Keith is a very serious man. A smile very rarely crosses his face and in all the years we’ve known each other, I’ve never heard him laugh. Thankfully, my friend is not grouchy, overbearing, nor cynical.
I got to thinking about Keith’s serious disposition after he asked me for the umpteenth time why I laugh so often. I answered for the umpteenth time that a lot of things just seem funny to me.
Keith is my one friend who seems to have been shortchanged in the humor department. He doesn’t enjoy comedy. Whenever any of our acquaintances has told absolutely hilarious jokes, Keith is unresponsive and sits stone-faced. It’s not that he purposely tries to hold back a smile or a laugh, he just seems incapable.
I once asked Keith why he doesn’t seem to laugh at anything. He argued that there isn’t anything that’s worth laughing at. Sometimes he’s happy inside but not enough for it to automatically show up on the outside. Keith said it takes too much effort to fake a laugh or a smile.
I’m the polar opposite of Keith. I’m one of those people who automatically smiles at everyone I meet. I do know how to control when and to whom I smile when appropriate, but still the urge to smile at others is ever-present.
“The higher the general average of intelligence, all things else being equal, the less the disposition to be meddlesome, critical, and overbearing.”–founder of Rotary International, Paul P. Harris
On the other hand, my friend Jorge is very much like me. We recently pointed out this personality trait quality out to each other. Jorge jibed, “Even though we can’t stand him, we’d probably smile at über-serious Mike Pence if we were ever introduced.” Jorge’s comment triggered tear-inducing laughter out of both of us. The irony was just too much to bear.
One of the reasons Jorge and I get along so well, is because our dispositions are so similar. We don’t have to expend much effort in order to trigger each other’s laughter. Then, once one of us is howling uncontrollably, the other cannot help but lose control, too. We will laugh until our cheeks ache. Then we laugh about the dull pain we feel. Jorge and I share the same tendency to hyperventilate when we laugh too hard. I once laughed so hard that it triggered a panic attack.
“In words are seen the state of mind and character and disposition of the speaker.”–Ancient Roman essayist, Plutarch
Young children, dogs, and cats seem best able to understand the dispositions of people. They appear to be drawn towards folks with sunny dispositions and repelled by people with angry or cynical characteristics. This is probably because naturally upbeat people do not seem threatening while people who always have chips on their shoulders seem unapproachable.
All things considered, I think we can display a wide spectrum of character traits but from what I’ve noticed, each person seems to possess one dominant, overall disposition. On the question as to whether nature or nurture determines it, I lean strongly towards biology playing the major role.
I think this is true because siblings raised under similar circumstances display different dispositions. This seems to be the case not only with human beings, but also for litters of puppies and kittens. Some are more outgoing and curious, while others shy away from contact and keep to themselves.
There is still the mystery about the wide difference between people like Keith and his inability to laugh and people like Jorge and me and our difficulty in restraining laughter. This is something I think about quite often lately.
The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders something from the philosopher and writer, Claude Adrien Helvétius. “There are men whom a happy disposition, a strong desire of glory and esteem, inspire with the same love for justice and virtue which men in general have for riches and honors… But the number of these men is so small that I only mention them in honor of humanity.”