What Elizabeth Bennett Can Teach Us about Laughter

Patience Griswold | February 12, 2019

What Elizabeth Bennett Can Teach Us about Laughter

Last summer a friend and I made an interesting discovery: we both have “unsocialized laughs.” At least, that’s what another friend bluntly told us.

This friend went on to assure us that his observation was not intended as an insult… but we both remain unsure if it really qualifies as a compliment. Regardless, it is fair to admit that both of us have noticeable laughs, which we exhibit quite readily.

While recently re-reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I realized that Elizabeth Bennett might have had a similar unsocialized laugh.

I’ve always appreciated Lizzy as a character. I find her quick wit, ready sense of humor, and shrewd analysis of the people she interacts with endearing. While reading, I came across a line of hers I’ve never noticed. She famously notes, “I dearly love to laugh.” But the words that follow flesh out the meaning behind that simple statement. Elizabeth explains:

I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can.

In other words, Jane Austen’s heroine recognizes that some things should be taken seriously, but others are meant to be laughed at. People are funny, and she is not above laughing at herself.

Laughter has numerous benefits. It makes you appear more competent. It boosts the engagement of those you are interacting with. It makes people feel more connected.

And sometimes, laughter really is the best medicine. A good laugh has numerous health benefits, both physical and mental. It can boost your immune system, improve heart health by increasing blood circulation, and even burn calories. Laughter also activates and relieves your stress response, improving your mood and easing anxiety and depression.

It's one thing to recognize that laughter has benefits, but how do we go about laughing more and cultivating a healthy sense of humor? Here are three suggestions inspired by Pride and Prejudice:

1. Recognize that people (including yourself) are funny. Have you ever watched someone who is really good at impersonations? Whether they’re impersonating someone you know or someone famous, the reason it’s funny is that they capture that person’s mannerisms and quirks. Everyone has quirks, mannerisms, and obsessions. It’s not wrong to acknowledge that people are quirky, and that makes them funny.

2. Don’t think too highly of yourself. Everyone knows people who simply can’t take a joke. This often comes from thinking too highly of themselves. But if you want to cultivate an environment that is welcoming to a healthy sense of humor, you must make sure you’re willing to be the butt of the joke.

3. Don’t think poorly of others. When Elizabeth Bennett says she dearly loves a laugh, she clarifies that she hopes her laughter is never mockery. If you’re never willing to be the butt of the joke, you don’t really love to laugh, you just love to cut others down. Unkindness isn’t funny, and laughter shouldn’t come at someone else’s expense. The best way to guard against this is to develop a habit of not thinking poorly of others. Laugh with people because you enjoy them, not at people because you despise them.

The average adult laughs only four times a day. By contrast, a four-year-old’s laughter averages around 300 times a day. Could it be that we are suffering from a lack of humor in America today? At a time when mental health concerns have reached crisis levels, perhaps we have something to learn from Miss Bennet and her love of a good laugh.

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[Image Credit: Flickr-David Short, CC BY 2.0]



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