Humor

The ability to perceive the comic or absurd quality of life. Good temperament.

— Humor, 08

Hu·mor
a comic, absurd, or incongruous quality causing amusement: the humor of a situation.
the faculty of perceiving what is amusing or comical: He is completely without humor.
an instance of being or attempting to be comical or amusing; something humorous: The humor in his joke eluded the audience.
the faculty of expressing the amusing or comical: The author’s humor came across better in the book than in the movie.

Having a sense of humor helps us to endure things more easily. Indeed we could hardly get along without it. The person who sees man only seriously, only morally or pedagogically, cannot endure him for any great length of time. We must have an eye for the oddity of existence. Everything human has something comic about it. The more pompously a man acts, the greater is the comic element. A sense of humor means that we take man seriously and strive to help him, but suddenly see how odd he is, and laugh, even though it be only inwardly. A friendly laugh at the oddity of all human affairs — that is humor.

Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.Lyn Karol
In prehistoric times, mankind often had only two choices in crisis situations: fight or flee. In modern times, humor offers us a third alternative; fight, flee – or laugh.Robert Orben
Humor distorts nothing, and only false gods are laughed off their earthly pedestals.Agnes Repplier
A good laugh is like manure to a farmer—it doesn’t do any good until you spread it around.Michael Pritchard

Humor is the tendency of particular cognitive experiences to provoke laughter and provide amusement. The term derives from the humoral medicine of the ancient Greeks, which taught that the balance of fluids in the human body, known as humours (Latin: húmor, “body fluid”), control human health and emotion.

People of all ages and cultures respond to humor. The majority of people are able to experience humor, i.e., to be amused, to laugh or smile at something funny, and thus they are considered to have a sense of humor. The hypothetical person lacking a sense of humor would likely find the behavior induced by humor to be inexplicable, strange, or even irrational. Though ultimately decided by personal taste, the extent to which an individual will find something humorous depends upon a host of variables, including geographical location, culture, maturity, level of education, intelligence and context. For example, young children may favor slapstick, such as Punch and Judy puppet shows or cartoons such as Tom and Jerry. Satire may rely more on understanding the target of the humor and thus tends to appeal to more mature audiences. Non-satirical humor can be specifically termed “recreational drollery”.

Many theories exist about what humor is and what social function it serves. The prevailing types of theories attempting to account for the existence of humor include psychological theories, the vast majority of which consider humor-induced behavior to be very healthy; spiritual theories, which may, for instance, consider humor to be a “gift from God”; and theories which consider humor to be an unexplainable mystery, very much like a mystical experience.

Surprise is a type of humor. Arthur Schopenhauer lamented the misuse of the term “humor” to mean any type of comedy. However, both “humor” and “comic” are often used when theorizing about the subject. The connotations of “humor” as opposed to “comic” are said to be that of response versus stimulus. Additionally, “humor” was thought to include a combination of ridiculousness and wit in an individual; the paradigmatic case being Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff. The French were slow to adopt the term “humor”; in French, “humeur” and “humor” are still two different words, the former referring to a person’s mood or to the archaic concept of the four humors.

Western humor theory begins with Plato, who attributed to Socrates the view that the essence of the ridiculous is an ignorance in the weak, who are thus unable to retaliate when ridiculed. Later, in Greek philosophy, Aristotle suggested that an ugliness that does not disgust is fundamental to humor. The terms “comedy” and “satire” became synonymous after Aristotle’s Poetics was translated into Arabic in the medieval Islamic world, where it was elaborated upon by Arabic writers and Islamic philosophers such as Abu Bischr, his pupil Al-Farabi, Avicenna, and Averroes. Due to cultural differences, they disassociated comedy from Greek dramatic representation, and instead identified it with Arabic poetic themes and forms, such as hija (satirical poetry). They viewed comedy as simply the “art of reprehension” and made no reference to light and cheerful events or troublous beginnings and happy endings associated with classical Greek comedy. After the Latin translations of the 12th century, the term “comedy” thus gained a new semantic meaning in Medieval literature.

Humor frequently contains an unexpected, often sudden, shift in perspective. Nearly anything can be the object of this perspective twist. Some claim that humor cannot or should not be explained. Author E.B. White once said, “Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.” As with any form of art, acceptance depends on social demographics and varies from person to person. Throughout history, comedy has been used as a form of entertainment all over the world, whether in the courts of the Western kings or the villages of the Far East. Both a social etiquette and a certain intelligence can be displayed through forms of wit and sarcasm.

