How to Laugh Your Way Through Life: A Psychoanalyst's Advice
1 Jan 2013
Paul R. Marcus
While living in anti-Semitic Vienna, Freud wrote in a letter to Ernest Jones, 'What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now they are content with burning my books.' Tragicomic attunement-seeing the comic in the tragic and the tragic in the comic-is a perspective on life that, following Freud, is one of the best ways to 'to ward off possible suffering' and better manage the stressors, anxieties, and worries of everyday life. Moreover, tragicomic attunement and intervention has a meaning-giving, affect-integrating, life-affirming, double structure that is especially pertinent to sensible living in our troubled and troubling post-modern world: 'In tragedy', said theologian Harvey Cox, 'we weep and are purged. In comedy we laugh and hope.' In Monty Python's Life of Brian, a bunch of crucified criminals happily sing 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life'; In Stephen King's book The Tommyknockers, the central character thinks about a joke he heard once. As a man is about to be executed, the firing squad officer in charge offers the man about to be shot a cigarette. He replies, 'No thanks, I'm trying to quit.' It is precisely this capacity to use one's imaginative resources to create a tragicomic 'form of life', a way of thinking, feeling, and acting in the service of aesthetic, epistemological, and ethical deepening, of affirming Beauty, Truth and, especially, Goodness, that mainly constitutes the art of living the 'good life.' In chapters on love, work, suffering, death, and psychoanalysis, the author shows how the 'nuts and bolts' of tragicomic attunement and intervention can be cultivated and used to help people better manage the harshness, if not outrageousness, of life, as well as more deeply engage its beauty and nobility. Unlike most books on the psychology and philosophy of humour, and following Ludwig Wittgenstein's wonderful advice-'A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes,' this book is replete with jokes, humorous stories, and amusing maxims and quotes making it a lively reading experience that aims to help people fashion the 'good life'-a life of deep and expansive love, creative and productive work, that is aesthetically pleasing and in accordance with reason and ethics. As tragicomic master Mel Brooks noted, 'Life literally abounds in comedy if you just look around you,' and becoming more attuned to its dynamics and applications in everyday life is the art of living the 'good life'.