Gordon W. Allport – Laughter as a weapon against adversity

Professor Gordon W. Allport“So many tangles in life are ultimately hopeless that we have no appropriate sword other than laughter” – Gordon W. Allport

Gordon Allport is widely recognised as one of the founders of the field of personality psychology. The sentiment of his quote is essentially that sometimes, things are just so bad, that all that remains for you to do is to laugh. This notion seems paradoxical, in that laughter is typically thought to signify joy, mirth and happiness. However, to allocate laughter to the realm of a hedonistic pastime is to underestimate the complex role which laughter plays in our daily lives. Laughter doesn’t always occur as a response to joy. At times laughter can occur as an involuntary reaction to a major stress, brought on by adversity.  It is interesting that Allport referred to laughter as an ‘appropriate’ means to deal with hopelessness. How often is laughter in highly stressful situations deemed to be ‘inappropriate’?

Isn’t it an interesting thought that our social and cultural learnings may be preventing us from taking advantage of an innate stress relief mechanism?

Have you ever laughed at an inappropriate time and if so, how did people react? Were they supportive and understanding, or did you feel judged and shunned?

Please share your thoughts below in the comments section.


Below are just some of Allport’s influential works.

Allport, G. W. (1937). Personality: a psychological interpretation. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

Allport, G. W. (1950). The individual and his religion. New York: McMillan.

Allport, G. W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Cambridge, MA:Addison-Wesley.

Allport, G.W. (1955). Becoming: Basic considerations for a psychology of personality. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Allport, G.W. (1961). Pattern and growth in personality. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

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