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Hardships in life are a given, but what if we found a way to laugh about it? Our guest shares how he’s used humor to cope with the deepest pains in his life.
How to Do This Practice:
1. Every day for one week, spend 10 minutes thinking about the things you found really funny that day.
2. Write them down in as much detail as possible and describe how each of those things made you feel. It’s important to write it out, as opposed to only doing it in your head.
3. Write down the reason why these things were funny. You can also answer the question, “Why did this funny event happen?”
Find the full Three Fun Things practice at our Greater Good in Action website: https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/three_funny_things
Today’s Science of Happiness Guests:
Kerry Rudd is a former member of the Bay Area Freedom Collective, a home by and for formerly incarcerated people, which provides resources and support for their re-entry.
To learn more about Bay Area Freedom House: https://www.collectivefreedom.org/
Andrea Samson is director of the chEERSLab at UniDistance Suisse and the University of Fribourg. She studies how humor helps us deal with one difficult situation and emotions
More resources from The Greater Good Science Center:
We’d love for you to try out this practice and share how it went for you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or using the hashtag #happinesspod.
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[Speaker] A little bit more energy for our next comedian … Kerry Ruuuudddd…!
Kerry Rudd Hey, how’s everyone doing tonight? Good to see you ya …
I just really love to make people laugh. It’s been helping me become at peace with my journey and my past, and some things that have happened to me. Whether it be during my childhood, that happened directly to me that was painful or things that maybe I did and thinking back that it was a poor decision.
You know I was reminiscing the other day, I was thinking about my childhood, and sometimes our parents were too busy to spend time with us. I know my dad sure was. He was too busy taking care of other things: you know, bills, work, warrants, hepatitis C.
A lot of my jokes are about my dad. I went through a lot with him and he used to use me with different substances. And I know in my life, like the only time he ever told me he was proud of me is when I stole something. It’s just so meaningful because we can direct our thoughts and our heart, in a good orderly direction, which is laughter. And laughter is pure joy. And you can never go wrong with that.
Dacher Keltner When we laugh with others we feel connected in that moment as if we share a similar world view with the people we’re laughing with. I’m Dacher Keltner, welcome to The Science of Happiness.
My own lab here at UC Berkeley has studied what happens when we laugh during really hard times, for example when we lost a loved one. And we’ve found that laughter claim our stress related physiology and then it pushes it into a mental state where we have more perspective of the hard thing we are facing. Today we’re exploring how humor helps us cope with really difficult situations.
Andrea Samson Some things in our life that are just horrible and you cannot really make sense out of it. Either we need a lot of faith or avoidance, distraction, or maybe humor to deal with such absurdities.
Dacher Keltner More after this break.
Welcome back to The Science of Happiness, I’m Dacher Keltner. Our guest today started writing and performing comedy during his 12 years in and out of prison. I met Kerry Rudd at Bay Area Freedom Collective, a re-entry home near Oakland, California that supports formerly incarcerated men. Kerry’s been out of prison for less than one year, and he continues to do stand-up comedy as a way to reconcile with his past, and build confidence towards the future. Kerry, thanks so much for joining us on The Science of Happiness.
Kerry Rudd Thank you for having me.
Dacher Keltner One of the things that we know about humor and laughter is it often happens about really hard things, someone will pass away or you’re in a really stressful circumstance, you’re in combat and you start laughing and you find jokes. How did this sort of engagement with humor help you make sense of your past?
Kerry Rudd Well, I know a lot of my jokes about my dad.
Dacher Keltner mm-hmm
Kerry Rudd My dad was really tough, like really rough on the edges. But I know with my comedy, it’s like where I could just get that out. And it’s therapeutic, because it’s one thing to talk with a therapist and that’s very helpful. I’m even in therapy right now. Also in front of a larger audience, do stand up and talk about the most personal and painful things that have ever happened to you, that’s very healing too. That’s why comedy means so much to me. It’s like I could take all those emotions that hurt so deeply and get a laugh. It’s just so amazing when I see the audience and their reaction, you know?
Dacher Keltner You have something hard in your life. Your dad is, you know, wanting you to engage in theft and use drugs and so forth. And you tell jokes to people. And what changes in your relationship with your dad?
