How to improve your sense of humor

Learn tips and strategies how to improve your sense of humor and playfulness.

Two people laughing while playing pool.
Photo: Pexels/Alexander Suhorucov.

Have you ever heard the phrase “laughter is the best medicine?” In the book Compassionate Laughter – Jest for Your Health,” author Patty Wooten describes different types of humor. Wooten describes humor as coming from the heart, and that humor is a complex phenomenon that is an essential part of human nature. Wooten adds that throughout the ages, anthropologists have never found a culture or society that was devoid of humor. Humans begin to smile and laugh during the first few months of life, long before we formulate our first words.  The number of times we smile or laugh each day has been shown to decrease with our age. How many times do you laugh in a day? What if you could increase your sense of humor and playfulness and learn to increase this number? Smiling and laughing more each day may actually be good for your health and well-being.

To improve your sense of humor, begin by smiling. A smile invites interaction and expresses understanding. It engages the entire body. Wooten explains that humor comes from a spirit of playfulness and that we can access our playfulness from acting silly. The word “silly” is derived from two old European words "seely” and “saelig,” both of which mean happy, joyful, and blessed. Silly people are spontaneous and playful with everything in their environment. Having a sense of humor helps us to recognize the absurdity in situations of tension, frustration and tragedy.

Wooten provides these additional steps to find or create humor in your everyday:

  • Exaggerate and overstate the problem. Making the problem bigger than life helps to regain humorous perspective. Cartoon caricatures, slapstick comedy and clowning antics all are based on exaggeration.
  • Look for irony. This helps us identify the nonsense that exists in our society.
  • Learn to appreciate surprise. The surprise ending of a joke stimulates laughter. The funniness of a joke depends upon its “surprise” element. Learn to appreciate surprise and you will laugh a whole lot more.

In the book “Humor and the Health Professions – The Therapeutic Use of Humor in Health Care," author Vera Robinson states that humor must be understood and used as a deliberate therapeutic tool. Robinson emphasizes to value humor, to analyze ourselves, and check in with our own sense of humor. “Humor is first and foremost an attitude towards life; a willingness to accept life and to accept ourselves with a shrug and a smile, with a certain lightheartedness.” 

If you are looking to improve your sense of humor or incorporate more laughter into life, consider reading the books written by Wooten and Robinson. Take steps to invite humor into your daily life. Perhaps you will find yourself laughing more and your attitude or demeanor a little more positive, happy and joyful. If you want to learn more about how to develop humor and a positive mindset, participate in one of Michigan State University Extension’s Stress Less with Mindfulness classes or series.   

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