The Benefits of Finding Humor in Everyday Situations

Bena Kallick is a private consultant providing services to school districts, state departments of education, professional organizations, and public agencies throughout the United States and internationally. Arthur L. Costa is professor emeritus of education at California State University, Sacramento, and co-founder of the Institute for Intelligent Behavior in El Dorado Hills, California.

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Warning: Humor may be hazardous to your illness.

-Ellie Katz

Humor refers to our human ability to perceive and express a sense of the clever or amusing:

What is the astronaut’s favorite place on the computer?
The space bar.

Humor consists principally in the recognition and expression of incongruities or peculiarities present in a situation or character:

“A fool and his money are soon elected.” (Will Rogers)

Humor is frequently used to illustrate some fundamental absurdity in human nature or conduct:

“Remember: Marriage is the number one cause of divorce.” (Red Skelton)

People who laugh a lot usually have a positive attitude and the ability to find humor even when things are not going well. Because they are fun to be around, others gravitate toward them and they generally have a strong social network that benefits them and everyone with whom they interact.

Understanding Humor

Understanding humor requires thinking flexibly — finding novel relationships, observing oddities in images, and making analogies. People who engage in humor can see situations from a new vantage point or come up with the unexpected.

For example: one student asks another, “is it time for us to eat yet?” The response, “no.” The student waits only a few seconds to ask, “how about now?” The immediacy of the response and the shift from accepting the answer come as a surprise. They both laugh. They are managing their impulsivity as they wait for meal time.

People are often seen as having a “sunny” disposition because they initiate humor more often. They tend to appreciate and understand others’ humor, to place greater value on having a sense of humor and to be verbally playful when interacting with others.

Having a whimsical frame of mind, they thrive on finding incongruity and discontinuities; perceiving absurdities, ironies and satire; and are able to laugh at situations and at themselves. They poke fun of themselves and others with a sensitivity to the others’ feelings.

The Health Benefits of Laughter

Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, “A good laugh is good for both the mental and physical digestion.”

While he may not have had the medical, neuroscientific and psychological research to draw on at that time, we now know that laughter alters brain functioning and boosts production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with the brain’s reward and “feel good” system. It reduces cortisol, the brain’s stress hormone, and may even improve memory.

Laughter does more than make you feel good: health actually varies according to the amount of laughter.

According to James J. Walsh, MD., people who laugh actually live longer than those who don’t laugh. A hearty belly laugh has many of the same physiological effects as exercise — laughter reduces arterial wall stiffness as it increases pulse, blood pressure and respiratory rates. It oxygenates the brain while delivering oxygen throughout the body and stimulates the release of nitric oxide, which enhances blood flow and reduces inflammation. Vigorous sustained laughter even burns calories!

So keep your brain active by finding the humor in situations, especially when you’re in need of some relief from stress or frustration.

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