Kerry Rudd You know what, I was so upset with my father for so long. And then I know just recently, like somewhere in the midst of doing all this writing and comedy, I’ve now come to terms with, I feel like he was doing the best that he really could. He just fell short and he just wasn’t capable. Right. But I’ve seen it so many times in my life. Looking back, I’ve seen the effort and he just really wanted to, but he just couldn’t. Some people have their limitations and he had his. And I’ve definitely had mine throughout my lifetime. I spent a lot of time in prison. I was away from my daughter. So I wasn’t always the best parent and I wasn’t always available either. Also we’re two different people. So I just know my journey doesn’t have to end the way that he did. And he died behind a garbage can, drinking so it was like… So I know for myself it’s important that I’m clean and sober and that I have my own narrative.
Dacher Keltner It’s so amazing when we laugh about things, how we come to love them more, I don’t know why, but it’s a magical quality. How did you start writing jokes in prison?
Kerry Rudd In prison you have so much idle time to think about your life. Like to go through like the Rolodex of moments that have happened, you know? Like how many burglary convictions do I have? I just wasn’t learning. It’s just completely like, are you a complete buffoon? You didn’t learn the first time? You weren’t good at it. And then the second time and the third time and the fourth time, and then. I guess number five’s a charm, because I quit now. But it was like, you just have to look at my life and it’s like, but that’s the thing is like everyone learns at their own rate, you know?
Going to job interviews is tough for an ex-con. And these employers want complete honesty. So what am I supposed to do? Go down there and say, “Hi, my name is Kerry. I’ve been convicted of battery, forgery and robbery. Hey, do you think I could work the register?”
Dacher Keltner We know from studies, if you just think about what’s silly and absurd and ridiculous during your day, it just helps you with struggles. It helps you with. anxieties, which I’ve suffered from and found a lot of relief and humor. And I’m curious what it did for you at this moment in your life.
Kerry Rudd Yeah. It’s really been meaningful because I recently went through a lot and I know I had six and a half years clean and sober. And then, it’s hard for me to talk with this because it’s like a doctor prescribed me Adderall and it first seemed like it was helping. And then I found that I was abusing the medication. It was enough to really like, like it just sent like a shock wave through me. And then now I have like a few months back, right? Clean and sober, but it was like, I know that just over the last months I’ve just been like, like doing everything I can. To find meaning and just the fine joy. Also to come to terms with what had happened, move forward, and then just live in joy too.
Dacher Keltner I hear you,
Kerry Rudd And so it’s always great to focus on those times of the day because like there’s multiple times a day, if people really would just take note of it when there’s just so much there that’s joyful that they can get a good laugh from. And I think that a lot of people just don’t focus on that. So it’s just always good to bring that closer to our hearts.
Dacher Keltner Couldn’t say it better, man.
Kerry Rudd Also there’s something about writing something down that you just process it differently than when you just merely think about it. When I write something down and it’s on paper. Usually I’ll go back and I’ll read it. Like what I just got done writing and then it just helps to internalize it and just to move forward and to actually enact something with that to where it can make a difference. Whereas if I just really think about something. It could be a fleeting thought or I might not grasp hold of it the way that I would when it’s actually written and there’s a hard copy now.
Dacher Keltner You know, when you think about this role of humor, Into five years inside and now transitioning, what’s it mean to you? Like what are you finding in, in doing stand up, what’s it give you?
Kerry Rudd Back like 12 years ago, I was in Corcoran. I was doing stand up in there and like, I was going cellblock to cellblock doing, I left prison and I never had an open mic after I left. And it really upset me because I felt like in my heart, I was in conflict with who I am at my core. And then I ended up either relapsing and doing the same mistake that put me back in jail. And I feel like we aren’t doing our life’s purpose, because I think each of us has a mission here in this world to complete. And if we’re not doing that, then something inside of our souls is going to be upset and feel unsettled.
Dacher Keltner What is it about humor? I mean, we know it calms people down. We know that it can help us with anxiety or depression. How does it give you a sense of purpose?
Kerry Rudd I just know some of the things I’ve written and some of the things I performed, people just told me how much it means to them. And that’s how I know that’s what I’ve been put here to do. Because people come up to me after and then they just tell me what kind of value it added to their day. And who knows maybe even in the rest of their journey, I do believe that I have a message to provide and I do everything I can to do that.
