My favorite explanation for why we laugh states that humor is a learning mechanism, which detects and corrects incongruence between expectations and reality.

Another way to interpret this process is to recognize that stress, caused by cognitive differences between ones hopes and actuality, stimulates adaptation – a life affirming skill.   Laughter makes and strengthens human connections.  According to cultural anthropologist Mahadev Apte, “Laughter occurs when people are comfortable with one another, when they feel open and free.  And the more laughter [there is], the more bonding [occurs] within the group.”

The post funeral scene in the movie Steel Magnolias when the mother of the deceased begins laughing is a pungent example of correcting the stress and promoting bonding.

A similar reaction occurred during my mother’s funeral.   My mother’s name was Madge but the Minister referred to her as Martha through out the eulogy.  My brother setting next to me in the pew, leaned toward me and whispered, “Who’s Martha?”   I recall my body convulsing with laughter as I tried to disguise my eruption as appropriate sobbing and felt the chain reaction travel to my siblings.

funeral church

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