Friday, November 09, 2007

Laughter and Learning

Good moods, while they last, enhance the ability to think flexibly and with more complexity, thus making it easier to find solutions to problems, whether intellectual or personal. This suggests that one way to help someone think through a problem is to tell them a joke. Laughing, like elation, seems to help people think more broadly and associate more freely, noticing relationships that might have eluded them otherwise--a mental skill important not just in creativity, but in recognizing complex relationships and foreseeing the consequences of a given decision.

Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence

Too often, it seems to me, serious thinkers mistake being serious for thinking seriously. Reading about emotions is almost always discouraging. Psychologists usually maintain a therapeutic predisposition to see the world as a series of disturbances and dysfunctions. In general, they seem sure that human beings are predisposed to a wide variety of miseries relieved by occasional moments of (largely unpredictable and unreliable) happiness.

Despite the quotation above, much of Emotional Intelligence is written in the standard vein. It does not inspire laughter in order that we learn better. It explores the many, many ways that emotions derail intelligence. Emotional intelligence seems to be largely a way of regulating emotion so that thinking can take place. This is already a dated understanding of neurology, although it is still a very current understanding of how we relate to one another and the world.

What if laughter really is a way of enhancing performance? What if high spirits are really a path to high achievement? What if the thing that will put you in a terrific mood this weekend is precisely the best way for you to move toward the things you want in your life?

Laugh. Hope. Enjoy the people around you.

Happy weekend.

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