Speaking as a positive psychology student who feels they should know how to cope, I have to admit that there are times when trying to maintain a positive outlook on life gets increasingly hard.

In the early days of lockdown, I managed to retain a grateful outlook on life, enjoying walking and cycling with my husband in the beautiful Hampshire countryside where we live. When we did bump into people we knew whilst we were out, everyone was so pleased to stop and talk, it was easy to see the positives in our situation, particularly bearing in mind we were all very conscious of the war against Covid being fought by the NHS in intensive care units up and down the land. I was very grateful that my family and most of my friends had not been adversely affected.

Eight months down the line, however, with the nights drawing in and the number of Covid cases rising, it’s getting harder to stay positive. I’m still focussing on gratitude, enjoying the glorious autumn colours of the trees, and appreciating the contact with family and friends that is still (for the moment) allowed, but there are times when I’m struggling that I need something more to lift my mood. The answer for me in the last few weeks has been Brooklyn Nine-nine – not normally mentioned as a Positive Psychology intervention, but for me it has been very effective.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine as a Positive Psychology Intervention

For those readers who are not aware of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I should explain it’s a comedy series available on Netflix, – a cop show set in the fictional 99th Precinct in Brooklyn. It’s a brilliant ensemble piece of wacky, over the top characters who start to grow on you the more you watch. It’s also a great feel-good show that emphasises values of friendship and tolerance and as the show progressed they have increasingly tackled real-life issues such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ and the ‘Me Too’ movement with great sensitivity, insight and of course humour.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but one of the underlying reasons that it works as a PP Intervention for me is because it makes me laugh, and laughter is good for us.

The benefits of laughter and humour

Laughter is good for us for a number of reasons. Physically speaking, laughter releases tension in our body and leaves us feeling more relaxed. Research has shown laughter produces endorphins which give us a natural high and can alleviate pain. There’s also evidence that these short term physical effects can add up and produce longer-term benefits, helping the body deal with stress and boosting our immune system.

In addition to the physical effects, humour can help us communicate and bond with others, strengthening our social resources. When people laugh together, the experience is amplified – laughter is contagious – and it becomes a bonding mechanism, promoting feelings of togetherness and strengthening group ties.

The dark side of humour

A shared group response to humour is not always a good thing – it’s easy to get carried away joking with the crowd at someone else’s expense. Bullying can easily start from the point of in-group humour which gets out of hand, then someone’s upset response is dismissed with the phrase “They’ve got no sense of humour” – an excuse which attempts to diminish the harm caused and to refuse to take responsibility for the bullying which has occurred.

Even if we intend no harm, we need to be aware of who is listening when we share a joke, as we all have different ideas about what is a suitable subject for joking, and which issues are too serious to joke about. This was exactly the scenario that caught me out at the beginning of the pandemic just before lockdown in the UK.

When out at a restaurant I posted a picture of a bottle of Corona beer on my FaceBook account with the caption “Beer of the day”. I had calculated that most of my friends would see this as humorous (which they did) but had failed no realise that by tagging my husband on the post, it was visible to his friends too. One of his ex-colleagues was Italian and at that time in Italy the first wave of Coronavirus was rapidly spreading with a mounting death toll, decimating some small communities.  He commented on my posting that we weren’t taking this seriously enough. I could understand his reaction given his circumstances at the time and I also realised that there might be a cultural difference in when humour is deemed acceptable.  I hastily apologised if I had caused offence and explained that we British had a rather gallows sense of humour – our making light of the issue was a coping mechanism to minimise the sense of threat.

Humour as a defence mechanism

Bearing in mind then, that we need to use humour responsibly, it can still be enormously beneficially as a defence mechanism at times of stress, by enabling ourselves to step out of a serious situation and to see a lighter side if only for a moment.

Laughter can also be particularly powerful in releasing nervous tension. Some years ago when I worked in IT I was working with a colleague, trying to set up some software for some sort of demonstration that we were doing. We kept hitting problems and set-backs, we were tight for time, and the tension was building. At some point, something happened or someone said something, and we started laughing. Once we started, we couldn’t stop. I kept trying to breathe, to stay calm, but then I would catch my colleague’s eye and we were off again. The ridiculousness of the situation was exacerbated by our other colleagues in the office wanting to know what was so funny, but we really couldn’t explain. Eventually, I was forced to leave the room to regain my composure as I simply couldn’t stop laughing. Once I had finally stopped laughing, I realised what a wonderful catharsis the laughter had been, the tension was released and we could get back onto the job in hand.

Seeking out and sharing humour in a positive way

So, if we recognise that laughter is good for us and that sharing things that we find funny with an appropriate audience is good for us socially, we can understand the proliferation of funny cat memes on social media – they have a universal appeal and are not likely to offend and are easily shared with our friends.

During the last few months I have also discovered other comedy delights such as Janey Godley’s voiceovers of Nicola Sturgeon on YouTube  and the exploits of the labradors  Olive and Mabel and other video clips which have also made me laugh.  I felt connected to my oldest son whilst he was in Lockdown in Cornwall by following his cartoon project, Quarantine Dave on Instagram, which again drew chuckles from me.

Going forward into the next few months and expecting that Covid will continue to restrict our lives in the short term, I will be seeking out and making the most of whatever I can find to keep me laughing, and sharing it with my friends as much as possible, to keep my spirits up and hopefully my immune system functioning well too.  I only have one small problem to overcome – having recently finished all 6 seasons of Brooklyn Nine-Nine I am now looking for something new to make me laugh – any suggestions gratefully received.

Read more about Sarah Cramoysan and read her other articles HERE


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