The happiness and humour of the elderly

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Shin Min Daily News, 14 Oct 2023, The happiness and humour of the elderly (translation)

Shin Min Daily News, 14 Oct 2023, The happiness and humour of the elderly

When you think of the elderly, does the image of a grumpy old man complaining about his children getting in the way, or a lonely old lady with a stern expression pop up in your mind? This stereotype often appears in videos, movies and pictures. To be honest, most of us believe in the “grumpy old man” stereotype at some point, and I am no exception.

After the Second World War, there was no news of what happened to my grandfather, and my grandmother had to work hard to raise my father and aunts. She also worked hard to take care of my four brothers and sisters. It was inevitable that she would become a very strict lady. I remember when I was a child, I was particularly apprehensive of approaching older folks and did not dare to joke with them. I was deeply afraid that if I was not careful, I would be scolded. However, research in psychology has proven that this stereotype is unfair and untrue. Older people generally become happier and more humourous as they age, rather than becoming grumpy and harsh. Humour is one of the most important human activities because of its ability to bring joy and connect people emotionally in daily life.

Scholars Prathiba Shammi and Donald Stuss studied the impact of age on humour in 2003 and compared the responses of younger and older subjects. They found that the older subjects’s (60 and older) emotional responses to jokes did not slow down and in fact, they enjoyed humour more so than younger adults. Sure enough, according to a 2022 study conducted by scholars Zoe Ng and Quin Yow on 70 elderly and young people living in a Chinese community in Singapore, found that the overall appreciation of humour by Singaporean elderly is higher than that of the young. Research by other scholars have also found that appreciation of humour increases with age. But although humour appreciation increases with age, understanding of humour declines, especially after the age of 60. This suggests that older adults enjoy humour more than younger adults but have progressively greater difficulty understanding jokes. According to the Incongruity-resolution theory, the cognitive decline of the elderly may be the reason for the impairment of the humour creation and understanding ability, but the enjoyment of humor remains unchanged.

Scholar Gil Greengross proposed in an article published in 2013 that humour is not a unified concept, but includes the interaction of various aspects such as society, development, emotion, cognition and biology. In addition, older people appear to be less inclined towards certain types of humour, such as offensive jokes, as compared to younger people, and older people are particularly sensitive to jokes about ageing issues. Cognitive ability aside, there are many other factors that affect whether older people like and understand jokes, such as their health, background, conversation content, etc.

So, next time, before you think that the elderly are typically grumpy and harsh, please keep your mind open and try to understand the elderly’s limitations and situations. Perhaps you will discover that there is also a happy and humourous old person around you.