Crying, Laughing and Joking Through Hard Times: What We do to Cope

July 20, 2022

Cecilia Watt (she/her/hers), Low Entropy Volunteer Writer


“If we didn’t laugh, we’d cry” is a sentence that finds its way out of us, sometimes as an assertion, sometimes as a piece of sage advice, or most often, as an explanation. In an age where the United States’ children are banned from eating Kinder Surprise Eggs yet are sent to school with a high risk of being shot, where a pandemic reigns as a war on healthcare in all its forms is waged, where the Earth warms and the news out of other countries isn’t much better, you have to think of something to keep yourself from being completely consumed by hopelessness. Of course, add the turbulence of your personal life to that equation, and you find yourself at serious risk of death by despair. Unfortunately, in Canada, we live in a society that has not yet mastered the ability to let its members rest; productivity, movement and work remain pillars of society and measurements of character. While the self-care movement has grown exponentially, as has the awareness and services provided for mental health, there is much to be done. That leaves us with an array of coping mechanisms ranging from dangerously unhealthy to binging an entire season of Keeping Up with the Kardashians in one night (also arguably unhealthy). The American poet Walt Whitman once wrote of this desperation, “[t]he question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?” What good indeed, what good can we do for ourselves, for others, for the world, when it all feels so out of control?


So, what do you do? You can cry, sometimes silently, sometimes only a little; sometimes, you can howl, allowing yourself to expel your pain and be messy with it. Crying is necessary, but too much is exhausting for the spirit, so what next? You can laugh. You can find some semblance of joy in the irony so often found in terrible situations, giving yourself the gift of comfort and relief. Laughter and tears are two sides of the same coin; sisters separated at birth. While they are each associated with opposite emotions, one of the joys of growing up is learning that you can laugh and cry at almost any situation. In fact, laughter and tears are most effective when put together, at least in my humble opinion. To have humour during dark times is to embrace the awfulness you’re faced with rather than running away from it completely. Any expression of emotion, particularly when those emotions are expressed through laughter, is a victory over hard times, a personal act of rebellion in the name of survival.


Generation Z in particular has mastered the ability to joke about painful personal circumstances and worldwide events with the help of social media platforms such as TikTok and Twitter. Jokes about experiences of sexual assault, injury, death, racism, homophobia, illness and every other terrible thing you can think of are presented in a humorous context to the masses, often to be met with responses of similar humour, empathy, and discomfort. Discomfort is a tricky feeling, one that laughter can both create and cure. I have been on the giving and receiving ends of humour that could be classified as morbid, and there is discomfort in both. Trauma, fear and grief are all things that leave us in a state of perpetual discomfort; dark humour, humour that pokes holes in the stigma of such topics that go unspoken, gifts us release. While it may feel like that may come at the discomfort of others, moving the discomfort to others, to the public, isn’t always a bad thing. Especially if that discomfort causes others to stop, think and appreciate an experience that they themselves have not had before. 


Whitman answered his own question when he wrote: “[t]he powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.” As our choices, circumstances and accidents of life come together to write the play of our own lives, so is our verse contributing to the powerful play of life that has gone on long before us, and may go on long after us. I like to believe that each life, no matter how tragic, has had laughter in it; each verse has its comedic timing, palpable relief from another day of survival in the face of whatever horrible concoction the universe had had in store. You see, there may be no way out of the world burning, but there may be a way out of the despair that burns us already. Not everyone has the same amount of choices in life; certainly none of us chose this pandemic, or losing loved ones, or being targeted because of what we look like, who we are, who we love. Sometimes we can’t even choose how our bodies and souls react to difficult times, but on those better days, sit down, have a laugh, and add a few jokes to your verse.



Cecilia Watt is a recent university graduate taking a few years off before grad school to focus on all the little joys in life, such as chai lattes, good books and listening to music while going for walks. 

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