Self Improvement — 26 April 2017
The Importance of Humor and Laughter in Health

Laughing and chuckling at another’s comments or jokes is often perceived as a response to being entertained and enjoying others’ matched ideas. People value being with those who make them laugh and enjoy the lighter side of life. Why is laughter sometimes a pleasing and healthy response to silly, incongruous or insensitive comments while inappropriate at other times?

Many people enjoy humor and delight in attending shows in which comedians help them see the funny side in even serious or painful situations, or enjoy friends’ humorous tales or jokes. In “A Cognitive-Developmental Analysis of Humor” Thomas R. Shultz gives an example of a joke where someone asked, “Mr. Fields, do you believe in clubs for young people?” He replied, “Only when kindness fails.” This play on words often comes from an ambiguity in language usage of two concepts that are whimsically applied. The author adds, “About half the verbal jokes I analyzed are resolved on the basis of some sort of linguistic ambiguity.”

Socially, many people cherish the company of those who are witty, funny and playful. Whether it is through use of words, concepts, mixed metaphors or tales of truth or fiction of incidents they witnessed or created. If the punchline is surprising or funny, it is welcomed by their audience. Most people like to be entertained and laugh.

In “Humor theories and the physiological benefits of laughter”, J. Wilkins and AJ. Eisenbraun list the 3 main theories of explaining the function of humor: 1. The relief theory, 2. The incongruity theory, and 3. The superiority theory. They state, “while these theories focus on the specific role that humor plays for people in situations such as dealing with misfortune, making sense of rule violations, and bonding with others, we propose that underlying each of these theories are the physiological benefits of laughter.”

Most people enjoy laughing. Besides the anticipation, laughter affords them a long-term relaxation benefit. Even if laughter only temporarily frees the individual from his/her acute preoccupation with sad or troubling thoughts, it serves as a diversion that relaxes the body and eases the psyche long enough to obtain a short-term reprieve. Some people replay a laughing episode in their minds and may feel happier and more relaxed by the sheer memory of having had a pleasurable time.

In “Using Humor in Crisis Situations” Dr. Steven M. Sultanoff states, “We use humor in crisis situations to provide perspective and help us deal with the emotional turmoil. The individual is aware, cognitively, that he/she is distinct from the crisis, but emotionally the individual feels blended with the crisis, thus is inhibited from appreciating humor in a crisis situation.”

Use humor and laughter:

  • Use humor to entertain others, reduce your stress and support others in times of self-doubt.
  • Avoid using humor at a time of another’s distress. It may be perceived as callous and insensitive.
  • Entertain others and be joyous, while keeping their emotional state uppermost in your mind.

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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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