It touches upon nearly every facet of life — 90 percent of men and 81 percent of women report that a sense of humor is the most important quality in a partner, it's a crucial quality for leaders , and it's even been shown to improve cancer treatments. There's no doubt that humor is a life skill that everybody needs, but how do we define it?
Can it be taught? The best way to kill a joke is to explain it, but psychologists have tried to do so anyhow. There are three main theories on what humor is and where it comes from:. Relief theory argues that laughter and humor are ways of blowing off psychological steam, a way to release psychic energy.
That's why jokes told at funerals are often met not with silence, as a somber occasion such as that might merit, but with uproarious laughter instead. Superiority theory was originally formulated by Plato and Aristotle to explain a specific kind of humor: why we laugh at other's misfortunes. In this theory, humor is a means of declaring one's superiority over others.
If you're looking to cultivate a sense of humor to improve your leadership skills, this is not the kind you want to acquire. Incongruity theory argues that humor arises when two contrasting, distinct ideas are mingled. Humor often subverts expectations, and punchlines are often the result of an unexpected reversal. Consider Oscar Wilde's "Work is the curse of the drinking classes" — it's funny because it both reverses a common phrase and because it subverts a more conventional way of looking at the world.
Admittedly, this dry explanation probably doesn't make it seem funny in the slightest right now. Being funny is possibly one of the best things you can do for your health. You can almost think of a sense of humor as your mind's immune system. People at risk for depression tend to fall into depressive episodes when exposed to some kind of negative stimuli, and afterward, it becomes easier and easier for them to relapse into depression.
However, reframing a negative event in a humorous light acts as a kind of emotional filter, preventing the negativity from triggering a depressive episode.
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Humor doesn't just guard against depression. It also improves people's overall quality of life.
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Researchers have found that people who score highly in certain types of humor have better self-esteem, more positive affect, greater self-competency, more control over anxiety, and better performance in social interactions. Not all kinds of humor are made equal, however. In the same study, the researchers identified four types of humor: affiliative humor, or humor designed to strengthen social bonds; self-enhancing humor, which is akin to having a humorous view of life in general; aggressive humor, such is mocking others; and self-defeating humor, in which an individual encourages jokes that have themselves as the target or self-deprecate.
The positive contributions mentioned above only occurred when individuals scored highly in affiliative and self-enhancing humor, while aggressive and self-defeating humor was associated with poorer overall well-being and higher anxiety and depression. So, when cultivating your sense of humor, it's important to strive for the right kind — besides, it's a crummy thing to make fun of others, anyhow.
In addition to working as a mental immune system, research has shown that humor can actually improve your physical immune system. Laughter can also improve cardiovascular health and lowers heart rates, blood pressure, and muscular tension. Aside from improving your health, laughter can also lead to greater creativity and productivity tool as well.
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A study from Northeastern University found that volunteers who watched a comedy were measurably better at solving a word association puzzle that relied on creative thinking as compared to control groups that watched horror films or quantum physics lectures. This is because laughter lights up the anterior cingulate cortex, an area of the brain associated with attention and decision-making. Another study measured people's performance on a brainstorming task and found that participants who were asked to come up with a New Yorker -style caption generated 20 percent more ideas than those who did not.
The benefits of a good sense of humor are so profound that colleges such as Stanford are offering business courses on humor in the workplace.
The big goal? To teach students how "to achieve business objectives, build more effective and innovative organizations, cultivate stronger bonds, and capture more lasting memories. The professors believe humor has the power to "make and scale positive change in the world. At Big Think Edge, we asked actor John Cleese to teach viewers how to hone their sense of humor to improve quality of life and creative intelligence. You can watch a sample of Cleese's course in the video below:. Every human has an innate sense of humor, of course, but it's pretty evident that not everybody has a good sense of humor.
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Subscribe to get latest updates from this magazine in your inbox. It also provides an archive of the many legal opinions, pleadings, and other legal documents that are funnier intentionally or not than they have any right to be. Mostly funny pictures, funny videos, jokes, Internet culture and other unusual stuff from the intertubes.