Dacher Keltner Where do you think that message is?
Kerry Rudd I think for me it’s that people can change. Because I know there was a time in life where people didn’t think I could. There’s just so many different things I’d take back if I could, right? And everyone does learn at their own rate and some of us have been through some trauma and we’re still acting out. But I do know that all of us are capable of it. And I want to be that example of other people that, like, “hey, he did it, anyone could do it.”
Dacher Keltner I hear you. Kerry, man, thank you so much for your time today.
Kerry Rudd Yeah, of course.
Kerry Rudd Studies show that laughter and humor are powerful ways to deal with hard emotions. But is it better than approaching things seriously? More, after this break.
Welcome back to the science of happiness, I’m Dacher Ketner. We’ve been exploring how humor can help us cope with hardships and really shift perspectives. But does humor really make us feel better in the long run, compared to approaching a problem more seriously? Our executive producer of audio Shuka Kalantari finds out.
Shuka Kalantari Imagine you’re shown a photograph of a veterinarian performing surgery on a really cute little dog. That image can understandably make you feel a little upset. and there’s a few different ways you can try to deal with that emotion. You can try to repress it. Just don’t look at the picture, do something else. You can also crack a joke about it like “Man, those veterinarians can really get under your skin.” It doesn’t have to be a funny joke … You can also take a more serious route. Try to reappraise the situation to make you feel better:
Andrea Samson You can say to feel less negative or stressed about this. “Well, the dog was sick, but he’s in good hands. He will be treated now, he will be better soon.”
Shuka Kalantari Andrea Samson studies how humor helps us regulate our emotions. She’s an Associate Professor at Unidistance and the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. Andrea wanted to know what coping mechanism tends to work best for us: taking a serious approach or making a joke about it.
Andrea Samson So in this study we were interested in serious reappraisal and humorous reappraisal. So reappraisal. It’s a very adaptive emotion regulation strategy that helps us to see a problem from a different light, to reinterpret it, to feel, for example, less negative about a situation
Shuka Kalantari She recruited 57 students and showed them negative pictures
Andrea Samson Not highly negative, but they can induce moderate levels of negative emotions.
Shuka Kalantari Like the image of the veterinarian conducting surgery on the dog.
Andrea Samson Or a child at the dentist.
Shuka Kalantari Or a photograph of a man with stitches on his forehead.
Andrea Samson There was a higher proportion of trials where people were not able to reappraise a picture humorously. We see that people have much more difficulties to create humorous reappraisal. There needs to be something a bit more creative than just thinking, for example, about a better outcome in the future. It’s easier to say, Well, the dog will be better soon. He’s in good hands. It’s much more difficult to come up with a joke or some sort of a humorous twist here.
Shuka Kalantari But when people did think of something funny about the images, they reported feeling better than those who tried the humorless coping approach.
Andrea Samson Then we showed all the pictures one week later.
Shuka Kalantari The photos of the sick dog, the kid at the dentist, and all the others. The students who were able to make a joke about the photographs one week earlier felt less bad when they saw those same pictures the second time around.
Andrea Samson Some things are really absurd and our human mind is maybe too small to deal with it. Humor may be one way to try to deal with some absurd elements in our life.
Dacher Keltner Thanks, Shuka.
On our next episode of The Science of Happiness, how looking at the bright side can make us feel more grateful for the people in our lives.
Stephanie Foo When you don’t have family which I don’t, your friends become family. And you build these really sort of lifelong deep profound relationships. And I think that’s why one of the reasons why I miss California so much is because my closest friends all live in California.
Dacher Keltner I’m Dacher Keltner, thanks for joining us on The Science of Happiness.
I met today’s guest Kerry Rudd, at Bay Area Freedom Collective, an incredible reentry home supporting recently released prisoners near Oakland, California. If you’d like to learn more about them visit collective freedom dot org. We also have the link on our show notes, wherever you’re listening to this episode.
Share your thoughts about today’s episode by emailing us happiness pod-AT-Berkeley dot E-D-U, or use the hashtag happinesspod. Our Executive Producer of Audio is Shuka Kalantari. Our producer is Haley Gray. Sound designer Jennie Cataldo of Accompany Studios. And our associate producer Zhe Wu. Our editor in chief is Jason Marsh. The Science of Happiness is a co-production of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and PRX.