Love is my sword, goodness my armor, and humor my shield.Helen Adams Anonymous
Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is.Francis Bacon
A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs–jolted by every pebble in the road.Henry Ward Beecher
Humor is something that thrives between man’s aspirations and his limitations. There is more logic in humor than in anything else. Because, you see, humor is truth.Victor Borge

Humor makes us human

In a way, humor is empathy. It reminds us of our humanity and often forces us to laugh at ourselves which is another way of sharing our humanity with others. Take for example the sayings: “At my age getting lucky is finding my car in the parking lot,” and, “My mind works like lightning — one brilliant flash and it is gone.” The first saying admits that older age and its results is part of being human. The other admits that our minds aren’t perfect: To be human is to err — or go blank.

In a very true way, when we laugh at ourselves we show that we are authentic human beings who admit our faults. We don’t try to be someone we aren’t.

Humor also has a nice way of addressing a serious problem without becoming too serious. Take for example, “Hang up and drive.” My guess is that most of us become irritated when we get behind a driver who is talking on a car phone. When I passed this joke along to a friend, her immediate reaction was: “That hits the nail on the head. How I hate people who drive while on the phone.”

Humor surfaces irritations and allows us to confront them without becoming too confrontational. It surfaces deep-seated dislikes and roots them out without disturbing the ground around them.

Most of all, humor allows us to laugh at the oddities of life, which, if left to themselves, can get us down.

Take for example, “In God we trust — others we polygraph.” The daily news repeatedly carries stories of dishonesty. But we don’t like being told that noted CEOs cheated innocent people or that our athletes are dishonest. Humor gives us a breather from the list of disappointments that come from living in a world filled with dishonesty.

This breather gives us the energy to once again enter that world and deal more calmly with its vices.

The next time you’re out for a walk, be on the lookout for humorous T-shirts. One of them may be just what is needed to lighten your heart, help you breathe more deeply and feel more human.

True humor springs not more from the head than from the heart. It is not contempt; its essence is love. It issues not in laughter, but in still smiles, which lie far deeper.Thomas Carlyle
Humor is always based on a modicum of truth. Have you ever heard a joke about a father-in-law.Dick Clark
By starving emotions we become humorless, rigid and stereotyped; by repressing them we become literal, reformatory and holier-than-thou; encouraged, they perfume life; discouraged, they poison it.Joseph Collins
Anger and humor are like the left and right arm. They complement each other. Anger empowers the poor to declare their uncompromising opposition to oppression, and humor prevents them from being consumed by their fury.James H. Cone

HUMOR AS A WEAPON

Ever feel like you are a soldier in a losing battle? Sure, we all have. It’s a cruel world and getting kicked in the teeth every day doesn’t feel good. It can flat out be discouraging. But we do have a weapon to help us in this war, humor. In the immortal words of the great American writer Mark Twain “The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.”

Twain was right on, humor is a weapon. In fact, it’s the best weapon there is. Continue the analogy of humor as a weapon in a war. The fear of the weapon of humor was alive and well in Nazi Germany during World War II. The Nazi’s believed that humor was “a remnant of liberalism” that threatened the Nazi state. Not only was joke-telling made illegal, but people who told jokes were labeled “asocial” – a segment of society that was usually sent to concentration camps. In fact, Anti-Nazi humor was officially a crime that was punishable by death.

As a weapon though, humor is not a product of force, but of intellect. It doesn’t blow up buildings or destroy armies, but at the same time it can be used to kill a man stone dead, in the eyes of those whose respect and fear he needs the most. Humor’s subversive tendencies rub raw against the bureaucratic and hierarchical nature of any regimented organization or group. People who want to be in control are always weary of humor. “The Man” doesn’t like it when you laugh at his oppression!

Humor then, is the weapon of choice against many atrocities of our cruel world. Things like hopelessness, prejudice, depression, hypocrisy, oppression, intolerance, injustice, and bullying. A recent study reported that humor has similar effects on the brain as drug-induced euphoria. Researchers measured the brain activity in adults viewing funny versus non-funny cartoons. The brain scans showed that humor stimulates the reward centers of the brain, leading to the release of dopamine, a powerful neurotransmitter involved in the regulation of the pleasure-reward system.

Simply put, humor makes us feel good no matter how badly things might be going on around us.

Laugh a little!

The main characteristics of effective leadership are intelligence, integrity or loyalty, mystique, humor, discipline, courage, self-sufficiency and confidence.James L. Fisher
Humor is perhaps a sense of intellectual perspective: an awareness that some things are really important, others not; and that the two kinds are most oddly jumbled in everyday affairs.Christopher Morley

A Lack of Humor

There seems to be a definite lack of humor in the fields of religion, spirituality, self-help, psychology, and success-coaching. When you look at the big picture (eternity), the world and our little dramas and stage-plays are often hilarious, a joke, a comedy. Humor does a great job of cutting through the mask of the world-self (ego) that constantly takes himself, his opinions, his goals and problems much too seriously. Exaggerated seriousness is an indicator of a belief in a problem, that life is problematic, or a general lack of faith. Lack of Humor is also indicative that a person has something to hide. Because people with hidden agendas spend so much energy on suppression and repression, there is not much left for lightness and humor. I would be careful trusting anyone who never has a sense of humor, never laughs or is continuously uptight and grim. Lack of Humor can also indicate that someone is fixed in narrow doctrines and rigid rules/formulas rather than connected with the spontaneity of reality in the here and now. Humor allows us to handle life’s issues and resistances with more ease and clarity rather than assigning overblown importance and fear to them. Humor is the lubricant that keeps the engines of the body and spirit flowing smoothly.

