I was helping a coworker in another state by phone the other day. I asked how his day was going, made a comment on the state he was in, and in turn, he asked where I was. I replied with my typical “Unfortunately I’m stuck in Arizona right now” comment. Most people chuckle or laugh at my response and it starts a friendly dialog of discussing travel and favorite places. However his response took me by surprise when he said “Well I hope you eventually find the happiness in life you’re looking for.”
I paused for a moment before responding to him, re-analyzing my tone and inflection, trying to determine if my normal perky and happy tone were lacking due to the lateness of the day. I eventually determined I was being authentically me so I said, “actually I’m a pretty happy person so I’m sorry if I sounded otherwise.” He brushed me off and rather dryly proceeded to enlist my help for a problem he was having.
Once I was off the phone, I couldn’t decide if I should be offended by his remark. Since I know being offended is generally an ego response and a very negative state of being, I tried to rationalize it as something else, but if I am honest the encounter left me a little irritated. It wasn’t until a couple hours later when I was able to laugh about it with a friend, that I realized this was yet another example of my lifelong tendency to use self-deprecating or dry humor. While I’m certainly not thrilled with living in Arizona, I wouldn’t trade the life experience for anything. Still, I like to make fun of the fact that this place is easily at the bottom of my list of favorite places I’ve lived. (Please don’t be offended if you love Arizona, it’s just a personal preference and I can still give you a list of things I love about it here, despite its low placement on my list of favorites.)
In some circles, my wry and witty humor is found to be a quality trait. While in others, it is thought to be self-sabotaging and self-loathing. The coworker I spoke to was clearly of the latter mindset. My ex Brother in Law used to give me a hard time about this very topic, he thought it made me sound weak and wasn’t very funny. To his credit, I was pretty insecure and not at all self-aware during that time, so what is was then is definitely not what is is now.
These days my humor comes from a place of truly understanding myself, knowing I am imperfect, and appreciating those imperfections absolutely (as well as the humor in them). It also comes from a place of modesty and humbleness, as I know I am not better than anyone else in the universe. I can laugh at myself without really thinking less of myself. Despite outward appearances, I am actually quite the introvert, so self-deprecating humor is also a way to downplay any attention brought to me that, as in introvert, I feel uncomfortable with.
I have a theory that you can tell if a person using self-deprecating humor is actually humble and confident or completely self-conscious, and I think my theory is pretty accurate. If you look someone in the eyes, who is using this kind of humor, and their eyes kind of sparkle with mischievousness, they are quite ok with who they are. However if their eyes are looking down or away, you can almost bet there is some truth to their belief in the jokes about themselves. That’s my theory anyway.
The truth is humor, and having a good sense of it, gets me through the days as I countdown to leaving and beginning my travels. I experience so much in just 8 hours at work that could kill my spirit if I allowed it to. I simply can’t permit that energy into my life. Some coworkers think I am too nice, too considerate, too quick to give someone the benefit of the doubt, etc. But the fact is, if I tried to live any other way, I just wouldn’t be me. Frankly, being optimistic and happy has a lot to do with the fact that I know where I will be this time next year, and it will not be in that office, on that phone, listening to an unhappy person try to project their unhappiness on me. So there. Phhllllttt.