Two Positive Psychologists Walk into a Bar

“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

Sometimes it’s obvious that I really do have a well-developed sense of humor.

Other times, not so much. At least according to my 9-year-old daughter and my 50-something husband who, truth be told, both find anything poo-, pee-, or fart-related the paragon of hilarity. Me? I just roll my eyes, sigh deeply and attempt to change the subject.

I like to think my brand of humor is a little more sophisticated. Lucy working at the chocolate factory, for example, or Roger’s mannerisms on Mad Men.

What tickles our funny bone may be personal, but there’s good reason why heartfelt amusement is one of the top 10 positivity emotions highlighted in Barbara Fredrickson’s ground-breaking book “Positivity.”

Humor helps us cope with stress and adversity by broadening our perspective.

It can smooth awkward social interactions. Uncomfortable situations somehow feel more manageable when we can joke about them.

Letting the funnies in can also help when dealing with bigger challenges. Dacher Keltner found that people who spontaneously experienced amusement and laughter when discussing a deceased spouse showed better emotional adjustment in the years following the spouse’s death than those unable to enjoy funny memories.

And then there’s Bronnie Ware’s experience caring for dying people. She reports that among their top regrets was a wish they’d let themselves be silly more often.

Learning to laugh

I’m not sure if I’ll ever fall on the floor laughing about bodily functions the way my family members do. But it’s clear that not taking ourselves too seriously, and feeling benevolent amusement about the foibles of human nature and imperfections of the world, lightens our load.

Like yawns, humor can be highly contagious, so go ahead and give in to that irrepressible urge to share your heartfelt amusement with others. They’ll feel lighter, too!

Don’t feel funny? You can change that! Positive Psychology research over the past 20+ years has inevitably led to the central conclusion that positivity is a skill you can learn. It’s really no different than learning to play the piano: If you practice the skills of well-being, you’ll get better at it.

Knowing that humor is a matter of personal taste, here are a few ideas to inject a chuckle into your day and help you practice your own brand of humor.

  • When Harry Met SallyObserve others’ enjoyment and good humor. I stayed up late watching these Car Karaoke videos when I discovered them. And of course there’s always the classic comedic scene from “When Harry met Sally.
  • Keep an eye out for the unexpected. Humor is all about surprise. When an idea or image or event is unusual, odd, strange, or in any way incongruous with what we’re expecting … it can give us a giggle.
  • Let the funny people help you out. Check out this great weekly source of humor and inspiration: HumoratWork blog.
  • And back to Mad Men, here’s one of Peggy Olson’s last scenes in the series that’s both funny and touching, a lovely combination. (Spoiler alert: skip this one if you haven’t seen the series and still plan to.).

How much humor can you handle?

In the meantime, continue to lead your life with a focus on G.R.A.C.E. [Grow Relationships & Choreograph Efforts]…enjoy yourself and the moment…and lead with confidence!

May the (positivity) force be with you.

.. Mary Ellen (ME)

Mary Ellen Sanajko
Leadership Coach & Trainer