There are none more abusive to others than they that lie most open to it themselves; but the humor goes round, and he that laughs at me today will have somebody to laugh at him tomorrow.Seneca
Men are happy to be laughed at for their humor, but not for their folly.Jonathan Swift

Humor is the ability to laugh at ourselves – to brighten any situation or conversation by finding the light, quirky dimensions. Humor helps us to forgive or to admit our own errors. It diffuses conflict. It makes hard times less heavy. When we cultivate humor, we are letting go of other emotions: bitterness, resentment, or anger. Like nothing else can, humor allows us see things in a new light: the foolishness of our preoccupations, our hypocrisies and inconsistencies, our tendency to see ourselves as the center of the universe. Used wrongly humor can be cruel or distancing. But in the service of other virtues, humor brings us together and helps us grow.

Good humor is one of the best articles of dress one can wear in societyWilliam Makepeace Thackeray

HUMOR AT WORK

According to a Robert Haft International 1985 survey only 15% of workers are fired because of lack of competence. The remaining 85% are let go because of their inability to get along with fellow employees. When asked about the qualities of an effective employee, senior administrators and human relations personnel often check humor as the number one choice for attributes of a desired employee.

Why has humor become a recognized asset in the workplace? Humor facilitates communication, builds relationships, reduces stress, energizes, and promotes attendance.

Humor provides a non-threatening medium through which an employee or employer can communicate with others without intensifying the emotional temperature of the relationship. Consider the frazzled secretary who posts the sign “I have only two speeds, and if this one isn’t fast enough then I’m sure you’re not going to like my other.” Or the somewhat scattered boss whose messy desk is complimented with a note that says, “A Creative Mess is better than Tidy Idleness.” The message is clear, yet the communication is done in a light and, therefore, less stressful way. The secretary’s sign pokes fun at the situation, and the boss’s note pokes some fun at himself.

The development of staff cohesion and a sense of team effort in the workplace can be effectively facilitated by the use of humor. Bulletin boards, electronic mail, intra-office memos, voice mail, etc. all offer mediums through which we can share humor with co-workers. Office jokes taking the seriousness of work lightly provide us with the opportunity to become more connected with others.

Work is often associated with stress, and we know that stress is one of the main causes of illness, absenteeism, employee burn-out, etc. Humor is a great stress reliever because it makes us feel good, and we can’t feel good and feel stress simultaneously. At the moment we experience humor, feelings like depression, anger, and anxiety dissolve. Humor and, its partner, laughter also reduce stress by activating the physiological systems including the muscular, respiratory, cardiovascular, and skeletal. In fact, we may even lose muscle control, as many of us have, when we laugh so hard that we lose control. When we laugh we feel physically better, and after laughter we feel lighter and more relaxed.

Humor energizes people and promotes good attendance. We know that all good speakers have many jokes, stories, and anecdotes that are shared in order to command attention and energize the audience. Humor wakes us up and increases our focus. An office bulletin board loaded with cartoons, one liners, jokes, pictures, etc. is one way to invite humor into the workplace. A few moments of humor at work can lead to increased productivity as the newly energized employee returns to his or her task.

In working environments where humor is supported there develops a culture that utilizes the humor to reduce stress and provide perspective. We have all heard humor directed at lawyers, doctors, scientists, engineers, business persons, teachers, administrators, etc.

Learning to laugh at ourselves and our work lightens the load, and at the end of the day we will find that we actually get more work done.

Humor must not professedly teach and it must not professedly preach, but it must do both if it would live forever.Mark
A sense of humor can help you overlook the unattractive, tolerate the unpleasant, cope with the unexpected, and smile through the unbearable.Moshe Waldoks

Humor as a Virtue

Is a sense of humor a virtue? In an informal sense of the term ‘virtue’, of course it is. A sense of humor is a trait nobody wants to be thought of as lacking, and one that we value in partners, friends and colleagues alike. Aristotle claims that pleasure is an index of the virtues: that is, what I take pleasure in is an index of my character.

