Some people are exceptionally witty or humorous in the way they communicate. Communication is inevitable in work, school, friendships, family, and other communities. A sense of humor provides an environment where people can talk at ease, share good times, and build positive relationships. Humor also reduces stress in relationships, improves mental health, and plays a major role in communication. How can we cope with humor through our difficulties in life?
The 4 Ways to Cope Through Humor
Humor is a word with a diverse concept that can be viewed in a myriad of ways.
Humor is an elusive and multifaceted concept that includes wit, laughter, joking, comedy, kidding, teasing, clowning, mimicking, satire, and freak enjoyment of the imperfect.Robinson, V.M. (1978), University of Manchester
Humor, the capacity to express or perceive what’s funny, is both a source of entertainment and a means of coping with difficult or awkward situations and stressful events.Martin, A. (2006), University of Western Ontario
As described by experts in the field above, humor refers to expression and communication we regard as funny or amusing. If we delve deeper, humor can be classified into four main categories: aggressive humor, affiliative humor, self-defeating humor, and self-enhancing humor.
1. Aggressive Humor
Aggressive humor is typically aimed towards others, primarily through sarcasm and teasing. This humor category may also include tongue-in-cheek, satire, dark humor, and ridicule, which all have cathartic effects or induce a sense of superiority. It can come off negative because it attacks or slanders others, but it can work if there’s a strong psychological bond. To someone close, it could send an indirect message that says, “I feel close enough to make fun of you.” This can actually be comforting, especially to a good friend. Of course, depending on how and when you use this type of humor, it may hurt others, so proceed with caution.
2. Affiliative Humor
Affiliative humor refers to puns, wordplay, and other forms of humor that are mainly playful and trivial. Humor can be playful when the motivation is to create a jovial atmosphere, entertain, or when the subject stays light-hearted. Affiliative humor can effectively lighten the mood when we need a change. Unlike aggressive humor, anyone can use affiliative humor regardless of the degree of relationship.
3. Self-Defeating Humor
Self-defeating humor includes self-deprecating jokes when we reprimand ourselves through belittling, undervaluing, or when we’re excessively modest. There is good potential for this kind of humor to make positive impressions and build smooth relationships. However, excessive self-deprecation also risks the development of low self-esteem and diminished happiness. It may seem beneficial to pose as the main target of humor, as it does not hurt anyone, nor would it risk the relationship. Still, excessive self-mockery can be destructive, and we should be careful how we use it.
4. Self-Enhancing Humor
Self-enhancing humor is expressed through self-objectification, usually targeting yourself to create humor in a good-natured way. For example, laughing at your own failure is good for health because it can turn potential stress into a positive factor. At a glance, it may sound similar to self-defeating humor, but it differs in the sense that it doesn’t attack self-esteem. Let’s look at an example of humor from the perspective of a person who is not confident about their appearance.
・Self-defeating humor: “I’ve never been complimented by anyone before, but yesterday I went to the hospital with a sprained ankle, and the doctor said, “The arch of your foot is exquisite.” The only thing about me worth complimenting is the arch of my foot!”
・Self-enhancing humor: “I’ve never been complimented by anyone before, but yesterday I went to the hospital with a sprained ankle, and the doctor said, “The arch of your foot is exquisite.” That was my first ever compliment about my foot! I’m glad I sprained my ankle.”
As you can see, self-enhancing humor takes a positive outlook overall.
Self-enhancing humor also requires a certain level of calmness to view things objectively and to gain further insight. Self-enhancing humor also prevents us from losing our minds from hopelessness, difficulties, and failure. This kind of humor restores a sense of normalcy and is the most effective in relieving stress.
Humor as a Coping Tool to Relieve Stress
As you can see, there are many different types of humor, but not everyone can use humor effectively. Some people may find it difficult to come up with a witty response on the spot. If so, just engaging in a humorous conversation, environment, or event is sufficient to help us relax and relieve stress.
Many studies indicate that humor effectively reduces stress. For example, nurses at a hospital found that they can alleviate delirium symptoms (a mental disorder with delusions and hallucinations) by communicating with the patient through humorous gestures. Humor has been drawing attention for its coping mechanism to manage stress and regulate our mental health. We can simply say or act upon jokes to lighten a situation, reduce stress, and combat depression.
For some, humor is used as an ice-breaker to relieve tension on the first encounter with someone. For others, just laughing together with close friends and family is as effective. There are many different ways we can share what we find humorous, depending on our personalities and culture.
Find Humor in Life Every Day
Laughter is an essential element in maintaining our mental health every day. Medically speaking, laughter boosts the immune system and helps prevent physical ailments, including cancer.
Laughter and humor brighten up our lives. Make casual humor out of your own mistakes, come up with a funny analogy, or try to engage with someone who has a good sense of humor. Regular exposure to humor and laughter will surely help relieve some stress!
If you’re looking for more tips on how to care for your mental health, check out some of our past blog posts!
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Image: UnsplashHayama, D., & Sakurai, S. (2005). A Review of the Moderating Effect of Humor on Stress. Tsukuba Psychological Research (30), 87-97
Ishihara, S. (2015). The Effects of Humor Coping with Interpersonal Stress on Psychological Health. Bulletin of Human Science (36), 67-77.
Kunugimoto, N., & Yamasaki, M. (2011). The Effect of Humor Coping with Interpersonal Stress on the Relationship Between Cynical Hostility, Conscious Defensiveness, and Depression. The Japanese Journal of Psychology 82(1), 9-15. doi: 10.4992/jjpsy.82.9
Martin, R. A. (2006). The Psychology of Humor: An Integrative Approach (1st ed.). London, United Kingdom: Academic Press.
Miyashiro, K., & Tomita, M. (2019). The Uses of Aggressive Humor for the Relations with their Friends in College Students. Japanese Cognitive Science Society: 36th Annual Proceedings, 2-25.
Robinson, V.M. (1978). Humor in Nursing. In C. E. Carlson & B. Blackwell (Authors), Behavioral Concepts and Nursing Intervention (2nd ed.) (pp. 191-210). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Lippincott.
Tsukawaki, R., Fukada, H., & Higuchi, M. (2011). Process Effects of Expression of Humor on Anxiety and Depression. The Japanese Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 51(1), 43-51. doi: 10.2130/jjesp.51.43