Laughing at your flaws will make you happier

bruce-tighe-752957-unsplashPhoto by Bruce Tighe on Unsplash

With each passing year my boobies get a little bit bigger, which isn’t great because I’m a man.

That right there is self-deprecating humour, and as a Brit, it’s baked into my very core. Brits and Australians are masters of self-deprecation – spend time with the peoples of either country and you’ll quickly become accustomed to laughing at yourself, whether it’s poking fun at your wobbly midriff, the blinding shiny bald patch where your hair used to be, or your frequent and complete lack of intelligence.

“I, myself, am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.” — Augusten Burroughs

Poking fun at ourselves is an effective way to get people to like us. Nobody appreciates a high-and-mighty narcissist who never puts a foot wrong. Our flaws are what make us human, and putting them on display can be a way to communicate that there’s nothing wrong with being imperfect. Pointing out my stupidity to somebody with doubts about their own intelligence might help to put them at ease – the abject horror at being discovered as a bit dumb becomes slightly less terrifying, because it’s a trait shared by others. This is similar to the idea of imagining your psychotic boss wearing fancy pantaloons, as a way to make him appear foolish, rather than fearsome. Self-deprecation can remove the menace from the menacing.

A study from the University of Granada last year found that those who jokingly point out their own flaws have high scores in psychological well-being. Life can be tough – directing gibes at our oversized snout adds a silver lining to an otherwise painful fact. It may look like a rejected zucchini, but at least we can laugh about it. They also found a relationship between self-deprecating humour and personality traits such as kindness and honesty.

Ursula Beermann (University of California) and Willibald Ruch (University of Zurich) found that self-deprecating humour is linked with increased levels of optimism, and better moods. It literally has the power to make us happier.

Laughing at ourselves also reveals a loveable humility and self-confidence. Yes, we have some glaring deficiencies, but we also have the courage to not only display them, but shine a light on them. This willingness to show embarrassment can help to build trust with our fellow chimps. Bullies have nothing to work with if we’ve already pointed out our amusing flaws.

“I finally have the body I want. It’s easy, actually, you just have to want a really shitty body” — Louis C.K.

Must be about time for you to start slapping insults on yourself, right? Tread carefully, because self-deprecation can be destructive unless discharged under the right conditions.

Your gibes must be based in reality

Self-deprecation can only work if you’re being honest. Brad Pitt making light of his gruesome face just doesn’t work. The girls in his audience will be confused as fuck.

Stephen Hawking declaring himself a kung-fu champion does work, they’d probably high-five him if he wasn’t so delicate.

You need to find the joke funny

You must find your self-deprecating joke genuinely humourous. There’s little benefit to calling yourself fat if you’re saying it through bared teeth and clenched fists. This is just taking an axe to your own self-esteem. There’s a difference between lightly taking the piss out of yourself, and unhealthy self-hate.

Don’t target what you want to change, and can be changed

Like me, your favourite kind of self-deprecation might be about your weight, which you aren’t entirely happy with. We can lose excess weight through diet and exercise, so this type of self-poking is just illuminating our own laziness. It’s using self-deprecation as an excuse not to get off our arses and exercise – why make an effort if I can just learn to laugh at it instead? Control is the key factor here – if you’re taking the piss out of something that you can change (and want to change), you might consider diverting your efforts to the thing itself. It isn’t quite as simple as “I want to change this so I will,” some things are fucking tough, but the point still stands. This kind of self-deprecation is just taking the easy way out.

On the other hand, if you’re never going to embrace the #gym4life attitude and want to accept the eternal presence of your man-boobs, laughing at yourself will probably help you achieve that goal.

Be cautious of your environment

Egalitarian societies such as those in Scandinavia are a great place to be self-deprecating – arrogance is to be dispelled so that people are on a level playing field.

“The nail that sticks out gets hammered down” – Japanese proverb

In contrast, highly competitive countries with clear and approved hierarchies are a harmful place for self-deprecation, as it can be easily mistaken for under-confidence or low self-esteem, bestowing a competitive advantage.

Don’t do it if you’re marginalised

If you’re a black person living in an inherently racist society, it’s not a good idea to joke about your own colour, as you’re just communicating your acceptance of the status quo. Racism is (obviously) an awful thing – laughing at it reinforces the idea that it’s ok to be racist.

Hannah Gadsby – a gay, Australian female comedian – puts it perfectly:

“I have built a career out of self-deprecating humour, and I don’t want to do that anymore… when it comes from somebody who already exists in the margins… it’s not humility. It’s humiliation.” – Hannah Gadsby

**

Laughing at ourselves can be a great way to take the sting out of life, with the potential to make us more loveable, and relatable. This can only be effective under the right conditions though – there’s a fine line between self-deprecation and self-hate. Walk the tightrope carefully, with a good deal of humour and honesty, and you can add a little light-hearted cheer to our often serious world.

Now, I’m off to the shops to get myself a bra.

The hefty years, starring French bread

1_bHG9n86BQWgllXfDw0uXhwPhoto by Jorge Zapata on Unsplash

A couple of years ago I went to Europe and ate enough bread to gain ten kilos over a swift three-week period. Each time we wandered into a new restaurant for lunch or dinner, within thirty seconds, an entire bowl of it was in front of us. Most bread is good bread, in my opinion, but in Paris it was the most delicious fucking thing I’d ever eaten. Have you ever tried Parisian bread? If so you can probably relate. The restaurant owners may as well have been drug dealers — it’s a wonder that anyone even leaves them to look at the city, but instead becomes trapped in a desperate state of wheaty dependence. To make the situation worse, my girlfriend is allergic to gluten, and my attempts to coerce her into consumption didn’t help. This left me with no choice but to eat double servings, twice a day. If there was Eau Du Baguette on sale at the airport, I would have probably drank it.

When arriving in London to spend some time with my family, my dad took me by the wrist, marched me upstairs to the bathroom, pointed at the scales and demanded that I get on. I was fatter than him for the first time in our lives, and he wasn’t about to let that go without some drama. With tentative movements I guiltily positioned myself on the device, and every rising kilo widened the stupid grin on my father’s face. I protested that they must be broken, and that he should really consider shopping somewhere that sells better equipment. I’d never been that weight in my entire life, and I wasn’t above using denial as a coping mechanism for my new-found bulk. I declared that my scales back home would give a more honest answer. I wasn’t about to be called fat by a man who ate a strawberry Cornetto for dessert every fucking night.

In truth, I’m getting a little older now, so unfathomably tasty French bread isn’t entirely to blame for my expansive paunch. I half-expected it to magically disappear when returning home to my regular diet, but it seems she’s a keeper. No amount of sighing and gentle rubbing seems to be reducing it, so I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to put on some shorts, strap on my shoes, and go and buy some salted caramel ice-cream to help me forget about it.

Getting older never really bothered me, but getting fatter does, and that’s basically the same thing. My hearing is getting better with age though — in the right weather conditions, I can detect the word doughnut from up to fifty metres away. A few days ago I heard the rustle of a packet from a shady alley, and ended up mugging a homeless person for a Sausage & Egg McMuffin. Every advancing year seems to strengthen my insatiable greed; I’m on a drum-beaten war path to the rich and sugary land of Diabeetus.

My delightful girlfriend claims to like the additional person that I’ve merged with, as though she wasn’t into the scraggly lolly-pop headed Ethiopian who she was dating before. I can’t figure out whether she’s being honest or kind, either way, she’s appears to also be a keeper.

I think the biggest problem I have with my fresh mass is how much width it’s added to my face, a point that again, my dad delightfully pointed out while on a recent Skype call. While I never considered the distance between my eyes to be extensive, the extra sections that have been tacked on either side of them mean that I now look like a youthful George Bush. I may as well have two closely grouped, tiny white pins in the middle of my stupid democracy-pushing face. The resemblance is so close that a passing Iraqi took off his shoe and slung it at me. Is there an exercise that you can do to tone up your face?

Unless I can muster up the motivation to exercise, I suppose I’ll have to live with being rotund. Circles can be cute, right? I’ll go with that — cute.