The idea of a sense of humor as a virtue has its roots in Aristotle. In a short, often overlooked section of book IV of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle recognizes wit as a moral virtue, but chiefly because “one part of life is relaxation, and one aspect of this is entertaining conversation” According to Aristotle, a virtue is a hexis ([habitual] disposition). Moreover, it is “the disposition that makes one a good man and causes him to perform his function well”.

Aristotle defines a virtue as aiming to hit the mean between excess and deficiency. Moral virtue, he claims, “is concerned with feelings and actions” such as “fear, confidence, desire, anger, pity, and pleasure and pain generally”. Any of these, he continues, can be felt too much or too little. “But to have these feelings at the right times on the right grounds towards the right people for the right motive and in the right way is to feel them to an intermediate, that is to the best, degree; and this is the mark of virtue”. Excess and deficiency are here represented by the buffoon and the boor respectively. Buffoons are those “who go too far in being funny”: they are “vulgar persons who exert themselves to be funny at all costs, and who are more set upon raising a laugh than upon decency of expression and consideration for their victim’s feelings”. On the other hand, “those who both refuse to say anything funny themselves and take exception to the jokes of other people are regarded as boorish and sour”. As usual, Aristotle wants us to hit the mean: “those who exercise their humour with good taste are called witty [eutrapelos], as one might say ‘nimble-witted’”. Aristotle’s discussion places these qualities in the context of entertaining conversation of the kind befitting the Athenian nobleman. So he objects to the buffoon, for instance, because he says “things that a man of taste would never dream of saying, and some that he would not it is.”

Exposure to a virtuous sense of humor and the corresponding ‘moral vision’ of which it is a part – can be a useful tool in moral education. This supports a general claim of Aristotle’s: that moral character is developed via habituation.

Humor in Medicine: Humor used at the proper time can help break the ‘panic cycle’ that so often accelerates the patient’s illness or state of mind. Laughter can broaden the focus and diffuse the intensity of negative thoughts, thereby aiding the patient’s ability to gain control.

In conversation, humor is worth more than wit and easiness more than knowledge.George Herbert
WARNING: Humor may be hazardous to your illness.Ellie Katz

Don’t Take Yourself so Seriously

What would make humor a virtue? How does it help us to become better people? Those of us who tend toward too much seriousness have probably heard the advice: “You need to learn to laugh at yourself. Don’t take yourself so seriously.” This is good advice. Too much seriousness leads to inflated feelings of self-importance. If one lacks a sense of humor, it could be an indication of a lack of humility. Humility is the capacity for lucid, self understanding, not a lack of self-worth. The humble person understands their moral limitations; they do not minimize or inflate them. The humble person, borrowing Mark Twain’s words, has a redeeming awareness of their petty vices. Humility and humor seem to be coworkers in perfecting our character. As the popular Twain quote observes: “Man is the only animal the blushes. Or needs to.” We all need to blush from time to time. Humorless virtue isn’t really virtue, because it never blushes. Twain notes: “few things are harder to put up with than a good example.” The priggish moralist is full of pride. He needs a little prick of humor to let out the hot air and bring him down to earth. Humor helps us to become better people by keeping us humble in a positive way. It allows us to smile at our limitations, avoiding despair. It is a form of constructive criticism that we welcome in the front door. Humor allows us to relax our guarded ego. It humbles us without harming us.

I’m convinced that it’s energy and humor. The two of them combined equal charm.Judith Krantz
The hunger and thirst for knowledge, the keen delight in the chase, the good humored willingness to admit that the scent was false, the eager desire to get on with the work, the cheerful resolution to go back and begin again, the broad good sense, the unaffected modesty, the imperturbable temper, the gratitude for any little help that was given—all these will remain in my memory though I cannot paint them for others.Frederic William Maitland
Anyone without a sense of humor is at the mercy of everyone else.William Rotsler
Humor is a rubber sword–it allows you to make a point without drawing blood.Mary Hirsch
Humor is an almost physiological response to fear.Kurt Vonnegut
You haven’t achieved equality until you’re a legitimate target for humor.Scott Adams
There’s nothing like a gleam of humor to reassure you that a fellow human being is ticking inside a strange face.Eva Hoffman
Humor is the only test of gravity, and gravity of humor; for a subject which will not bear raillery is suspicious, and a jest which will not bear serious examination is false wit.Aristotle
Love is my Sword, Goodness my Armor, And Humor my Shield.Unknown

The Importance of Humor

Humor is an important virtue. The definition of virtue is a characteristic of moral excellence. Humor is characteristic that is important to moral excellence because it helps a person through many of life’s challenges. A person who is able to turn difficult, angering or sad situations into a chance to have a little giggle are less likely to act out or do something they regret when they are dealing with the situations and help others who may be dealing with the same situation to do the same. For example humor can diffuse a heated argument or allow a person who is extremely upset to realize there are still good things in life. It is difficult to obtain moral excellence if you are unable to deal with these situations well. People often flock to individuals who have a good sense of humor and there is a reason for this and that is because laughing makes people feel better also laughter is good for a person’s health. There is nothing more moral than helping another person become healthier and feel better. It is also argued that sharing wisdom is important to morality and humor can make sharing your wisdom much easier. If you are funny, people are more likely to listen to you and enjoy what you are saying therefore more likely to learn the wisdom you are sharing much better. Also a life without laughter is no life at all. Al of these things can be done through humor are virtuous then humor must be virtuous itself.

