My son is 7, so approximately 85% of the things he finds funny and/or fascinating have to do with bodily functions, butts, or boogers.
Case in point: the other evening, as he was getting ready to get in the shower, he lowered the toilet seat in the bathroom. And then he STARED IN UTTER FASCINATION as the toilet seat slowly glided down on its own through some imaginative hinge mechanism, instead of slamming down with a loud BANG to commemorate his accomplishment. (FYI: This “feature” has been in this bathroom, which my son uses daily, for well over a year. I’m thinking this may be the first time he has actually lowered the lid).
And then he burst out in hysterical giggles. “LOOK AT THE TOILET SEAT!!!” he loudly implored me and my husband through his uncontrollable, near-convulsive laughter. “IT’S GOING DOWN BY ITSELF!!!!!!!” This was clearly the funniest thing he had seen in at least the last few minutes.
And then he did the absolutely-adorable, please-let-him-laugh-like-this-forever laugh that sounds like a combination of snorting, hiccuping, and gasping for breath, his bare belly heaving up and down and his body shaking in pure merriment as he discovered that, contrary to all expectation, a toilet can behave gracefully and politely.
We could still hear him tittering, talking to no one in particular (“The toilet seat went … down … slowly!!!“) as he took his shower.
My husband, busily putting away laundry, looked at me and said, “I wish I could be so easily amused.”
I smiled, a knowing, sympathetic, I’m-an-adult-too-busy-and-serious-for-childish-amusements smile, but then, in the next breath I said, “You can, you know.”
He looked at me, not entirely incredulously, and said, “In my job? With all I have to do?”
I rolled my eyes, not wanting my moment of mirth to become tarnished by thoughts of adulting. Certainly I wasn’t implying that he should burst out of the bathroom at work and report to his colleagues the AMAZING ENTERTAINMENT and MERRIMENT that took place in there. I just meant that life can be FREAKING HILARIOUS sometimes, especially if we take off our cranky grown-up glasses for a moment and start to see the world the way a seven-year-old kid sees it.
You don’t have to orient your life around potty humor (though, really, think about how much of our comedic delight in the world is based on the banality of the body and its bemusing, baffling behaviors). I’m simply suggesting that you look upon the world with fresh eyes — not the weary eyes of someone who thinks they’ve seen it all, but with the delighted eyes of someone who knows they’ll never see it all.
Because our future may depend on it. Seriously.
When we pay attention with a beginner’s mind, we see the world very differently. We may discover, as Louis C.K. quips, that “everything is amazing and nobody is happy.” (The video below is definitely worth four minutes of your time!)
What amazing things do YOU take for granted? When during your day do you just need to shout “WOW!!!! THIS IS AMAZING!!” instead of getting wrapped up in irritation and disappointment?
Where’s the funny in your day? Where’s the unexpected? Where’s the mystery?
We can find laughter and joy and surprise throughout our day, even in the midst of all the adulting we have to do.
Maybe, in fact, our adulting is the problem…
In the charming book Sophie’s World, Jostein Gaarder writes,
It seems as if in the process of growing up we lose the ability to wonder about the world. And in doing so, we lose something central — something philosophers try to restore. For somewhere inside ourselves, something tells us life is a a huge mystery….[But] we do not all become philosophers. For various reasons, most people get so caught up in everyday affairs that their astonishment at the world gets pushed to the background…. To children, the world and everything in it is new, something that gives rise to astonishment. It is not like that for adults. Most adults accept the world as a matter of course….
A philosopher never gets quite used to the world. To him or her, the world continues to seem a bit unreasonable — bewildering, even enigmatic.
So now you must choose… Are you a child who has not yet become world-weary? Or are you a philosopher who will vow never to become so?”
What will you choose?
On Saturday, as I was getting out of the shower (maybe it does all come back to the bathroom?), I heard Bill Nye the Science Guy being interviewed on the morning news. He was emphasizing the importance of being surprised by the world. A crucial test of our openness to scientific data is whether we are surprised by new information or not. It’s when we lose our ability to be bewildered by the world that we begin to lose our capacity for critical thinking… as well as for laughter and joy.
The researchers who study comedy and humor (coolest job ever) tell us that we find things funny when they violate our expectations. (Think of the standard format of most jokes — they involve a double-meaning or a ‘twist’ ending that contradicts our original understanding). When we have no more curiosity, when we stop paying attention because we think we know how it’s going to end, the joke is ultimately on us. We never learn anything new.
Researchers also tell us that we need laughter and joy and play. In one particularly interesting study on productivity, participants were instructed to do only the things at work that were instrumental to their job — no socializing, no sharing stories and jokes with colleagues, no staff activities, no fun. The psychological effects of the “all work and no play” strategy were so detrimental to the participants’ mental health that the researchers called off the study early; it would have been unethical to continue.
We must never lose our sense of wonder, or our sense of humor.
In our seriously serious world, where facts are becoming an endangered species and our mental health is threatened, when we are bombarded by dark news and even darker predictions, we could benefit by spending some time with our inner seven-year-old — let’s jump into the messy process of exploring the world, allow it to surprise us and challenge us, and, yes, laugh our asses off when it acts in unexpectedly delightful ways.