Science Solitaire

[Science Solitaire] 5 ways humor has shaped our pandemic lives

Maria Isabel Garcia
[Science Solitaire] 5 ways humor has shaped our pandemic lives

Graphic by Raffy de Guzman

'Pre-COVID research has shown that people who have a similar sense of humor...find better satisfaction in each other'

One of the memes that reached me recently was a bird’s eye view of a yacht cutting through the serene sea. But it turned out to be close shot of a hole in a leather sofa with a caption that said “If you see a yacht at sea, you are in desperate need of a vacation.” I laughed so hard realizing my “upgraded” desperation, because I think I even saw a dolphin in the image. 

That image changed the quality of my day because it changed the lens through which I was made aware of my own emotions. If my desperation was not revealed in that way, it would have felt heavier and you would be reading a column about something else now. So how has humor shaped our pandemic lives? 

1. Humor serves as the pressure valve of our pandemic pot.

Over a year into this collective crisis results in many things brewing in the many aspects of our lives that are lived out mostly in the same contained place. Many, if not most things, eventually add up and cook up a storm. This happens to me when a joke from a good friend comes in while I am caught up in something hectic or serious.

This recently happened when I was trying to navigate yet another hectic work day in Zooms and a close friend sent me a picture of an unfamiliar dog he just adopted and named “Syndrome.” He said he has so many “first names” to choose from for “Syndrome” and even listed all that he could find. I found myself running through the list even if I hardly had time to spare. And it did wonders for my mood after even if my Zoom schedule remained hectic.

Humor, of course does not change the reality of the pandemic, but it helps balance your emotional response to it so, helping you cope and survive it.

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2. Humor is like a touch-free hug.

This is because it lends our most vulnerable realities into something that others can naturally relate to instantly, drawing us to a virtual group hug. My team and I meet to just update ourselves on stuff that life has been throwing at us and the ways we are all trying to evade or catch them.

Recently, one of the youngest in our group, in her monotone voice, said something to this effect: “Two of my family members had pneumonia. It was not COVID but it was also very stressful as they had it at the same time. That affected our family income to which I also help. My twin sisters need to pay 8k reservation fee in the university they were admitted and then of course, we worry too how to pay the tuition fee. Kaya po am searching sa Internet where I can sell one of my kidneys. Pero last resort ko na po yon. Yun lang po.” And yes, she was joking. There was at first silence and then we all laughed so hard, including her. 

3. Humor may be like an ‘extra strength’ pill for relationships.

Research has shown that during COVID times, we grew even closer to our closest friends.  Since laughing may be a more sensitive thing to do now than it was in normal times, we are able to do it deeply and much more often across a range of topics with those whom you already feel very safe, and those are your closest friends. For people like me who prefer a relatively small circle of friends and consciously stay out of social media to reach out to them, I even imagine how specific friends of mine would receive a joke and how it can make their day, and that in turn also shapes my outlook for my day as well. 

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4. Humor can confirm if you chose the right partner even for a pandemic.

I know someone in the US who, after almost 6 months of being at home, finally was able to walk on their street. As she did, she found out that most of the couples living in their entire street have divorced. It is not even easy to stay together in normal times so pandemic times is uncharted territory for us living today. I also read somewhere that none of the promises we make to our partners included serving the role of the entire village to each other, but this is what effectively happened during this pandemic. We had to be a whole village or a multi-splendored Swiss knife to our partners.

Pre-COVID research has shown that people who have a similar sense of humor – who more or less agree on what things are funny – find better satisfaction in each other than those who don’t share a similar sense of humor. Humor further strengthens these kinds of partnerships.

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5. Humor helps us chew on the hard technical nature of viruses and vaccination.

The way out of this pandemic depends on our crowd behavior – if we do the right things (vaccination and health protocols) and refrain from the wrong things (gathering in crowds, not wearing masks, refusing vaccination) in massive numbers. So a collective understanding and agreement on what our collective behavior should be is essential. But scientific information is synonymous with a “nosebleed” for many. If this is so, then humor is like funny nose plug to manage it. Wrapping scientific data around our own admissions of our own biases, prejudices, and superstitions in a funny way helps us better admit to them and understand and accept facts much more.

Of course, what may be funny to some, may not be funny to all. Some things may even be offensive to some even if found to be funny by others. But the point is, humor is part of our human emotional portfolio. It is not merely supplemental material to what makes us human. If we make use of it at the moment that can release pent up pressure, build relationships by helping us feel for others, high-five our partners with laughter amid everyday craziness, draw us even closer to the friends we hold dearly, and make us accept hard but necessary realities, then by all means laugh…OUT LOUD. – Rappler.com

Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, “Science Solitaire” and “Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire.” You can reach her at sciencesolitaire@gmail.com.