True humor is fun – it does not put down, kid, or mock. It makes people feel wonderful, not separate, different, and cut off. True humor has beneath it the understanding that we are all in this together.Hugh Prather
The universe may not always play fair, but at least it’s got a hell of a sense of humor.Michael Patrick King
Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place.Mark Twain

APRIL FOOLS DAY: HUMOR IS GOOD FOR THE SOUL

Scientists have concluded that humor plays an important role in American culture and society, and it also helps humans bond with each other.

Do you have any April Fools’ pranks in store?

Live Science spoke with various scientists to get their take on the upcoming joke-Filled holiday and possible benefits for prank partakers.

“It’s a way to vent built up energy and tension,” said Alex Boese, curator of his website called Museum of Hoaxes. “You give people one day to misbehave and then the important part being that at the end of a certain time they have to return to normal behavior,” he said. “It’s a ritual of enforcing the social norm of good behavior, because they have to accept the social norms again at the end of the day.”

This little release once in awhile is incredibly important to society, Joseph Boskin, a professor emeritus of history at Boston University, told Live Science: “I would suggest that this would be a much more violent society if not for all this humor. Humor ameliorates the tensions that exist in society,” he said. “I think its central to American culture.”

Pulling pranks on your siblings is also important for bonding. Being able to joke and poke fun with others helps to build social relationships, and laughter itself is stress relieving and can be good for your health.

“Humor of course breaks the ice,” said Edith Turner, an anthropologist at the University of Virginia. “One has a sense that laughter itself is a welcoming in, a recognition …it conveys what cannot be put into words.”

Interestingly, the April phenomenon of individuals pulling pranks on each other seems to be diminishing in the face of a corporate take on the holiday, where companies and news organizations release fake stories trying to trick consumers, say some researchers. While this kind of corporate joking is great, gentle personal pranking is important, too.

“Pranking in person, in workplaces and schools, and some children do it to their families, has been a part of April Fools’ Day for hundreds of years,” Boese said. “That kind of pranking is gentle fun and it’s kind of the same thing as teasing people. It serves as a way to bond people together.”

Gary Alan Fine, a sociologist at Northwestern University in Illinois, agrees. “Teasing is connected with, I guess, a sense of trust,” he told Live Science. “We can play these games with each other and we trust each other sufficiently that we won’t get angry, that we will be friends afterword, despite this momentary uncomfortableness. Pranks are an example of that.”

Pranks and hoaxes, specifically, play an important role in development, Boese suggests, because they play off of our gullibility: “As we grow from children to adults we have to learn not to be gullible. Children are by nature gullible because they have to accept what adults tell them.”

“It’s the process that going from childhood to adulthood where we have to learn that not everything people say is true,” Boese said. “That element plays to a very deep part of our psyche. [April Fools’ Day] is a constant reminder to us of the passage from childhood to adulthood.”

So, remind your friends this year that they were once kids, and relieve some stress by slipping a whoopee cushion under their seat.

A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.Clive James
I sometimes think that the saving grace of America lies in the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans are possessed of two great qualities- a sense of humor and a sense of proportion.Franklin D. Roosevelt
The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humorist makes fun of himself, but in so doing, he identifies himself with people–that is, people everywhere, not for the purpose of taking them apart, but simply revealing their true nature.James Thurber

Humor

Have you ever heard someone say, “She sure has a good sense of humor”? What did they mean by humor? Webster’s Dictionary defines humor as a “quality of imagination, quick to perceive the ludicrous or to express oneself in an amusing way.” Other terms used to define humor are fun caprice, and state of mind. When we speak of humor, we most often are thinking of disposition, state of mind, amusement, and – yes – laughter. In fact, we often use the term humor interchangeably with laughter.

The Importance of Humor

Your sense of humor is a powerful tool in improving your daily mood and emotional state. Humor helps you maintain a healthy lifestyle. It is increasingly promoted by health care professionals.

How Humor Works

Good humor or laughter can be therapeutic in a number of ways. Humor works to improve physical reactions in our bodies, and humor also helps us in everyday experiences.

Humor works to help in:

Reducing Stress – Researchers noted a significant drop in the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalinin in participants who watched a 60-minute funny video. This is important because those hormones can affect the immune system and weaken its ability to deter diseases.

