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I recently came across the book “The How of Happiness” in which the author Sonja Lyubomirsky presents scientific arguments and research on how to get and remain happier. A number of different studies quoted in the book show that our personal circumstances only account for about 10% of our happiness.

Yes, that means that the coveted job we’re after, that perfect partner or even winning the lottery would in essence make us only about 10% happier in the grand scheme of things. So where does happiness lie? According to Lyubomirsky 50% depends on our genes but that still leaves another 40% and that, she argues, depends on what we do and what we think. That aligns with my belief too — that happiness lies deep within and that our actions and thoughts make a huge difference in how happy we are. While she doesn’t give research on how humour helps with happiness, I personally feel laughter has a lot to do with how we feel.

I’m not sure how and when I began being known as the ‘class clown’ — but somehow the title has stuck and for a good few years now. I have a strong urge to break the monotony of lectures (or boring work meetings) and provide some kind of comic relief, much to the dismay of my professors/well-meaning colleagues, who by the end of the year have usually given up on me. They say what comes around goes around and sometimes, in my sessions as a trainer, I come across students that say and do the same (inappropriate) things that I would do as a student/trainee. In spite of myself I can’t help laughing and secretly applauding their guts.

It was quite early on in life that I realised that I loved laughing, and that I had an equally wonderful time making others laugh. I longed to be able to write material that gave people some kind of mirth, some kind of joy. I’ve been extremely lucky with mentors, editors and opportunities and over the years humour has become one of the genres I experiment with.

I always thought this part of me was just a silly side of me — unimportant — not really essential to who I was. It took the steam off from days that felt like pressure cookers but surely, it did not matter, or really make any kind of difference, right? The analytical, logical side, the hidden nerd that loved reading and studying, the woman of principle, the listener who wanted to be compassionate — that’s who I really was, right?

I’m starting to realise that the advice given to friends under a pile of self-deprecating jokes was particularly well received and I felt more like myself when I was laughing or trying to make others laugh. The literature that made people smile was read far more than the most serious, analytical piece I could write and the dark, satirical humour I wrote on my personal issues helped me perhaps a tad bit more than the sob-fests (which by the way I also write). Equally telling is how I would naturally gravitate towards a chuckle-inducing PG Wodehouse book than say, a serious war novel.

So, what’s the point of this whole piece? Let me just say that when life happens — being the comic is actually my relief. Yes, there are times when laughter just doesn’t cut it and sadness and tears are necessary for a complete human experience. When I hit rock bottom and I’m done processing the pain I’m feeling, the easiest way to get back up is to laugh once more.

As long as humour is in good taste and doesn’t violate the more important principles of empathy and compassion (towards self or others), for me it truly is a way out. When I’m able to crack a joke about a seemingly hopeless situation it isn’t just a silly, unimportant side of me. It’s that quintessential part of me that finds joy in the bleakest of moments and can (hopefully) spread it too.

— Mehmudah Rehman is a Dubai-based freelance writer