Monday, July 18, 2011

You Gotta Learn to Laugh at Yourself

Life is a Joke and You're the Punchline.  Get over it!

In the big city, people tend to take themselves more seriously.  Having the perfect house, the perfect car, the perfect body - everyone strives to be "better than you" - the ultimate status-seeking behavior.  And usually, the people who chase after these false Gods are miserably unhappy.  Not just occasionally sad, but the chronically depressed and on medication kind of sadness.

Life is a joke and you're the punchline.  God has a wicked sense of humor.   Look in the mirror sometime.  Even if you spend every day in the gym to build the "perfect body" our mortal shell is rather ridiculous, particularly when viewed naked.  Why do you think people wear clothes, anyway?  To keep from breaking out laughing.

If you can laugh at yourself, it puts things in perspective - for example, how ridiculous our lives are and how very brief they are as well.   People who take themselves deadly seriously, on the other hand, are rarely happy, are not fun to be around, and often squander huge amounts of money in a fruitless search for perfection and status.

People who try to maintain this sense of self-importance or dignity often end up chasing phantoms.  And if you think about it, most humor in this world is based on this foiling of dignity.  We come into the world in the most undignified manner imaginable, and leave it pretty much the same way.   In between is an endless series of humiliations and degradations of one sort of another, and all you can do is laugh at it all, to keep from crying.

And it pays to laugh at it all.  He who laughs last laughs best.  People will laugh at you, make fun of you, and poke fun at you - and the best reaction is to be the first to laugh at yourself.  The more you try to maintain and defend your thin thread of dignity, the more people will laugh at you.  So you might as well just throw in the towel early on and let yourself be the butt of jokes - after all, you are anyway.

And if you think about it, the foiling of dignity is really the foundation of most humor.   The Marx Brothers comedies would not be funny at all, if there was no Margaret Dumont or other comic foil.  The point of their humor was the spoofing of the seriousness of society, institutions, and other staid and stuffy things.  The humor lay not in Groucho making fun of such people and institutions, but the increasingly desperate measures that the "society" people go to, in a futile attempt to maintain their dignity.

So, ironically, the more you try to maintain dignity - the more serious you try to be - the funnier you are to other people.   And serious people get incensed by this and try to be even more serious - which is even funnier.  Just cut to the chase and give up and give in.

I recently had the chance to meet some folks who live in perfect houses and have perfect cars and perfect haircuts and go to the gym and have perfect bodies.  They chase a false dream, touted by the television (altars to which were scattered throughout their houses, in a perverse parallel to the home altars of Roman times) and financed by easy credit.  While their houses were "nice" in an HGTV/Martha Stewart kind of way, they were also very sterile.  And these were largely humorless and depressed people.  Bottles of anti-depressants on the bathroom counter testifying to a real existence beneath the faux veneer.

Things are not an end in and of themselves.  Owning a lot of crap - even nice crap - is not going to make you happy.  In fact, the opposite is true, as it takes a lot of time, effort, money - and usually debt - to maintain all this crap,  and it ends up dragging you down.   Because the moment you stop waxing the car, weeding the lawn, and combing the fringes on your oriental rugs, it all goes to hell in a hand-basket.  The moment you stop watering the perfect lawn, it turns back into dead brown grass.

Not only is life too short to spend being a maintenance man, being a maintenance man probably will not make you happy at all.  Having fewer things and less status and ostentatiousness is often the goal to real happiness.  Spending hours in the gym sculpting the perfect body is fine and all, but if it also means you find yourself to be so perfect that you end up living alone, you have to wonder if it is worth it, at all.

It is very sad, to me, to see people caught up in these sort of self-made traps - gilded cages of their own makings.  But the key to the gilded cage is right in your hand.  You can set yourself free from a jail you make for yourself.  But it does mean leaving the cage behind.