Think about any three things that make you laugh. Are they the things that everyone finds funny or are they a little bit messed up?
Have you ever met someone who cracks certain jokes that just don’t sit right with you, no matter how much they convince you that they don’t really mean it in a bad way?
We all like someone with a good sense of humor, but how would we define what that is? Well, a study by psychologist Rod Martin has shown that there are not one, but four different styles of humor that most of us use. More often than not, we fall into one of these categories:
- Affiliative Humor:
Affiliative humour is used with the aim of creating positive bonds with others and making everyone feel comfortable. These are jokes that are not offensive at all and are universally funny. Narrations of funny events, puns, jokes about animals and knock-knock jokes all come under affiliative humor.
- Aggressive Humor:
This involves “roasts”, insults and jokes cracked at the expense of others. Granted, these can be funny at times (when you’re not the one being made fun of), and there is a certain amount of creativity that goes into coming up with these wisecracks and insults, but can be incredibly damaging if not controlled or taken in the right spirit. Bullies tend to use this type of humour.
- Self-Enhancing Humor:
If you’ve ever met someone who manages to laugh at themselves and find the absurdity in every situation while still remaining pleasant and optimistic, this person probably uses this type of humor. Self-enhancing humor is the perfect balance between taking things too seriously and taking them too lightly. People who have this style of humor can cope with stress much better while still remaining grounded and having a practical course of action.
- Self-Depreciating Humor:
Although this is also essentially laughing at yourself, it doesn’t come from a place of optimism, which is the main difference between self-deprecating humor and self-enhancing humor. Self-depreciating humor is making fun of yourself in a way that can be extremely harsh and can make those around you feel uneasy if used excessively. People who use this are generally deeply insecure, and do it so that no one else can make fun of them. So just like aggressive humor is used by the bully, self-depreciating humor is used by the bullied.
Aside from affecting our interactions with others, studies have shown that humor can be used as a “mature” type of defense mechanism, which a lot of people use to deal with stressful situations. You probably remember that one kid from elementary school who started laughing when he fell down when most children would scream, or your friend who couldn’t stop giggling right before a big test while everyone else was frantically revising.
There are two reasons for people turning to humor when they’re stressed or upset:
-It helps to diminish, at least temporarily, the tension and negative emotions arising from the stressful or traumatic event.
-It increases the likelihood that we will make it through.
Finding things to laugh at makes us believe that things are not as bad as they initially seemed. However, it is considered inappropriate by most people and understandably so, because when you’re overwhelmed with emotions, joy and laughter seem not only far away but also outrageous.
However, when done right, humor can be incredibly useful in lightening the mood in high-stress situations as well as making others, who are going through hard times, feel better. A balance of humor, as well as optimism, empathy, and rationality, can make us more resilient in times of adversity.
The saying, ‘fake it till you make it’ might actually be true in this case. Trying to have a good laugh about something and remaining cheerful in turbulent times can make things much easier for you as well as those around you. It’s easy to play the joker and make others happy on good days but not such an easy task when you’re down in the dumps yourself.
Although most researchers are in the favor of humor and the positive effect it can have on our mood, health and the way we deal with tough times; just like everything else, it has a downside.
If you have ever watched the popular sitcom F.R.I.E.N.D.S, you would probably remember the lovable character, Chandler Bing, one hell of a Smart Alec, who never ran out of quips and deliciously sarcastic one-liners. Every time he walked into a room, he would lighten up our moods instantly. He was (and is) one of the most iconic characters in sitcom history. But what most of us fail to notice is that how unhealthy his patterns and mannerisms really were. He couldn’t be serious even in situations that required it. He had a hard time being vulnerable and opening up about the difficulties he went through during his childhood, and the insecurities that arose from it - the reason he started using aggressive and self-depreciating styles of humor in the first place.
A number of things can go wrong if humor is your chosen coping mechanism. Here are a few examples:
- The style of humor you use may not agree with everyone. For example, if you have an aggressive style of humor, you may end up hurting someone. Too much affiliative humor in a work setting may bring down the level of authority that you have among subordinates.
- Rather than bringing people closer, there is a possibility that joking around is a way to push people away. When you’re never serious, you’re never vulnerable. You don’t let people see any other side of you except for the fun, playful side. Hence, humor can act as a way to mask who you really are.
- Along with shutting others out, using humor to cope can sometimes cause you to avoid dealing with the issue and the feelings that arise from it entirely. Yes, it can help relieve negative feelings, but not processing those feelings entirely is basically denial, which is never a sustainable state.
Humour is an excellent way to deal with the things that life seems to throw at us, and laughter is a good reminder that life isn’t nearly as grave or serious as we perceive it to be in our heads. That being said, like everything else, it needs to be used in moderation. Also, great care must be taken to ensure that what we pass off as light-hearted banter isn’t damaging to us or others around us.