More Humor, Lightness, and Brightness18 February 2021
David Fessell :
It's a common sentiment; maybe you've even felt it yourself. It feels so good to help others laugh. Good humor and laugher bring joy. It helps us cope and tap inner resources like resiliency1. With the many challenges of the past year, there's a deep longing for more laughter.
Importantly, humor can also help creativity and learning2,3. Done well, it bolsters social bonds1,4. In short, humor and its benefits can help us self-regulate and come together for support.
Yes. Having more humor starts with a simple mindset: Humor is a skill you can cultivate5,6. If you think about it as spreading joy, rather than trying to be funny, it brings ease and lightness. Several tips, techniques, and evidence-based strategies are offered below.
And while you're at it, bring gentle, kind, and appropriate humor. Leave the sarcasm, demeaning, or mean-spirited styles behind. Studies indicate these types of humor are not helpful for increasing well-being1,4,6. Share the friendly flavors of mirth and levity. You'll feel a lift, more lightness and brightness, and others will as well.
Start by observing others' humor: listen, laugh, and learn. Be a humor sponge. Websites, memes, funny friends, TV shows old and new, and cartoon sites like Cartooncollections.com can all be great sources. Observe a funny friend. Watch what they do and how they do it. Add the spice of humor to your calls, texts, and meetings6. Compliment your funny friends by retelling and revisiting their funny stuff. You can spread joy by simply noticing, appreciating, and sharing good humor.
It's always a good idea to know your audience, what's appropriate for the individuals and the context. Be aware that humor may unfold differently for extroverts versus introverts. A more introverted friend might feel comfortable sharing fun and laughs in a one-on-one situation but may feel more inhibited in a group or when in the spotlight. By noticing the nuances and planning accordingly, you can help the humor to flow with ease and empathy.
Jokes, memes, and cartoons can be great to share and spread laughs. It's also helpful to know that most humor is organic, occurring spontaneously in everyday life4. Take a moment and think about all the funny things pets, kids, and especially adults do by accident. Likely you have some embarrassing stories that, with the passage of time, have become flat out funny. Not long ago I heard a strange noise and thought my house was being invaded. It was terrifying, until I saw the true cause: a wild turkey attacking his own reflection in a glass door. Share and celebrate the levity and lightness that unfolds in everyday life.
While spontaneous fun is the most frequent source of humor, evidence-based "humor habits" can take levity to another level. Three simple strategies have shown to be highly effective for increasing your happiness7:
Use a humor journal: at the end of the day, write down the three funniest things from the day, and your feelings about them.
Count the funny things from the day and note the total every night.
Consciously add jokes, comics, funny videos, memes, and more, to your day.
The act of recording the fun is important. It slows down the process and makes space for more savoring and enjoyment. The principle of "priming" may be at play as well, we get more of what we focus on; in this case more fun to savor and spread6.
Just as journaling can help sharpen your humor skills, so can intentionally cultivating your humor identity. Visualize yourself having an abundance of funny ideas and using them to spread laughs, joy, and ease. As you build and deepen your skills, your "humor energy" will energize others. Good humor is a generative gift: the more you give and share, the more you're likely to receive.
Spreading laughter and the joy it brings is a learnable skill. Adopt a humor mindset. Start finding, and sharing, the funny. Practice, track, and celebrate your successes. Above all, keep on learning and laughing.
(David Fessell, M.D., is on faculty at the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan.