A sense of humor is a terrible thing to lose.
May 1, 2016 5:36 AM   Subscribe

One of the consequences of getting older and doing daily battle with the 21st century is that a person's sense of humor takes a beating sometimes. I'm beginning to wonder if there is some positive action I can take to keep from losing my sense of humor. All my life it has been my primary coping mechanism and main tool of social interaction. And now more and more I feel it weakening and slipping away. Can you exercise it and make it stronger?

Without it I have a lot of trouble dealing with people and handling life's nasty little—and big—surprises. I'm more emotionally brittle than I should be and the least little setback makes me angry or morose or both.

Paying attention to daily news and current events doesn't help, so I've cut way back on that.

I don't know if this is a sign of depression or just the kind of thing that self-reliant adults have to face sometimes.

I wonder if this is a sign of a more general loss of the capacity for enjoyment, and I wonder if there's really anything to be done about it. Is this just the price of being alive here and now? Is it something everybody is coping with? Is it normal? Are we all in the same boat? Does the fun ever start?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Is this just the price of being alive here and now? Is it something everybody is coping with? Is it normal?

Nope nope nope. Not normal.

My anecdata, for what it's worth: I got a physical illness which had the sort of decreased resilience, increased anxiety, difficulty dealing with people, etc. that you describe as symptoms. I suspect a lot of people will also share stories about experiencing this kind of thing with depression.

I would strongly suggest hitting up your doctor, explaining how you're feeling, and have them run bloodwork for the usual suspects (ferritin, thyroid, etc.) and run a depression screening.
posted by pie ninja at 5:42 AM on May 1, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'll second pie ninja but also make an effort to be around folks that are funny and laughing. Get to crowded showings of films that will hit your personal sensibility, comedy is a group activity and if everyone is laughing it's infectious. (I foolishly went to a showing of Austin Powers in an empty theater, I thought I was the sourest guy, got none of the jokes) Be around folks that laugh. Take an improv class.

As bad as the world is now WWII had single days that dwarfed the a month of tragedies in this day and age and some of the funniest comedy was written at that time. Defies logic, but laugh.
posted by sammyo at 6:29 AM on May 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

An addendum to sammyo's excellent advice: podcasts. Is there a comedian you like? Odds are that they have a podcast, or are on a bunch of other comedian's podcasts.
posted by Etrigan at 6:35 AM on May 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

you could maybe exercise to make it stronger? there's a fair amount of evidence that exercise helps your mood and that most people - especially as they get older - don't exercise enough.
posted by andrewcooke at 6:45 AM on May 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think this has a lot to do with the media and company you keep. I just got back from an overseas vacation during which I didn't listen to news, handle negative people, or check Facebook much, and the difference in my mental space within literally -moments- of de-planing and starting to field anxious calls from people and see local headlines has been night and day. (Guess which one is the night.)

I'm going to try hard to protect my headspace, and remember that letting bad juju take up space in my head is giving it and its representatives free rent in the most precious real estate I own. F that.

And exercise, yeah. I hate exercise, it makes me tired and hurts my joints, but a short run makes a world of difference to my anxiety levels and general mood. It has to be vigorous, sweaty exercise; walking and swimming are nice but they don't help me as far as that goes.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:40 AM on May 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Make it a priority to spend time with friends who make you laugh.
posted by sallybrown at 7:45 AM on May 1, 2016

I always see the absurd in most of life. The nurse who called me to tell me that my mother had died ended the conversation with "Have a nice day!" I could have been distressed, but she didn't intend anything--the phrase was her usual MidWestern nice.
I try to look for the silly, the outrageous and the zany in everyday interactions.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:08 AM on May 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

I would consider this a possible symptom of depression and talk to a doctor or therapist about it. I don't consider it a normal part of growing older. What I find funny has changed as I've gotten older, but not my ability to find things funny or absurd.
posted by lazuli at 8:42 AM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

All my life it has been my primary coping mechanism and main tool of social interaction.

I'll third pie ninja that's it's probably worth getting a checkup for something physical and/or depression.

One thing to consider and maybe experiment with in things you watch/read (especially humorous things) is whether your sense of humor is not so much going away but maybe changing. In my teens, twenties, and early thirties my sense of humor and identity was very much tied up in sarcasm, snark, witty remarks, not suffering fools gladly. While these elements have hardly disappeared, I can see that other elements and factors come into play in my character and sense of humor:

1) It's less of a coping mechanism - humor can sometimes keep unpleasant things at arm's length, and with time and experience and self-examination I've realized that it's OK to feel things. Learning how to understand and express anger or sadness (including anger or sadness at the plight of others - i.e. horrible news reports) means that I feel less of an urge to make a snarky comment (even just to myself) as a coping mechanism and then keep on going.

2) It's less of my identity - I am large and contain multitudes, so to speak, so I'm no longer as invested in the need to be "The Funny Witty Guy." I can be that guy, but it doesn't really define Who I Am in the way it did when I was younger.

3) Like Ideefixe, I've gained more appreciation and awareness of absurdity and silliness and goofiness, and how common they are in everyday life. "Mean" humor is less appealing to me as I've gotten older; like, I really need to be in a certain rare frame of mind to watch something like "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia", where the humor basically rests on every character being just awful people. The absurdities of the Marx Brothers or the kind outrageousness of Christopher Moore or Sir Terry Pratchett are more my speed these days.

All of the above is to say that I think it's worth exploring, either on your own or maybe even with some professional therapy, whether your sense of humor is not dying so much as you are discovering that it's not up to the mental tasks you had previously relied on it for, and that as a result what you find humorous is changing.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:52 AM on May 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Seeing a doctor is not a bad idea. I just finished up a pregnancy that completely broke my sense of humor, which I have never seen mentioned as a side effect of pregnancy hormones. May as well make sure there's nothing chemical or hormonal going on.
posted by town of cats at 10:30 AM on May 1, 2016

It might also be helpful to look for some sources of dark humor. Humor is a big coping mechanism for me, but my life has not been a light-hearted experience, so I tend towards dark humor. Life does not need to be light-hearted for humor to have its place. It is a little tricky these days to do dark humor because the easy pot shots are often racist, sexist etc. and that's not PC and can get you in trouble. But poking ugly fun at ugly situations can be cathartic, if you are careful to do it in a "Life's a bitch and then you die" kind of way and not looking for a scapegoat to blame or a person to smear.
posted by Michele in California at 12:40 PM on May 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Watch funny movies - Animal House, Ghostbusters, Blues Brothers, etc. Watch comedy. Go read some of the joke threads from MeFi. Read funny books.

And listen to lively music.
posted by theora55 at 2:08 PM on May 1, 2016

Getting more, sound sleep really renews my capacity for humor and ability to roll with the punches.
posted by cocoagirl at 4:03 PM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Are you dealing with some personal problems right now that you're maybe not taking stock of? Sometimes people who seem humorless are actually just taking a beating from life and don't have the emotional resources to choose humor.
posted by deathpanels at 6:58 PM on May 1, 2016

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