Comedies, sometimes even more than dramas, are generally saying something about the human condition, even amidst the humor. That leads to some wise, if unexpected insight.
Sitcoms and laugh-out-loud movies may not be where you expect to find sage advice or solace, but they have the potential to reveal things to you that nothing and no one else has.
Here are five particularly apt life lessons shared by comedies through some poignant quotes…
Issues Are Never Truly Resolved
Almost any comedy, such as aforementioned sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, is built upon mocking that which we fear in real life. Comedy is an escape, helping to simplify and, of course, alleviate the struggles of a very complex, serious world.
Most sitcoms distill relationships in a way that pulls the humor out of difficult situations, hence the term they’re short for, “situational comedy.” In truth, however, there’s a lot of pain and frustration to the problems that are typically resolved on television in a single episode.
In real life, something as innocuous as an argument about taking out the trash can have a lasting effect on a marriage. A sitcom trope like an unwanted kiss from a colleague will prove even more damaging. Outside of television, those type of issues don’t always have quick, simple solutions.
Problems aren’t solved in 22 minutes, the length of a typical sitcom without the commercials. In a lot of ways they never are. Not completely.
Every action can potentially have a lasting impact, especially in a relationship. Even if someone apologizes for their mistake and they are forgiven, the hurt they caused still might permeate in the background.
That isn’t to say that no one can move on. We can, but don’t expect things to be reset to the status quo every few days like on Everybody Loves Raymond. Or for life to be as funny.
Life Doesn’t Always Make Sense
Like the affable Pete played by Paul Rudd, the uncomfortably meta Abed played by Danny Pudi understands some of the differences between sitcoms and real life.
Whereas a TV show follows a consistent pattern (usually the three-act structure) real life doesn’t tend to be so simple. Things that happen in our life don’t always have a point, sometimes real life people don’t act “in character,” etc.
This inconsistency can be depressing, but it can also be freeing. Life isn’t predictable. Our destinies are in our hands.
The quote also addresses how just because you’re the star of your story doesn’t mean you’re the good guy. That’s tough to accept, but by realizing it you can start to take steps to become the hero instead of the villain.
The pursuit of happiness is about finding meaning.
Pursuing happiness is not at all the same as being happy, which is a fleeting feeling dependent on momentary circumstances. If the sun is shining, by all means bask in it. Happy times are great and often fun-filled, but happy times pass, because time passes. This is something we rarely grasp at first.
The lifelong pursuit of happiness, on the other hand, is more elusive; it’s not based on a particular outcome. What you are really pursuing is meaning – living a meaningful life. It starts with your “why.” (Why are you doing what you’re doing with your life?) When your “why” is meaningful, you are pursuing happiness. There will be times when things go so wrong that you barely feel alive. And there will also be times when you realize that being barely alive, on your own terms, is better than living a lifeless existence for eighty years on someone else’s terms. The pursuit isn’t all or nothing; it’s all AND nothing, with ups and downs and worthwhile lessons along the way.
In other words, happiness comes most easily when you know what you’re doing, believe in what you’re doing, and love what you’re doing (and who you’re doing it with), regardless of how things turn out. (Read The Happiness Hypothesis.)
When you lose someone you can’t imagine living without, your heart breaks wide open, and the bad news is you never completely get over the loss. You will never forget them. However, in a backwards way, this is also the good news. They will live on in the warmth of your broken heart that doesn’t fully heal back up, and you will continue to grow and experience life, even with your wound. It’s like badly breaking an ankle that never heals perfectly, and that still hurts when you dance, but you dance anyway with a slight limp, and this limp just adds to the depth of your performance and the authenticity of your character.
We Want To Be Treated Well, But For The Right Reasons
We all seek praise and affirmation from others. But, as the boss at the Scranton, Pennsylvania branch of Dunder Mifflin so inelegantly puts it, we only want it if it’s given out of love.
It doesn’t matter so much if we’re being lied to. We can live with that. But if the intentions of others to lie to us to aren’t altruistic, we feel betrayed.
In other words, if you want something from us, don’t just shower us with compliments. Make us feel loved. Then we’ll do pretty much anything you ask of us.
The people you lose remain a part of you.
Someday you will be faced with the reality of loss. And as life goes on, days rolling into nights, it will become clear that you never really stop missing someone special who’s gone, you just learn to live around the gaping hole of their absence.
We Think We Need To Fight For Peace
Similar to how Homer threatens his spirit animal, we often feel the need to use force to find happiness. That sounds paradoxical, and it absolutely is. Most strategies for reaching tranquility (like Hinduism’s Ten Commandments for Peace of Mind) involve turning the other cheek, forgiving people who wronged you and other nonaggressive acts.
Fight against your human instincts and remember that to attain peace you must seek it out in a calm, collected way instead of out of anger.
Sadness Often Hints At The Possibility of Happiness
Despite what Goth Kid 2 might think, Leopold “Butters” Stotch has a point. In some ways, being sad should remind us of how happy we can be.
This is particularly true when it comes to loss. Butters was heartbroken by the waitress at Raisins because he wouldn’t get to have new wonderful experiences with her, but it helped him remember how great he could feel, and can feel someday again. Even though he’s been ten years old for years, Butters understands that life’s too short to stay sad for long.
When someone passes away we cry because we remember time with them and are sad that we won’t be able to creature new memories. But our response to their death should remind us how much joy they brought to our lives.
Listen to the crudely animated ten-year-old. When you’re sad, treat that pain as a reminder of how happy you can be so you can live life to the fullest.
You might not expect to learn about life and living from sources South Park or Knocked Up, but they can teach you a lot between and sometimes during the punchlines. You just have to be willing to listen.