Cultivating a Sense of Humour

Tuesday, March-18-14


By Dave Hood

Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh.—W.H Auden

A woman wakes up, reads the bad news in the paper, listens to classical music, and worries about her finances. She drives to work and begins her stressful job as a manager for a high-pressured corporation. Throughout the day, she doesn’t smile or laugh. Instead, she is focused on completing a project, which will earn her compliments. When she turns home, she watches the news and serious documentary on television, and then goes to bed exhausted, listening to a serious talk show on the threat of war. She wonders why her life is so serious, lacking in pleasure. She’s unaware that her quality of life and well-being could be improved by developing a sense of humour.

Portrait of a Person with a Sense of Humour

Do you have a sense of humour? Humour is a mindset, an attitude, and willingness to search for and discover people, places, experiences, that are amusing or funny. A person who possesses a sense of humour has the ability to appreciate funny people and experiences that evoke laughter. A person who has a sense of humour can usually express it by telling a joke, by sharing an amusing anecdote, by laughing at themselves.

People who like to laugh also embrace humor in popular culture, such as visiting a comedy club, watching a funny film, reading a humorous novel or column in the newspaper, viewing a sitcom on television, identifying and laughing at humour in daily conversation, noticing humour unfolding before their eyes on the street or subway.

Though there are many opportunities to experience humour, not everyone finds the same things funny. In other words, humor is subjective. One person might enjoy raunchy jokes from a stand-up comic, while another prefers reading a column in the newspaper by a humorist. Yet, both people experience the pleasure of humor, and they know what makes them laugh. Most likely, they are also aware of the benefits of having a sense of humour.

Some researchers believe that we are born with sense of humour, but this has still not been proven. It’s more likely that a person learns from personal experience and other people how to express laughter and share humour.

Importance of Developing a Sense of Humour

Why is a sense of humour important? There are many health benefits. Humour helps you cope with adversity or tragedy. It relieves tension and helps you relax. It improves your mood. When you laugh, your brain releases endorphins, which make you feel happy. Humour reduces stress and anxiety, and it will improve your immune system, which aids in fighting virus, infection, and other illnesses.

There are also many social benefits. Humour breaks the ice with strangers and helps you to bond. It is one of life’s inexpensive, simple pleasures. It improves your attractiveness in the eyes of others. Most men and women seek mates who have a sense of humour.  Most people seek friends and mates who have a sense of humour. Most people admire a person with a good sense of humour.

Most important, a sense of humour will increase the amount of pleasure and enjoyment in your life. And, according to positive psychologists, a sense of humour will improve your well-being .

Popular Types of Humour

Humour is subjective and situational. That is why each person who desires to improve their sense of humour must discover what makes them laugh. They can do this by exploring different types of humour. Consider investigating the following types of humour:

  • Black comedy makes light of serious topics or situations, as well as taboo subjects. Stanley Kubrick’s film “Doctor Strangelove,” a film about the threat of a nuclear war by accident, is the quintessential example of black humor. The popular sitcom “M.A.S.H” also relied on this type of humour.
  • Blue Humour (off-coloured humour) is crude, vulgar, and raunchy. The comedian often shares dirty jokes or raunchy stories to get laughs. Sex, violence, race, ethnicity, politics—these are some of the common themes. Most stand-up comedians use this type of humour.
  • Deadpan is a type of delivery in which the comedian tells a joke or shares an amusing anecdote straight-faced, without emotion or body language. Sitcom’s, such as “Seinfeld,” “ Arrested Development,” “The Office,”  have deployed this type of humour.
  • Farcical humour relies on exaggeration, the nonsensical, and the absurd. The sitcom “I Love Lucy” was based on farce.
  • Highbrow comedy appeals to the wealthy. To understand this type of humour, a person will have an understating of sophistication and culture. Examples include the films “Some Like it Hot” with Jack Lemmon, “The Jerk” with Steve Martin, “Ghostbusters,” and “Royal Tenenbaums.”
  • Irony is a type of humour used in all types of comedy, such as by stand-up comics, by writers of fiction or poetry, by journalists, and by screenwriters. There are two types of irony: Verbal and situational. When verbal irony is used, the intended meaning of the dialogue is opposite to the literal meaning. For example, a person makes a mistake and the other person who witnesses the mistake says, “Well done. Time for a standing ovation!” When verbal irony is used, the result of the action is different than the intended or desired action. For example, a person trains diligently for a marathon, and then breaks his leg while training.
  • Parody (also called spoof or lampoon) is a type of comedy that imitates, mocks, trivializes another artist’s style or artistic work. In the 70s, Monty Python used the technique of parody in their films, for instance, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Other films that have relied on parody include “Airplane and “The Naked Gun.”
  • Satire mocks or ridicules folly and shortcomings of a person. “The Daily Show” and “Saturday Night Live” are based on this type of humour.
  • Screwball comedy is unbalanced and irrational—similar to the farce of theatre. Humour arises from misunderstanding, mistaken identity, mismatch of characters, and absurd situations. The memorable film “It Happened One Night,” starring Clarke Gable and Claudette Colbert, used this type of humour. The sitcom “Three’s Company” also relied on this type of humour.
  • Self-Deprecating humour is a comedy film, sitcom, or stand-up act in which the comedian belittles himself or herself because of a mishap, folly, mistake, defect of character, or shortcoming. Comedians Joan Rivers, Don Knotts, and Woody Allen popularized this type of humour.
  • Sketch comedy and Variety Shows use vignettes or short scenes, performed by comedians and comic actors to get laughs. Examples include Jack Gleason, Bob Hope, Dean Martin, and “Saturday Night Live.”

