough? There is nothing wrong with thinking a lot, if you don't think obsessive, self-destructive thought (i.e. anxiety etc.) - seriously, most people don't think enough.
For example (because this recently happened to me), someone tells a racist joke and you simply don't find it funny. If that person told you to lighten up and get a sense of humour, would you still feel like you were in the wrong?
posted by LoonyLovegood at 12:57 AM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Some people are just naturally more serious. I think you're approaching your problem sideways. Instead of insisting that you need to change into a person you are not, consider changing the aspects of your life that chafe your personality. Fit your life to you, not you to your life. Some people are not lighthearted, not because they can't feel joy or anything like that, but because they feel deeply, all the time, in complex ways. That doesn't mean that if you're like that you're bad or unhealthy. It means that you need to build a life for yourself where your seriousness and depth of feeling are acceptable both to you and other people.

It seems less like you need to chill out and loosen up, and more like you need to find and be able to focus on something that brings you joy. I don't know what that is for you. Since you mention a lot of pop culture in your surroundings in your question, have you considered delving into more classical work? Try the catharsis of tragic opera, or the clever reassurance of the Tao Te Ching. Give yourself space and permission to take things seriously, and maybe you'll be able to stop overthinking things that don't merit your full level of seriousness.

You mention a few times your inability to interact in a charming way - not being the life of the party, failing at joke telling, way over-geeking out about something - and all that makes me wonder is if you're any good at listening. The serious people I know, who I love, who are content and who experience joy and don't get too bogged down in drama? They are all amazing listeners. At a party you shouldn't aim to be the life of it. You should aim to be an oasis of calm, or a source of kindness, or just a friendly ear. This has benefits beyond just lifting the burden of having to be funny. It also takes you outside of yourself, and helps you practice not overthinking, because you're concentrating on another person. This is why people are suggesting animals and children, too.
posted by Mizu at 1:25 AM on June 25, 2014 [19 favorites]

I'm so grateful for you writing this I can't tell you. I'm guessing you know this goes with an addicted family history to some extent and I can really relate to feeling ambivalent about/anti using substances to 'lighten up' though actually found self doing it the other day thinking 'well this is how everyone else gets through'... not me at all to follow a crowd like that.

Nthing Jimmy! - Personally I can't stand it when someone sits me down and says they're going to 'tell me a joke'.. I hate the whole rigmoral of pretending I've got it, laughing to aid their ego at something someone else came up with. I much prefer a ghost-worldy clever observation about life and it's madness.

Do you feel you can't laugh at yourself these days? This has almost gone from me.. instead I feel sensitive/attacked.. this is definately a new thing and a behaviour I wonder if I've inherited from an addicted family. I wonder if it's part of it for you?

Yep fostering an animal sounds good - but how about baby ones? they are not trying to be funny, but authentically are as they tumble through the early days of life wondering what the f is going on and playing all the way. One jumped in a tub with me once and gave himself the shock of his young life :)

Kids too... maybe animals with kids... kids are funny just cos they are.. they say brilliant, perceptive things and remind me there are other ways of looking at life.

Be open to spotaneity (even if you can't spell it :-o). Last week I was at a party then wound up in a field with some guys doing airgun practice. I noticed the opportunity came and recognise that was my childlike curiousity kicking in. It's sadly rarer as you get older I think, so note and grab it when it pops in.

Try reading some fairytales? Get the creative juices flowing.. hard not to analyse the deeper moral tale though hot damn! Please tell us anything that starts working!! Good luck.
posted by tanktop at 2:23 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

You are very funny, and certainly, there is nothing wrong with thinking deeply about stuff, but I can see why you want a break from it once in a while.

Here's some things that you could try:

- The next time you see or imagine something funny or ridiculous, instead of breaking down why it's funny or ridiculous, just "celebrate" it in some simple way. If you see a dog holding a ball with their head cocked sideways, just yell "DOG WITH BALL!" Or perhaps tweet it, or draw it quickly. Also, cock your own head sideways and look at the dog.

- As an alternative to the above, when you see a notable event, make a little song for yourself about it. This song should have at most two lines. Sing it to yourself quietly or silently. e.g. if you see a tech bro fart, then look around, it could be, "Tech bro farted!/Then looked around!/Tech bro farted!/Then looked around!" (Don't build a full-on composition and recording around it – I have sucked the fun out of a lot of jingles that way.)

- Make a bunch of shapes with clay or Play-Doh. Make them cool, but don't try to connect them to any kind of statement or goal, and don't spend too much time on them. You could do this with paint, too.

