Being Filipinos, we have long been known for our ability to find humor even in the most challenging situations. Many times, especially for outsiders of our culture, it may seem silly or inappropriate, but for us, humor serves as a coping mechanism and a way to navigate through adversity. Whether it’s cracking jokes during natural disasters, making light of economic difficulties, or finding humor in personal struggles, we use humor as a tool to alleviate stress, release tension, and maintain a positive outlook. Studies show that humor provides emotional relief, strengthens social connections, and improves psychological well-being.

Now, you may contend that humor is merely a temporary distraction or an avoidance tactic. But when used appropriately and in moderation, humor can serve as a healthy outlet for processing difficult emotions and finding resilience in the face of adversity. While some people may argue that using humor to cope with adversity may avoid or deny underlying issues instead of addressing them effectively or could potentially trivialize serious problems and inhibit necessary actions for positive change, this is not the case for Simione and Gnagnarella (2023). In their study, they assert that humor can be an effective coping strategy. It can help reduce the burden of perceived stress and increase positive emotional states when dealing with stressful situations.

Furthermore, humor has the power to shift perspectives and provide a sense of control in challenging situations. One anecdote told by a friend was about his experience during the death of a dear friend. Instead of dwelling in sadness and grief, he shared funny stories and memories of their time together, allowing laughter to soften the pain and create a more light- hearted atmosphere during a difficult time. In these situations, even words of condolences are too weak and fruitless to beguile someone from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But perhaps a moment of shared laughter can provide a brief respite and remind us that even in the darkest times, there is still joy to be found.

Research further suggests that humor can be a valuable coping strategy when used in conjunction with other constructive approaches. According to Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, humor includes playful recognition and enjoyment of incongruity, a cheerful view of the light side of adversity, and the ability to make others smile and laugh even in difficult times. Humor as a coping strategy allows individuals to temporarily escape from the weight of their problems and find moments of lightheartedness in difficult situations. This can help reduce stress, improve mood, and enhance overall well-being.

In my class, when I talk about mental health and coping strategies, I always emphasize the importance of humor as a tool for resilience. Don’t get me wrong, serious and constructive approaches to managing stress and emotions are vital, but humor can provide a much-needed break and offer a new perspective. If we aren’t as resilient or as “mababaw” with our happiness or “kaligayahan” as we are, how can we still feel good and carry on during challenging times? How can we still navigate poverty, family tragedies, and other adversities with some semblance of hope and optimism?

Lasting peace and happiness may not come easily, but the ability to find moments of levity and amusement, even in the darkest of times, can be a powerful coping mechanism (Prerost, 1989) (Simione & Gnagnarella, 2023). As Viktor Frankl once said, “Humor, more than anything else in the human makeup, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.

Humor, in the end, may not erase our problems. But in those moments of shared laughter, of finding the light amidst the darkness, perhaps we discover something even more profound: the enduring spirit of what it means to be truly human. So, the next time you face adversity, remember the Filipino way. Find the humor, share a laugh, and you might just find yourself a little bit stronger, a little bit braver, and a whole lot more ready to face whatever comes next. And remember, in life, every time you find humor in a difficult situation, you win. After all, in the words of Russell Crowe’s character Maximus in the movie Gladiator, “Death smiles upon us all, all a man can do is smile back…”