Reducing Pain – Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers. Studies have shown that surgical patients who had humor as part of their postsurgical treatment had less perception of pain as compared with patients not having humor in their treatment.

Improving Cardiovascular System – Laughter increases the heart rate and the breathing rate, bringing oxygen into the body. This stimulates the circulatory system.

Lowering Blood Pressure – With an improved cardiovascular system, lymphatic fluids are increased, which promotes lowering of the blood pressure.

Promoting a Sense of Well-being – When a person hears a joke, the brain processes it before laughter begins. Laughing in a tense situation may be difficult, but laughter can put the situation into perspective and provide temporary relief from worry. A sense of humor helps us process and appreciate life’s moments that can provide joy and delight. Bill Cosby has made the statement, “If you can laugh at it, you can survive it.”

Two things reduce prejudice: education and laughter.Laurence J. Peters

Using Humor Effectively

For humor to be effective, it must not be hurtful or offensive to others. Laughing with ourselves and others, and not at others, is the key using humor effectively. In other words, make fun of the situation, not the person. Humor can be used to “break the ice” in a tense or serious situation. Humorous situations can uplift the mood of individuals or groups. After visiting a terminally ill relative, several family members were talking when one asked if anyone had a stick of gum. A cousin searched her purse and said, quite seriously, “No, but I have a suppository.” For a few minutes, the seriousness of the situation was relaxed. The family could embrace one another while laughing at an unexpected response to a simple question.

Humor can also spread goodwill. Humor is a way of unifying a group – a shared humorous experience increases the bonds between families, friends, or co-workers – as it creates rapport with others. Ben Franklin said it well, “Joy is not in things; it is in us.”

Joke-telling is not the only way to transmit humor. Here are three tips to get you going:

  1. Put humor in your surroundings.
  2. Use humor as a tool rather than as a weapon.
  3. Life doesn’t need to be boring nor dull. Build humor into your family culture.

Make Humor Part of Life

How can you make humor a part of your everyday life? Using laughter to de-stress can be an inexpensive way to put humor in your daily life. Start by making funny friends. Identify the people you know who use humor often and well. Maintain regular contact with those people. When you feel overstressed, make sure that you seek advice from one or more funny friends. “Joke Formulas” can provide structure and help us see the jokes life plays on us.

Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind. E. B. White
One doesn’t have a sense of humor. It has you.Larry Gelbart
A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.Dwight D. Eisenhower

LIFE SENTENCE

A woman awakes during the night to find that her husband was not in bed. She puts on her robe and goes downstairs to look for him. She finds him sitting in the kitchen with a cup of coffee, and he appears to be in deep thought, just staring at the wall. She watches as he wipes a tear from his eye and takes a sip of coffee. What’s the matter dear?, she whispers as she steps into the room. Why are you sitting down here this time of the night? The husband looks up from his coffee, Do you remember 20 years ago when we were dating, and you were only 16? he asks solemnly. Yes, I do she replies. The husband paused, the words were not coming easily. Do you remember when your father caught us in the back seat of my car making love? Yes I remember, said the wife, lowering herself into a chair beside him. The husband continued. Do you remember when he shoved the double barrel shotgun in my face and said, “Either you marry my daughter, or I’ll send you to jail for 20 years.” Yes I remember that too. She whispered softly.

He wiped another tear from his cheek and said, “I would be getting out today”!

A BEAUTY

A couple came by a Baptist parsonage on Saturday afternoon and asked if the pastor would marry them. The bride was wearing a veil and the pastor could not see her face. Following the ceremony, the groom said, “Preacher, how much do I owe you?” “There is no charge,” the pastor replied. “But I want to show my appreciation,” the groom said, and he gave him five dollars. At this point the bride took off her veil, and the minister, seeing her face, reached into his pocket and promptly gave the bridegroom three dollars change.

LAUGHTER CURES

Norman Cousins philosopher and speaker, had developed a life-threatening disease for which there was no known cure. Cousins checked out of the hospital and into a cheerful environment in a hotel. He began to watch funny movies, especially old candid camera programs. He found that one ten-minute period of laughter gave him two hours of painless sleep. Ten years later, by changing his dietary habits and laughing as long and as often as he wanted he was functioning at the maximum level, reversing all previous medical predictions.