- Is there somewhere you can play ping pong? You may suck (I certainly do), but connecting to the ball once in a while feels good, and you do not have time to sit and think, why does that feel good? You just feel a satisfying "klok!" and move on.

- Make weird, but satisfying sounds. I like to do the sound that the worms in Adventure Time make, except a bit slower, like a classic sci-fi forcefield. Similarly, make beat sounds. It doesn't have to be full on cool beatboxing, just some drum sounds to narrate your walk or whatever. This is a good one to try.

- You might have a jillion projects going, but put aside a little time each day in which you and your partner are awake and touching, but without tablets or books. It does not have to escalate into sex or anything.

- Rewatch some Beavis and Butt-head. There's plenty of cultural commentary and meta-whatnots to appreciate about the show, but try seeing it from Beavis and Butt-head's side this time. Yell "washing the dog! washing the dog!" along with them.
posted by ignignokt at 4:52 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you're snarky, chances are you're angry. What are you so angry about? Would you tell an angry person to "lighten up?" Not if they have something to be angry about. Do you?
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:20 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Quite simply, I think you are letting people's perceptions of you take too much precedence in your life. You are who you are and you only have one life to live so you might as well do it your own way. From what you're saying, it sounds like the lack of joy in your life that you mention is what bothers you the most and the sense of humor idea is just a red herring. (I also agree that you do appear to have a good sense of humor.) How about just trying something new? Is there something you've always wanted to try but never got the chance (or didn't for fear of looking foolish)? Do that thing. There is nothing like taking oneself outside of one's comfort zone to rediscover the joys and absurdity of life.

You mention you have more responsibilities and have become more professional at this point in your life. It sounds like you probably have a pretty regimented daily life and that may be contributing to your feelings of "unfun-ness." It sounds like you are putting in a lot of effort to improve your life, which is awesome. I think maybe you are seeing this as a problem to fix instead of something that just is.

You mention you can get really excited about things, but bog it down with some kind of cerebralness, in your view. What's wrong with that? I think maybe you should continue to follow your curiosities, but instead of wondering if you're doing curiosity wrong, just enjoy the present moment. It almost sounds like you engage in kind of a meta-analysis of your behavior as you go about your life. I think maybe trying mindfulness meditation might help you with your whole conundrum. (I know you said you've tried meditation - not sure which variety you tried but I found it to be really helpful in my own life). You sound so caught up in thoughts and perceptions of what a life should be like that you are missing out on the one you have!

You said you are seeing a therapist and a life coach, but are they helping you at all with anxiety? These all sound like trains of anxious though to me. You mention there's a strong history of substance abuse in your family; a lot of time anxiety and substance abuse go hand in hand. (I'm no professional, but I've read up a lot on anxiety because of my own anxiety). Maybe that's something to investigate?
posted by sevenofspades at 6:35 AM on June 25, 2014

This is kind of coming at it sideways, but: regular meditation practice. The centering and calmness from even a brief morning meditation session often lasts throughout the day, and might "loosen" you up and make you less self-conscious about how funny/not funny/right sort of whimsically funny you are (and once that low-level anxiety drops away, you may be able to notice "that sense of joy, lightness and absurdity" you've been missing). Best of luck.
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:50 AM on June 25, 2014

when I try to be funny is apparently just dark and cruel rather than funny.

Honestly I just hear a person who is in a lot of pain and is protecting themselves from potential hurt via crustiness or control. Not to get all zen about it, but in a way you are shadow boxing with yourself. Maybe you are afraid of feeling your own feelings.

Watch Family Guy. You sound like Stewie. Then imagine how he really comes across, what he's really saying behind what it seems like he's saying.

Try to judge people less. Consider their pov and try to make them feel good by doing a nice thing. And when you're able to help them feel good, let yourself feel good about it. There's no shame in feeling good, and showing it to the world.

I come from a long line of people with substance abuse problems

This usually means a lot of buried shame.

one cure is gradual exposure - try letting your guard down with your friends bit by bit. If you've surrounded yourself with caustic assholes, don't do this but if you have some nice friends then just be a little honest & see how it goes. People like sincerity. Maybe don't go for the jokes just yet, try being sincere first.

What you're looking for is spontaneity, and that usually comes when you feel free to be your honest self at any given moment.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:18 AM on June 25, 2014 [10 favorites]

I went through all the comments and was so sure I still had something useful to add until I clicked "1 new comment" and read St. Peepsburg's.

