The bonding aspects of shared humor

Having a good sense of humor is an admirable trait. Most people enjoy a clever comment or a light-hearted quip even in times of distress, provided that it does not minimize the gravity of an unfortunate situation, is not at the expense of another individual or does not distract one from addressing the urgency needed in problem solving. How can we sensitively make the distinction between lightening another’s immediate burden and hampering his or her focused problem solving?

Most people enjoy the type of humor that does not belittle anyone, recite misguided verbal utterances or react to acute stress with blatantly foolish verbal expressions. An honestly humorous expression is often rooted in some misunderstanding, puns, or play of words that are similar sounding but are of very different meaning.

In “The relationship of teachers’ use of humor in the classroom to immediacy and student learning,” Joan Gorham and Diane Christophel reported that, “The amount and type of humor recorded by 206 students as observations of things teachers did to show ‘a sense of humor’ were analyzed and correlated with overall immediacy and perceived cognitive and affective learning outcomes.”

An article in Harvard Business School by Alison Beard, titled “Leading with Humor,” states, ”Every chuckle or guffaw brings with it a host of business benefits. Laughter relieves stress and boredom, boosts engagement and well-being, and spurs not only

Sharing laughter, even for a moment, creates a bond between the parties. It connects them emotionally and cognitively and temporarily levels any other differences in their intellectual, cognitive or task oriented perspectives. The sense of “belonging” through a shared view is affirming each individual and is fortifying and bonding their connection.

Jokes are more deeply unifying if they are the characterization of a mutual experience, opinion, or even a failure that both people are honest enough to have shared together. Jokes may be distancing if they are at the expense of another, whom one of the jokesters actually likes and respects, or his or her affinity to delight at the expense of another being feels immoral to the listener. Telling jokes should be avoided in most settings. Expressing humor, especially self-deprecating humor, if honestly applied, is most effective in encouraging positive bonding with others.

Some people are comfortable enough to include others in describing their failures. Self-deprecating humor is generally most appreciated by all, including the one who shares his or her own shortcomings. Others cringe at the thought of appearing less than competent and successful in life. There is nothing “right” or “wrong” about any individual’s proclivity to share or hide his or her imperfections, as long as it does not involve an unfair assignment of his or her faults to others.

If you have a good sense of humor:

  • Share it with others as you avoid humor at the expense of another being.
  • Feel free to identify and share life circumstances that are funny even with those who do not chuckle readily.
  • Model sensitivity to those who shy away from humor.
  • Spare those who recoil from jokes, while enriching those who delight in humor.
  • Remember what Shakespeare said: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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