Need Ideas? Embrace Humour.

A colleague of mine recently shared some of the takeaways from her course on positive psychology. Our department provides support for students and recent alumni of McMaster University, so naturally, the presentation held this focus; however, I have been sitting with some broader thoughts ever since.

I was personally captivated by the presentation’s link between specific emotions and skills, based on Barbara Fredrickson’s research in the field. Fredrickson’s work reveals a correlation between positive emotions and skills-building. For instance, gratitude develops a tendency to give creatively and in turn, builds skills for loving; similarly, hope gives off a tendency to be inventive, which increases our resilience.

Quite simply, positive emotions have a ripple of effect in our lives that can help us develop and grow. This statement might seem like common sense, but seeing the evidence-based work inspired some reflection.

Through the presentation and Fredrickson’s work, I learned that humour holds an incredibly valuable role in creative environments; when we are amused by something, we laugh and share our insights, which eventually leads to friendship and creativity.

This relationship makes sense in a lot of ways. Truthfully, the most creative teams I have worked with were ones that laughed on a regular basis.

Humour is something I’ve come to really value in the creative environment. Since these environments are deadline and feedback-driven, negative emotions are always a possibility; after all, most creative work environments are ones that require review and external approval of some kind. Humour, in my experience, has always been this thing that releases the tension and makes it easy to be open and honest about the work at-hand, regardless of whether I’m the person giving or receiving the feedback.

What interests me most about this relationship is that it really goes against the stereotype. When we see creative types depicted in comics, memes, or pop culture, there is often some kind of play on the “struggling artist.” Pain, sensitivity, and illness are all-too-common “prerequisites” associated with creative types; and, while there is certainly a culture and countless creatives who have turned to creativity to work through their pain, these stereotypes we see in pop culture still ignore the moments of joy and humour that are often part of the process.

Some of my favourite quotes from my graduate school days explored these two states by turning to humour as a survivor’s tool. Here are two quotes that stood out to me:

  1.  Speaking on Indigenous writing and humour, Drew Hayden Taylor writes: “With legalized attacks on our culture, our languages, our identities and even our religion, often the only way left for Native people to respond to the cruel realities of the Fourth World existence was humour. Humour kept us sane. It gave us power” (Me Funny 69).
  2. Speaking on All My Puny Sorrows, a creative exploration of her sister’s suicide, Miriam Toews states: “I feel like I’m writing about serious things and humour is one of my tools” (Interview with Maclean’s).

While the above quotes are much heavier than the context of a creative team, seeing how humour operates within these graver situations can offer a lot of insight. In situations of distress and trauma, humour becomes a tool that grounds, gives power, communicates, and affirms. These are powerful qualities that we can – and perhaps should? – try to integrate into our creative processes more, especially if we are fortunate enough to pursue our creativity without obstacle.

I’ll be honest and say it isn’t easy. I’ve written my fair share of posts about the self-doubt and worry that faces writers. I certainly negotiate these feelings on a regular basis, yoyoing between sharing my personal creative work and burying it as deep as possible – out of sight, out of mind. To pull again from the presentation, we have a “negativity bias”; as humans, we are built to cling to those negative emotions so that we can spot and respond to danger.

One of my thoughts since the presentation… what if, to combat those negative emotions, we were to draw inspiration from those who use humour as a survivor’s tool? Specifically, what if we were to make more of an effort to incorporate humour into the creative work environment?

Just a thought!

– E.D.

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