Yes, yes all of those things.

It sounds like you want to be fun and excited and joyful, and, heck, maybe I'm projecting here, but it sounds like you're not even comfortable a lot of the time. You need to be able to walk before you can run. If you're putting on a mask of being a "fun" version of yourself without actually feeling that way, the whole thing will just feel hollow, which will likely feel terrible, and thereby make it even harder to be "fun", and so on.

So I guess I'm also seconding those people who've said to look into treatment for anxiety. I've found that therapy and exercise and mindfulness and journaling work for me... try and find some things that work for you!
posted by rhooke at 9:05 AM on June 25, 2014

I'm a little like you and was discussing it recently, and the person I was talking with said how they've found play to be a great source of stress release and reconnecting with their more light-hearted side. The article linked mentions playing with kids, but this fully adult person went to the playground with friends on a regular basis and made up silly games.

That sounded a bit advanced to me. But I have tried to start making up silly stories about people who would otherwise be annoying me (during my commute, whilst navigating the grocery store). Yes, it feels awkward and prescribed for a little bit, but once it becomes fun I relax and get in to it.

Even if that guy that cut me off isn't a superhero training for a car chase effort to save the world, I'm a happier person.
posted by ldthomps at 12:27 PM on June 25, 2014

Are there people in your life you feel comfortable hanging out with and just shooting the shit with? I'm a pretty devoted introvert, but even I need to get out of my own head and relax, and just hanging out with some friends while watching TV or something, while talking about inconsequential things, does a lot for my mental equilibrium. Hell, even doing it online helps me. There's no pressure to be funny, it's just about enjoying each other's company and laughing at whatever.

Also, are you willing or able to laugh at yourself, to be amused by your own foibles and weirdnesses? Or do you beat yourself up over everything and over-analyze? Like, I amuse myself a lot of the time, which is maybe narcissistic, but hey, I'm the one who's stuck with me and my internal monologue. Maybe work on being kinder to yourself.

If you genuinely get joy out of overanalyzing things, then just accept that and maybe joke to yourself about it. Like, if you're watching Adventure Time and find yourself thinking seriously and deeply about the economy of Ooo (are there banks? do people have to buy food? who's selling the food? do Finn and Jake get paid by Princess Bubblegum? etc), then give yourself permission to laugh at yourself about it. Because who cares about the economy of Ooo? You do, apparently! That's a little weird. But might as well keep riding this train of thought all the way to the station. Overthinking your overthinking is only making you unhappy. Maybe learn to see the joy and humor in it instead.
posted by yasaman at 12:39 PM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

The jokes you made here are funny in sort of a painful way and the reason is that they are all self-deprecating. When you make jokes about others they are probably negative as well and so may come off cruel even if funny. Sometimes you can get away with having a sense of humor like that but you have to soften it a lot with your body language and smiling and generally being positive about people in other ways. I have a sense of humor like you do and it's evolved from painfully dark to a sort of dry deadpan but lighthearted humor that people find much more enjoyable. It's not really that I changed my "material" it's that I no longer dislike myself or judge others harshly. It's hard to do but when you do change your overall attitude the same things you were doing before take a different cast. I hope that makes sense. All that is to say that you're probably just coming off dark because you're in a dark place...get out of that and the rest will follow.
posted by Skadi at 4:14 PM on June 25, 2014

Sometimes I only start laughing again after a good shuddery cry.
posted by heatherann at 5:10 PM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

There's a complete lack of random fun chaos in my life. And when I purposely add it, it feels like I'm following a cake mix recipe on how to be wacky, rather than anything that's actually fun or genuine.

This made me smile. You expressed something that I, and probably a lot of people, feel. And it's not necessarily a happy or positive feeling, but the way you said it was funny and lighthearted, and it helped me take a step back and laugh at myself. I like your style of humor.

