I learned that comedy is the key to overcoming life’s troubles.
“If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.” — Jerry Seinfeld
In his book “Is This Anything?”, Jerry Seinfeld recounted the very first joke that ever got him a laugh on stage. He poked fun at one of his characteristic features: his left-handedness. Being a natural leftie in a world made for righties, the future comedy star suffered through a lot of anguish growing up. While many people become bitter after similar situations, Jerry decided to turn his experience into a joke.
“So, I am left handed. Left-handed people do not like that the word left is so often associated with negative things. Left feet. Left-handed compliment. ‘What are we having for dinner? Leftovers.’ You go to a party there is nobody there. ‘Where did everybody go?’ ‘They left!’”
The Buddhists believe existence is just a huge series of pains. People often go through life bothered by problems, whether big or small. While the average human will feel down and complain all the time, some individuals have the gift of perceiving things in a different way. Jerry Seinfeld has found this magic formula.
For a master craftsman like Jerry, any everyday occurrence is a great source of inspiration. He takes a glance, and immediately sees the absurdity of the entire situation. This is because he looks at the world with something he calls his “third eye”.
No, Jerry isn’t a mutant with secret superpowers. For him, a third eye is just a special way of seeing the world. You take a step back and watch events unfold with a kind of ironic detachment. It’s about not taking yourself too seriously. Instead, you see the humor in even the direst of situations.
The third eye looks at your existence from a different angle. It distances itself from what is happening, and captures the ridiculousness of things at hand. For Jerry, situations like these are the source of his humor.
“My theory is 98% of all human endeavor is killing time.” — Jerry Seinfeld
The Power of Seinfeld — Everything is Funny
In one of the episodes of “Seinfeld”, Jerry’s iconic series from the 1990s, the character he plays goes to meet a group of NBC executives to pitch a show about “nothing”. Here was meta-Jerry at his best, giving a fictional take on the meaning of his show.
It wasn’t about nothing. The point was that normal everyday situations are a great source of humor. You just need to know where to look. In an ask-me-anything on Reddit, Jerry Seinfeld revealed that the premise for his real show was the examination of how a comedian gets their material:
“The pitch for the show, the real pitch, when Larry and I went to NBC in 1988, was we want to show how a comedian gets his material. The show about nothing was just a joke in an episode many years later, and Larry and I to this day are surprised that it caught on as a way that people describe the show, because to us it’s the opposite of that.”
Life’s little pains and troubles are funny. The stuff that people take seriously is actually hilarious. Jerry’s “third eye” is able to distill all that, and provide a piercing social commentary on the human condition. Almost everything is funny. As Jerry says, you just have to have a way of looking at it.
“The fact is: almost everything is funny. You just have to have a way of looking at it.” — Jerry Seinfeld
This is why comedy is so powerful. It has the ability to take you away from your everyday pains, and see the absurdity in your situation. If you look at a comedian’s routine, the funniest bits are usually the ones you can relate to from personal experience.
Many of society’s social conventions and the ways individuals behave are ultimately funny. Most people don’t realize it, but the vast majority of the things that they consider important are actually pretty insignificant. A lot of times when attaching seriousness to something, they are really overcompensating for lack of a deeper substance.
There is a great deal of things in the world that people take all too seriously. Imagine that the average human is willing to shell out hundreds of bucks in order to get a T-shirt with a tiny swish mark called a logo. At work, people have heated arguments over stuff that doesn’t really matter. Yet, if they had only applied their third eye, they would see how ridiculous all these petty problems really are.
Reframe Your Mindset
As a young journalist, Norman Cousins once read that negative emotions have a bad effect on your body. Suffering from a disease that left him paralyzed, he surmised that with positive emotions the opposite must be true. So he decided to spend his time laughing.
“I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anaesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep.”
Seeing the funny side of life is a way to survive in the worst situations. Viktor Frankl, when stuck in a Nazi concentration camp used humor as one of his tricks to get through the day.
“The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living.” — Viktor Frankl
Having a problem? Make a joke out of it! Humor is often said to be the best medicine. Scientific studies have shown that there are many health benefits associated with laughter. It’s good for the heart, and awesome for stress relief. Making fun stimulates different systems in your body to lower the levels of hormones that cause you to feel anxious.
Humor and seeing your situation from the lighter side of things can even help patients cope better in tough circumstances like cancer therapy. According to Dr. Anne Belcher, associate Professor at the John Hopkins School of Nursing, humor should be a key part of your coping strategies:
“I have seen people handle chemotherapy and radiation therapy very well, and my sense is that — to some extent — it’s because they incorporated humor into their bag of coping strategies.”
Dr. Allen Weisse, a medical doctor, shared how a personal experience in recovering from a surgery showed him the importance of humor in healing. While on the hospital bed, he received a humorous book to read. It helped him get his mind off the pain.
“These sessions had unequivocally speeded up the stages of recovery, much in the way that early ambulation does for postsurgical patients.”
Having a third eye can not only be beneficial for getting past illness, it can help in dealing with all kinds of other problems. Laughter is a key to this ability.
Buddhists teach to let go of your ego. Making fun of yourself and your petty pains is a way to do that. There are countless troubles that an absurd world throws at you. If you want to survive this constant barrage, just adopt the comedy mindset.
BS at your office? Think how it is like “The Office”.
The waiters being rude to you? Think Soup Nazi!
Scared of the virus outside? Pretend you are living through the zombie apocalypse.
My Third Eye and How I Became A Pirate
Seeing the world with a third eye has often helped me to get over some of the most difficult situations in my life. Back in university, I almost lost my eye. Pseudomonas is this nasty little bacteria that can chew through your cornea within 24 hours, and in extreme cases leave you blind. I had the bad luck of being attacked by these scary critters.
For a while, I was stuck at home with plasters over my right eye. One day, I glanced into the mirror and saw how ridiculous I looked. I resembled a pirate! This little thought, detached from reality, somehow helped me cope with my dire situation. From that day on, I kept imagining myself as Long John Silver looking for buried treasure. That reduced the stress, and lightened up my mood.
I took a step back, forgot about the pain in my second eye, and compensated for the hard situation I was in by turning on my third eye. It didn’t mean that I put on an eyepatch, and a hook, and greeted everyone with “aye matey”! No, it just meant that I started seeing the humor in my everyday condition. A simple funny mental remark can make all the difference.
“Humor was another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation. It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.” — Viktor Frankl
You don’t have to become a stand-up comedian in order to benefit from using your “third eye”. Whenever you are facing a tough period in your life, thinking like Jerry Seinfeld can help overcome it. Taking a step back and seeing the absurd can lighten the mood. It helps you cope.
This is probably the ultimate lesson to take away from Jerry Seinfeld: see the humor in the daily absurd situations you face. When the world is going crazy, this type of mindset will help you thrive.
An earlier version of this article was originally published on “Medium” here.