From my dad laughing at his endless slapstick mistakes, to my mum shaking her bum at me even when I shout (yes, present tense) “You’re not funny!”, to my sister creating the most humorous faces and Snapchat filters, and of course my friends’ supply of self-deprecating humour, all of which sits beneath in the hierarchy of silliness my nanna’s insatiable appetite for making herself laugh at her own expense, I proudly come from a tribe of silly billies.
‘Being silly’ was the most common refrain on my report card. I was always on report in school for being silly, whether it was making silly faces or silly sounds, or moving in a silly way, my behaviour was characterised as silly. I was, I still am, a person with a large capacity for silliness. I can’t get out of the habit, and now at the grand age of 35, I can feel the value as a whole human being of having a healthy amount of silliness punctuating my interactions with this very serious adult world.
A lack of silliness in the personality toolbox seems to create a rigidity of character on obvious display in how we move. Try it for yourself: lift your arms while saying to yourself “I am serious”. Do you feel tense or relaxed? Now lift your arms saying to yourself “I am a silly”. Do you feel more tense or relaxed? On a movement level, if you look at people - adults, teenagers, and children - being silly, the repertoire of actions is far more expansive, dynamic: heads are thrown back, arms opened wide, spines bending this way, that way. It’s a more expressive, relaxed range of movement than serious movement which tends to be restrictive with a stiffening neck, rigid spine, and hunched shoulders or puffed up chest, and a tight precision.
Perhaps one of the reasons why our range of movement diminishes with age is because we forget those traits that ask for greater, more energised, spontaneous display of action.
Of course we can’t always be silly, that would be, erm, silly. As healthy beings, we’re responsive to the situation we find ourselves in, but if we find that the response is always that of seriousness, then it’s my sense that we lose the opposite pole that is silliness, and when one pole is lost, we lose balance.
In school, being silly saved me. I gravitated towards friends whose love for self-deprecation in order to generate a laugh matched only mine. We started the day ready to give and receive laughter, only to end the day exhausted from so much laughter. Whilst my home life was on its head, being silly helped me to keep my head, to stop it and my heart from going under.
I look at my tribe of silly billies, and not one of them has led a life that doesn’t involve deep pain and in most cases, traumatic events. They have not led a charmed life. No, they lead a life where silliness is an outlet for all the seriousness that exists, they are incredibly resilient because they in some way value making a mockery of just how serious life can be with the embodied act of being silly, playing with being ridiculous for reprieve and laughs. For balance.
There’s even science on the importance of silliness. According to Dr Nick Kuiper, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Western Ontario, being silly and embracing humour is a way to create more distance from negative events and helps to reframe them, so not only a coping mechanism but I interpret it also as a powerful psychological tool in meaning making. If we’re able to be silly even in dark moments, this is an expression of life not being dark or light, but both light and dark. Other benefits include:
Lowering your blood pressure
Relieving pain from chronic illness or injury
And the act of playful silliness continues uplift me, uplift them when it all feels a bit too much. Every day I channel my dog, he says the most preposterous things, he sings in his German-American tones, and he moves in a very peculiar way. Even when I feel rubbish, channeling my dog halts or slows down the serious sink. I feel better.
It’s as if silly bounces along and pops the balloon of seriousness, with all of its hot air and overwhelm bursting out into a more expansive, lighter container. Serious protests with “how dare you make a mockery of me, don’t you know how serious I am?” and Silly replies “Now, now, even you know you can’t be serious all the time, where’s the joy in that?”
When there is no shortage of desperate news, painful events, consumerism built upon taking yourself oh-so-seriously, silliness can only be an exceptional power reminding us that joy is an option, and in this sense, silly is definitely a superpower.
To tap into your sense of silliness, here's a free Embodied Yoga video dedicated to the superpower.