Lift up your hearts: Humour and despair in later life

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According to Erikson, the homework of later life is integrity versus despair. The work of integrity is difficult, especially when faced with loss and grief, with the pain, suffering and anxiety that often accompany later life. However, it is also the case that humour accompanies the ageing process, and that elderly people laugh at all things associated with ageing right through to death. This paper explores the relationship between humour and despair in the task of integrity. It does so from the work of Kierkegaard, who argued that despair is a sign that we are spiritual beings. Humour comes from our responses to despair-either as giving in too easily and not attempting integrity at all, or as a willful defiance and denial of this task. Ageing humour is used to illustrate Kierkegaard's argument. Humour is then shown to function in various ways. It raises our sights when we too easily retreat into our perishing bodies. It earths us when we attempt to get too spiritual, and it gives us a glimpse of the larger framework of God's future out of which we are invited to live, and to 'lift up our hearts.'
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-41
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Religion, Spirituality and Aging
Issue number3/4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2004


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