The love of truth lies at the root of much humor.Robertson Davies
Humor is our way of defending ourselves from life’s absurdities by thinking absurdly about them.Lewis Mumford
Total absence of humor renders life impossible.Colette
Exercise ferments the humors, casts them into their proper channels, throws off redundancies, and helps nature in those secret distributions, without which the body cannot subsist in its vigor, nor the soul act with cheerfulness.Joseph Addison

Making a Presentation? – Use Humor

Humor’s ability to poison a presentation is exceeded only by its capacity to lift it to another level. Well-executed humor holds the power to deliver messages in an entertaining fashion and can jolt us into seeing things from a broader perspective. It can enliven dull topics, diffuse tense situations and help the speaker connect with the audience. Many professionals force themselves into the button-down and deadly serious mold – very different from the person they are at home. But most people would rather hear the wit and warmth of that relaxed person. Noted speechwriter Peggy Noonan says, “Humor is gracious and shows respect. It shows the audience you think enough of them to want to entertain them.” There’s no sin in being mildly amusing instead of eye-dabbingly funny, particularly if humor is connected to your message. Of course, you should use your judgment to avoid upsetting or offending the wrong people. Relate some gentle humor to the situation at hand, and you’ll probably be right on target. Just remember, there’s more to humor than slapstick silliness and joke telling. The safest jokes you can tell are about yourself. Self-effacing humor is least likely to offend others, and also finding humor in your own life will make it fresh and appropriate to the audience. It’s important to keep track of funny things that happen in your own life, especially those that relate to the messages of your speeches. But be sure that your stories are truly your own – never pretend that someone else’s story happened to you. Someone in the audience will know you’re not being honest. Even if you feel that you don’t have a funny bone in your body, there is hope. Start small. Add a funny line or two to memos and work your way up to sharing short stories over the cubicle wall. Once people begin to see that you do have a humorous side, you can expand your repertoire until you’re adding funny quotes to your presentations. Look for opportunities to exercise spontaneous wit and show off your lighthearted talents. Keep this up and before you know it, you’ll be adding humor to your speaking arsenal and you’ll become one of the outstanding presenters in your business.

Theory of Humor

By Alexander Chislenko

First, two explanations that are probably incorrect.

Sigmund Freud: One can’t express aggression and sexual drive directly, as it is prohibited in the society, so these desires get sublimated in telling “jokes”. If you look at jokes, they are either about somebody getting hurt, or they have sexual connotations.

Marvin Minsky: There are not only general social prohibitions. There are also things your mother told you not to do – like stick your finger into your eye. So when you tell a story about something stupid, you attack the rules of common sense, in a safe and socially acceptable manner.

There are some things though that both of these explanations do not account for:

1.  The biological origin of humor. The above explanations make humor appear as a function that is either programmed culturally, or if biological, then very recent – after the development of language, at least. These explanation suggest no ties with previous evolutionary development and pre-speech mental mechanisms.

2.  Social role of humor Seeing how much joy (emotional reward) people derive from humor, one could assume that there should be more serious social reason why such behavior would be rewarded, then letting out steam of urges.

3.  In many cases, people are ready to openly express more aggression, sexuality, and disagreement with authorities that they are suggesting in the jokes, so their jokes can hardly be viewed as a suppressed revolt. Peaceful people and innocent children find lots of things funny; children find things funny (such as peek-a-boo) that adults don’t and wouldn’t teach them; there is hardly any evidence that people with strongly suppressed anger or sexuality have more interest in jokes than people who do not have these interests, or feel free to express them.

4.  Most of references to sex, violence and stupidity are not funny. Let me try a few non-jokes:

◦Hitler died. ◦Bill is an idiot. ◦Alice and Bob had sex and then Alice killed Bob by mistake.

Are you laughing yet? Why not? These sentences contained all suggested ingredients of jokes. Maybe, these levels of references are socially acceptable? I think so, but we couldn’t make these sentences funny by making “forbidden” references more explicit. Maybe they were too brief? Then imagine how much you’d laugh at a research paper on prostate cancer and corresponding mortality rates. Or maybe, some crucial ingredient of humor just wasn’t there? Then what is that missing ingredient?

5.  There are lots of things we consider funny that do not have anything to do with sex, violence or stupidity. The above theories offer no explanations.

Why do kids consider peek-a-boo funny? Why is it funny when I pull a pig out of my pocket during a conversation?

How about the following jokes: (bear with me, it’s for scientific purpose)

◦Computers are not intelligent. They just think they are.

◦If today is the first day of the rest of your life, what was yesterday?

◦A smile is a powerful weapon – you can even break ice with it.

◦Of all the things you wear, your expression is the most important.

◦Living on Earth includes an annual free trip around the Sun.

I hope you found at least some of these funny. Now, how many references to sex, violence and stupidity did you see there?

Enough of criticism. Now I want to suggest an explanation of humor that explains all of the above cases and has apparent biological roots and social utility.

The keyword here is “surprise”. Or, “twist”. Something unexpected. Something that breaks the rules – not the social rules! – but the rules of logic, of common sense, breaks your expectations. Like a pig pulled out of a pocket. Or the peek-a-boo where a child finds the transition [now you see me – now you don’t] amusing, but adults, for whom it is not new, don’t. Or a “punch line” that adds a twist that all the joke was built for.

