In a forest eternally whipped by an icy wind, a lone wolf roams, hunts, and thrusts a paw into the air to celebrate its independence. It needs nothing besides its fur, fangs, and oxygen in its lungs—an admirable creature that doesn’t rely on anyone.
It’s a commendable idea, but a romantic one that isn’t true. Most lone wolves die, because like us, they’re a social species dependent on others. They need their pack to bring down prey; we need our pack to stock supermarkets. Their pack finds an agreeable cave to sleep in, our pack builds an apartment complex. Their pack nuzzle each others’ faces, snuggle, and roll around in the snow, and we do the same.
Of all our quirks, there’s one that bonds us better than any other—an action that wrenches us together in the most enjoyable way imaginable: humour. In the battle for social acceptance, laughter is a razor-sharp cutlass that makes us the fiercest of conquerors, where we build an empire of joyful citizens who are all-too-happy to be overthrown. It’s an adored behaviour with the power to turn strangers into friends, friends into lovers, and lovers into lifelong partners—the solid bedrock of successful relationships. A good sense of humour can transform our lives from a lonesome quest into a glorious fellowship, filled with playful nudges, digged ribs, and riotous laughter. With humour thrown into the mix, our dependence on each other can be utterly delicious.
“I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it’s the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills. It’s probably the most important thing in a person.”Audrey Hepburn
Some of our dearest memories are those of knee-slapping laughter. That crisp Sunday afternoon in a pub garden, the nip of the winter’s day quelled by the heat of amusement as your impish friends make joke after joke; an early evening spent lounging in bed with your partner, relentlessly teasing and chuckling until your cheeks hurt; that time you used a traffic cone to mimic a cow, and the local cows seemed convinced by your efforts to communicate. These moments are more valuable than all the diamonds of the world, and they come about by trying to be funny.
Attempts are humour are a perilous act of vulnerability. Every joke is a gamble played with chips of social kudos. When we turn the cards over, will there be wide-grinned, beaming faces? Or embarrassed glances accompanied by horrible, horrible silence? A failed attempt at humour can be dreadfully embarrassing, and our aversion to loss can make cowards of us. But the gamble is always worth it, because victory is nothing less than unbridled connection to our fellow humans; a shared sense of joyous camaraderie. Embarrassment is fleeting, but friendship long-lasting. The only way to discover our people is by having the courage to put ourselves out there. Jokes are friendship-detectors, which light up our future companions with each ridiculous quip we dare to make. Who cares that our critics remain stony-faced? We’ll probably never be friends with them anyway.
“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Attempts at humour can dwindle as we grow older and become more comfortable with ourselves, because we’re less inclined to impress others. This is a tragedy. When we stop making the effort to be funny, we’re at risk of degrading into humdrum seriousness. We might forget the absolute joy we felt in the throes of a tickle attack from our mother, or the time we hit our grandad square in the eye with a snowball, with him turning up later wearing a pretend medical patch. We swap our superhero outfits for business suits, and in the process, forget what’s really important—a tongue-in-cheek crack at your friend’s new tattoo; a return from holiday with every square-inch of your desk covered in tin-foil, or no-holds-barred re-telling of your brother’s insane party antics. The confidence that age brings is wonderful, but can be accompanied by subtle complacency in which we’re so self-assured that we no longer see the importance of cracking a well-timed joke among colleagues, or putting a whoopee cushion underneath your grandmother’s worn-out armchair. These are the actions that make us truly loveable—every daring quip strengthens our bond with our audience, creating an exquisite sense of belonging. Laughter is the ultimate social glue.
“Laughter is wine for the soul – laughter soft, or loud and deep, tinged through with seriousness – the hilarious declaration made by man that life is worth living.”Sean O’Casey
When we’re laughing with friends, we momentarily love them. Our cares fall away and we’re permitted temporary entry into a heavenly Nirvana—a break from our anxiety-wracked bodies. There’s nothing quite as effective at bonding people than humour, and our efforts to make each other laugh can create formidable friendships, reinforced with every new joke. Our dependency on each other can be transformed from obligation to devotion, in which every snicker, chuckle, and howl makes us appreciate each other a little more. The exhausting journey of life, where the highest peaks and lowest troughs are traversed, is made worthwhile only with companions walking beside us. And laughter is how we acquire them.
“Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can; all of them make me laugh.”W. H. Auden