Twelve Tips for Improving Your Sense of Humour

Humour is not genetically determined, and so you learn to laugh. Humour is also subjective in the sense that what another person laughs at, you might not. How can you cultivate a sense of humour? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Lighten up and learn to laugh at yourself. Don’t take things personally and develop a “light-hearted” view of life. In other words, stop taking yourself so seriously. Everyone makes mistakes. Often a good laugh will prevent frustration or anger. If there’s a mistake or accident, ask yourself two question: Can it be repaired? Is it all that important? Find some thread of humour in the situation.
  2. Search for humour in your daily life—the odd, bizarre, ridiculous. To do this, you must become aware of conversations, people, and situations. Use your senses to make mental notes of things that are amusing or humorous. An easy way to find humour is to notice how some people dress or act in public.
  3. Read the comic strips each day and cut out your favorites. Some of my favorite comic strips are Cornered, Bliss, Bizzaro, and Speed bump. You can read them for free online at Go Comics.
  4. Embrace the humour of popular culture.  For instance, attend a stand-up comedy show at Yuk Yuks or Second City. Watch sitcoms on television.  See a romantic comedy film at the cinema.
  5. Learn to tell a joke. A joke includes a set-up and punch-line. The set-up includes premise and background details. The punch-line is the line that generates a laugh or amusement. When telling a joke, use the element of surprise. Don’t tell the reader a joke is coming. Example: “Here’s a joke.” Just tell the joke when the time is right.
  6. Read a column in the paper by humorist or a book by funny authors, such as those of writers, David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell.
  7. Associate with people who have a sense of humour. Some people are just too serious. They are unwilling or unable to laugh at anyone or anything. If you tell a joke, they’ll frown or tell you, “You’re crazy.” To develop your humour, hang out with people who enjoy a good joke and who desire to laugh.
  8. Learn a few humour techniques, such as exaggeration, deadpan, satire. When a situation presents itself, use one of these techniques in your daily life.
  9. Schedule time for playful activities with your kids or your dog and then do something silly.
  10. Involve yourself in activities that are fun and might inspire you to laugh, such as bowling, karaoke, miniature golf, tossing a frisbee, hopping on a ride at an amusement theme park.
  11. Keep a humour journal. Jot down details of people or events or situations you find amusing. Save jokes or one-liners. As well, learn to write humour, such as satire, irony, exaggeration, understatement. Share your amusing anecdotes and funny jokes with family and friends and co-workers.
  12. Determine your humour style. Not everyone laughs at the same comedians, comedy films, jokes, sitcoms. Therefore you must discover what makes you laugh. Become a connoisseur of different types of comedy.

Final thoughts

Humour is subjective. Not everyone laughs at the same types of humour or comedy. If you lack a sense of humour, consider improving it. Begin by “lightening up” and then find out what types of humour provokes you to laugh.

Why make an effort to appreciate humour? It will add pleasure to your life, assist you in dealing with difficult people and situations, help you cope with stress, reduce tension and enable relaxation, as well as improve your mental and physical health. Most important, humour will boost your overall happiness and well-being. Mark Twain, the well-known author, once said, “Humour is mankind’s greatest blessing.”

Additional Reading
Lapham`s Quarterly, Winter 2014, Comedy.


About Dave Hood

Lover of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Professional photographer and writer. Without the arts, life would be rather mundane, like a walk down the same old path on a dull day.
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