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Humor for the Heartbroken

Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come. ~ Matt Groening

Social psychologist Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University said, “In many ways, navigating the social world is more complicated than a voyage to the moon. But it’s a journey we have to take, because whether we like it or not, our happiness is in each other’s hands.” Our sadness is also in each other’s hands, and is most easily induced by those we most love.

Rejection from a loved one can feel like the end of the world and can elicit profound feelings of worthlessness, loneliness and grief. Divorce can be a more painful experience than the actual death of a spouse because of the heart-searing suffering caused by rejection. It leaves one wondering why, exactly, they are no longer “good enough” for their former partner’s love and questioning whether they are even deserving of love at all.  

University of Michigan psychology professor Ethan Kross and a team of researchers found that the regions of the brain that are activated when experiencing heartbreak are the same regions activated when experiencing physical pain. Like physical pain, this emotional pain cannot be ignored or escaped unless some form of anesthetic is applied. The natural anesthetic qualities of humor and its easy availability make it a good place to begin buffering oneself from the negative effects of rejection.

Laughter researchers Dr. Lee Berk and Dr. Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University in California have discovered that laughter not only lifts our spirits, but also improves our physical health by reducing stress, lowering our blood pressure, increasing our oxygen intake, boosting our immune system and reducing our risk of heart disease and strokes. It also causes the release of endorphins, our body’s natural painkiller, and serotonin. Many antidepressants target the neurotransmitter serotonin, but one can “self-medicate” using one’s own serotonin supply by watching a funny movie or going to a comedy show. For the rejected lover, this self-induced boost of serotonin activates a neurochemical reaction that enhances their ability to tolerate the stress response and think creatively of coping options. In this way, humor can be a highly effective means of taking control of the situation and overcoming the overwhelming emotions associated with rejection.

Rejection is a universal experience that we all, unfortunately, come to know at some point(s) in our lives. Movie stars, models, super athletes and other idols of perfection have been rejected, divorced and left behind by those they had loved dearly. As Raquel Welch famously stated, “I couldn’t stand that my husband was being unfaithful. I am Raquel Welch — understand?” With divorce rates currently pushing above 50% does that mean that over 50% of the population is unworthy and unlovable? It does not. It simply reflects the fact that navigating romantic relationships can often be painfully difficult. Rejection isn’t so much personal as it is just a consequence of being human.  

Heartbreak, unsatisfied desires and unrequited love can be natural motivators to evolutionary and personal greatness. As harsh as the inevitable pain of heartbreak may seem, it really is for our own good. It forces us to reflect on where we are in our lives, and motivates us to become better, stronger, more lovable people. This pain and longing is Nature’s way of inducing positive change and growth.

Nature also gave us the ability to use humor to mitigate some of the more damaging and debilitating aspects of heartbreak. Uninterrupted, unrelenting suffering weakens and destroys rather than motivates. For anyone currently enduring the depths of broken-hearted misery, the following books and movies can serve as a salve for those deep emotional wounds.

Humorous Books for the Heartbroken:

  • Things I’ve Learned From Women Who’ve Dumped Me, by Ben Karlin
  • My Heart is an Idiot, by Davy Rothbart
  • Heartburn, by Nora Ephron
  • Southern Fried Divorce, by Judy Conner
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple

Humorous Movies for the Heartbroken:

  • Forgetting Sarah Marshall (starring Jason Segel, Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis). After a devastating break-up, Peter seeks solace in a Hawaiian vacation … only to discover his ex and her new boyfriend are staying at the same resort.
  • Bridesmaids (Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Melissa McCarthy). Annie is lovelorn, almost penniless and her life is a mess. But when her lifelong best friend, Lillian, gets engaged, Annie must navigate the elaborate and expensive rituals associated with being maid of honor.
  • High Fidelity (John Cusack and Jack Black) Record store owner Rob Gordon reflects on the quirks and catastrophes of his ex-relationships, reminding us of the complexity and absurdity of modern romance.
  • Girl’s Trip (Queen Latifah, Regina Hill, Jada Pinkett Smith & Tiffany Haddish) Four best friends experience the adventure of a lifetime, and share relationship woes, when they go on a road trip to the annual Essence Festival in New Orleans.
  • Run Fatboy Run (Simon Pegg, Thandie Newton and Hank Azaria). Overweight and out-of-shape Dennis decides to run a marathon to win back the fiancée he left on their wedding day after realizing that he truly loves her.
Humor for the Heartbroken

Nichole Force, M.A.

Nichole Force is the author of Humor’s Hidden Power: Weapon, Shield & Psychological Salve. She has a Master's Degree in Psychology from Loyola Marymount University, studied improvisational comedy at The Groundlings Theatre in Los Angeles and sketch comedy at the ACME Comedy Theatre in Hollywood. She is a researcher and writer on humor’s role in society and psychology.

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APA Reference
Force, N. (2018). Humor for the Heartbroken. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 23 Nov 2018 (Originally: 23 Nov 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 23 Nov 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.