It is programmed into us biologically, to look for all kinds of exceptions in the outside world: changes in the level of signals, something suddenly appearing, blinking, bursting, jumping, etc. This attention to surprises is a result of millions of years of evolution, and can be traced from bacteria to humans. It is natural to expect that increasingly intelligent organisms would pay attention to increasingly complex surprises – including those that challenge their internal models of the world by suggesting unexpected connections between different ideas and interpretations. I heard a story about a dog that had its favorite joke, but my model example here would be closer to modern humans – e.g., a group of young Neanderthals. The first and most important common project of humans was joint construction of the mental models of the world. The cooperation went through the language, by sharing facts for building models, passing models that seemed right – AND sharing unexpected twists that either challenge the models, or help define limits of their applicability, or teach when [not] to use them, or just train your brain on amusing puzzles.

Neanderthals were too stupid (just as modern humans) to consciously seek and share semantic surprises “for betterment of the common knowledge base”. Built-in neural loop producing pleasure upon detection of semantic twists helped a lot.

So, “funny” is an internal reaction to humor; it produces pleasure. Smile and laughter are social expressions of pleasure – but not just from humor. We smile or laugh when we see little kids play, or win lottery, or think of something nice, or are just happy. Humor is just one of the inputs for this reaction. When we tell people things, we try to make sure that all their elements are interesting, so we include twists, references to sex, things they may like to hear or see or things their enemies wouldn’t like to see. Analogously, when we have a party, we provide space, drinks, light, heat, music, food, chairs, etc. This doesn’t mean those are the same thing – they are different, have different reasons, and under other conditions may not be present together.

In the course of history, people learned to abuse the natural pleasures they used to receive from simple natural urges and sensations. Pleasures we derived from sweets, fats, watching rapidly moving objects and noticing simple contradictions and little logical surprises that used to be important for finding better food, avoiding predators, and learning new things, have long been artificially satisfied with donuts, videogames, and jokes. If we want to understand their nature though, we should not play with current cultural artifacts, but look into the original reasons why these things were developed. And their roots were all developed for one purpose – to help the animals navigate the environment.

Unfortunately, humans are still wired as if they lived in the jungle. They could understand the environment a lot better if they studied more science and read some good philosophy – but they are still trying to get pleasure exercising their reactions to [simulated/perverted] fast-moving game objects, or sharing silly little twists of logic. Many people realize quite well that these things are a waste of time, but they still can’t help it: the atavistic urges are still running us. Sometimes people try to combine “learning and fun”, but this requires a lot of tricks, as most natural implementations of “fun” have lost their intended utility quite a while ago.

This also explains why there are so many more freelance comedians than philosophers. And why inventors of good videogames are much richer than authors of great theories. It’s because the comparisons of their values are performed by neural networks taken from animals.

Humor is just another defense against the universe.Mel Brooks
Humor comes from self-confidence. There’s an aggressive element to wit.Rita Mae Brown

Laughter Can Cure

We have known for ages that laughter is healthy, but the trick is how to scientifically prove it. Doctor Miller and his colleagues are definitely up to something.

Scientific American reports: Cardiologist Michael Miller and colleagues at the University of Maryland tested blood flow in 20 healthy men and women after they watched 15-to-30-minute clips of the comedy movies Kingpin and There’s Something About Mary and a stressful film, the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan. The researchers measured blood flow both before each viewing and one minute after it ended.

“We wanted to see whether laughter induced a vascular response,” Miller explains.

Prior research inspired the team to conduct the experiment. A series of questionnaires administered by cardiologists to sufferers of coronary heart disease revealed that patients who had suffered a heart attack failed to find the humor in a situation, such as wearing the same outfit to a party, 40 percent more often than their healthy counterparts.

“We didn’t know whether that was cause and effect or just part and parcel of having the disease,” Miller says.

They decided to investigate the possible healthy effects of laughter by measuring vascular dilation after people chuckled at funny bits or reacted to intense images. In total, the researchers gathered 160 measurements of blood flow in the brachial artery, which connects the shoulder and elbow, from the 10 men and 10 women. While laughing, 19 of the subjects increased healthy blood flow by an average of 22 percent. And comparing the amused and stressful states brought on by film clips, more than 50 percent more blood flowed when laughing, according to the paper published in the current issue of Heart.

In fact, being light-hearted boosted blood flow about the same amount as light exercise or drugs that lower cholesterol. Drama-induced stress, on the other hand, cut that rate by as much as angry memories or mental calculations.

“What that suggests, at the very least, is that laughter on a regular basis will undo some of the excess stress we face in our everyday lives,” Miller notes. “Patients at risk for cardiovascular disease should loosen up a bit.”