Although Descartes, Spencer, and Freud may display a difference of opinion in regards to how it may happen, they all seem to be in concurrence that laughter and humor are effective modes of making an individual feel better about themselves. Descartes, for one, addresses both the corporeal processes as well as the mental benefits of laughter for the person who deems themselves above their object of derision. This “derision or scorn is a sort of joy mingled with hatred,” and seems to fulfill a vindictive and insecure element of human nature [Descartes, 24]. We laugh and in doing so, feel superior to those who have prompted our laughter. This latent hatred permeates much of our emotions and increases the joy we feel at the misfortune of others. He also makes the claim that we are more prone to laughter when our bodies are in healthy condition (or, when we feel good) and the blood is “very fluid and subtle” [Descartes, 23].
Spencer, an evolutionary theorist to his core, focuses more on the survivalist advantages of the physical action of laughter. The human body is rife with excess nervous energy, which must be expelled in some manner in order to function properly. The process of laughter “stimulate[s] not only the muscular system, as we see it does, but also the internal organs” as well alleviates any sort of emotional strain that could impede an individual’s thought process [Spencer, 109]. Therefore, laughter proves to be an indispensable tool to general well being.
Freud’s theory of humor is similar to Spencer’s in that he also interprets it as a means for the release of surplus energy, but he addresses this energy in regards to its psychological results rather than the physical ones. He illustrates humor as an interplay between the super ego and ego during which the super ego caters to the desires of the ego for a reprieve from the harshness of reality. In this way, humor has the “peculiarly liberating and elevating effect” of reconstructing reality for the individual who utilizes it in a difficult situation [Freud, 116].