You mentioned missing spontaneity and nonsense in your life, and re-injecting those things could be a lot of fun. At the same time, it seems like your thoughtfulness and honesty are great qualities, not liabilities. They are part of what make you seem like an interesting (as in fun and stimulating) person to be around.
posted by MrBobinski at 6:49 PM on June 25, 2014

Mm... You can get a lot of joy from doing nice things for people. There's lots of really random nice things you can do. Give a waiter a twenty dollar tip or pick up some litter and don't tell anyone about it. No offense but you sound pretty into yourself (tiki themed bathroom with robots in every room reminded me too much of the ask.me fedora guy). Focusing on how to be funny seems sort of self-aggrandizing, whereas focusing on how to live a joyful life is a nice aspiration because joy is often contagious. According to TEDx, some ways to be joyful:
- write gratitude lists
- tell people you appreciate them
- practice mindfulness

Both my parents were alcoholics, and working through some of the residual stuff associated with that will probably do a lot to ease your burden.
posted by mermily at 6:58 PM on June 25, 2014

I'm going to approach this from a different angle. Or Mizu's angle, I guess. Most of this sounds familiar. I am a very serious person. I don't do nonsense. I don't do goofy. I don't do spontaneous. I am the butt of multiple inside jokes that I "hate fun." And yet I don't actually think any of this makes me a worse person - in fact, I actively reject the idea that it does.

What this question reads like to me is a lot of angst and fear about your perceived lack of humor or spontaneity, which you paint as unilaterally good and their opposites as as unilaterally bad. You still get "totally geeked" on and I assume laugh at things, like your dog or Adventure Time or whatever, but you don't think they count, because they don't meet other people's standards that you don't specify but have nevertheless internalized. The thing is: why are they good? Why does it matter? Why are you torturing yourself into faking being something that you're not?

A few things to consider:

* Humor is relative. One person might find Jackass absolutely hilarious while somebody else might prefer Oscar Wilde, and a third person entirely might get the giggles from cats doing stupid shit on the Internet, and a fourth person might like them all, and a fifth person might hate them all, and a sixth person might like some of them sometimes and others other times. None of these people have any more or less of a sense of humor than others. They just have different senses of humor. This is a simple fact that escapes so many people; as it stands, anybody who says "no sense of humor" really means "a different sense of humor from me, which obviously can't exist."

For instance, I find Googling self-hypnosis mp3s about how to loosen up to be fucking hilarious. Which probably sounds like I'm laughing at you, but I'm not. Because if you were doing that as the beginning of a standup routine, the gist would probably be something close to "we're all weirdos deep down."

* Humor is amoral. I'm not talking about offensive jokes here. I'm talking about humor, as a quality a person has. Suppose that, despite everything above, someone literally, genuinely does not have the ability to be funny or find things funny. That person is not actually a bad person! It doesn't make them mean or malicious or harmful to others. They would not be disqualified on most systems of morality. They're just wired differently. It has as much moral value as being an introvert versus an extrovert, or being a creative versus an analytic thinker. Not coincidentally, people with those traits love to attach all sorts of bogus moral value to their opposites.

(Specifically, re: "wired differently": Autism, among other mental conditions, sometimes presents as "not having a sense of humor" to outside observers. So committing to "no sense of humor" = "moral flaw" means committing to the idea that people with autism are fundamentally worse people. I'm not saying you have autism. I'm just pointing it out as an example of how shitty these lines of thinking become when you realize what they actually are.)

* Humor is a moral bludgeon. It shouldn't be, but once you ascribe moral value to humor, it's the logical next step. For instance, feminists often hear from men doing crappy crap that they are humorless. Activists are told all the time to lighten up and quit the buzzkill activism. Bullies often tell their victims not to take the bullying so seriously. It's easy to internalize these things and think that you're the one with a humor problem, when the problem might be that they're the ones with an asshole problem.

* Humor is cultural. If you grew up in the Puritan era I doubt you'd be fretting too much about your lack of wacky fun. If you were a caveperson you might consider it, but only after you've eaten enough antelopes to get you through the week. But you live in San Francisco, in what I assume is a tech-adjacent milieu. This is a culture that places tremendous pressures on aspiring members to be wacky! and quirky! and fun! because that is what they are just inherently supposed to be. Which is awfully convenient, because what we think of as WACKYQUIRKYFUN things are usually things only open to people with a certain amount of disposable income, who meet a certain demographic profile; spontaneity is a lot easier if you don't juggle a zillion responsibilities and appointments to keep yourself afloat and can thus jump at a moment's notice to do Fun Spontaneous Stuff; and so forth. I'm reminded of this post about a startup that disqualified an excellent candidate for the mortal sin of walking into a job interview in a suit. Because he just needed to loosen up, man! He's totally failing the go-out-for-a-beer test, brah! It's the subtler version of humor-as-a-bludgeon: lumping all sorts of class and cultural traits into "sense of humor" (or "cultural fit," etc.), and then using that to decide who's a good person.

* All of this might be a moot point. You think "snarky, ranty" humor is somehow out of fashion or looked down upon, but it so totally is not! Look at how many people are suddenly rediscovering Daria, or getting into Lorde ("I'm kinda over throwing my hands in the air"). People say you're like the characters from Juno or Ghost World - y'know, the reason so many people found those movies so cool and refreshing is because they found the characters likable. Which means whatever you're doing, you're doing something right.
posted by dekathelon at 12:25 AM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

How familiar are you with the works of xkcd and hyperbole-and-a-half? They're analytical and clever and all that, but in a quirky fun way. If you surround yourself primarily with lighter material, maybe that could rub off.

I'm inferring from the fact that you have a snarky, sometimes cruel sense of humour that your humour has some roots in defensiveness. Could you perhaps make a point of doing embarrassing things, where the only way to sort out that embarrassed feeling is really to just laugh at yourself? You also sound like a somewhat internal person; what if you brought more 'outside things' to your identity e.g. weekly zorbing, surfing, hang gliding, water park until fun open exhilarating outside things become the norm? Also meditation- to help you be more in the moment; when you find yourself start to analyse something, could you try and will the compulsion away, and tell yourself over and over to just 'let it be, it is what it is, etc', or distract yourself until your need to analyse it is in the past?
posted by SailRos at 11:44 PM on June 27, 2014

I am not your therapist, but...

try to understand that your seriousness and anger are *defensive.*

Being fun and lighthearted require allowing yourself to be vulnerable -- susceptible to what and who are around you -- but you can't afford to allow that kind of permeability (intimacy). Why that is is what you need to be exploring (notice I say "exploring," not "working on," which is far too work ethicky).

You're a hurt person who's protecting his not-healed wounds. You say you're not looking for a second childhood, one beat before you tell us that your home is filled with symbols of childhood. I agree that you're not looking for a second childhood. I have the feeling that what you crave is a FIRST childhood.

You've told us nothing about your emotional background. Are you talking about this in therapy?

Being less serious is not some sort of superficial layer you can slather on. It has to be real, it has to come out of FEELING less serious because you've worked out some of the hurt.

Two more things:

(1) many people can't tell a joke, but, more important, jokes are generally not funny. They're stilted set pieces that come out of a former era. Comedy today is about ones personal reality. Once again, you don't FEEL funny, so of course you're not going to be funny -- you don't have the proper distance from your hurt and anger to turn your experiences into humor. You're still "soaking in it," to quote a once-famous television commercial.

(2) you say you've been compared to the protagonists of Juno and Ghost World -- two very popular, adored movies. Take it as a compliment that you are being compared to interesting, complex, and ultimately loveable people with whom many people identify.
posted by DMelanogaster at 7:14 AM on July 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks, everyone, for the suggestions and recommendations.

Strangely, quitting my job, eating good ice cream and reading lots of comics ("Sex Criminals" is da bomb) went a long way towards chilling me out.

I'm kind of an overthinky cat and I really, really appreciate the folks who reminded me that it's pretty cool to just accept that. And strangely, being proud of being overthinky let me be a lot more mellow/less overthinky. Oh, Zen Catch 22! (shakes fist)

Suggestions that I am angry (totally!) and need more therapy (I'm not ready to commit to Woody Allen/Howard Stern) weren't necessarily applicable since I already overshare with my therapist, life coach and psychiatrist. I understand that isn't always the case with folks, so I appreciate the recommendation. Therapy is a longer term thing that I expect to make me better in the span of years, not overnight like, say, giving notice at your job, watching AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON and snarking on the awful that is WORLD WAR Z with cheap beers.

Instead of going to improv, I turned the (solid) recommendation into reading the book Impro by Keith Johnstone - which was far more awesome than expected. He's pretty angry, too, but angry that structured schooling takes away our sense of creativity and fun. I love being angry at anti-fun. That was cathartic for me. I'd recommend it to anyone who stumbles along this question later after they've been reading reviews of different self hypnosis tapes on how to loosen up (which, yes, I now realize is pretty hilarious now that I'm not in it).

I also read Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity by David Whyte - which is basically a book about why poetry matters to your soul or something, but it served its purpose. Not funny, but deep and thoughtful and emotional in a good way - without making me cry or nuthin'

Lastly, I re-read (yeah, I read a lot in addition to watching great/terrible movies) Orbiting the Giant Hairball which is the best book about why taking work seriously sucks your soul away.

So, in short, thank you all. I'm sure I'll need a seriousness tune up soon enough and, as they say, keep passing the open windows.
posted by Gucky at 8:38 PM on July 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

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