Doesn’t everyone enjoy a good joke? For many of us, humour is a vital part of everyday life. It can be a great way to bring us together, strengthen friendships and create new social bonds. However, not all humour is created equal.
In fact, a number of key psychological studies have suggested that the style of humour we use in our daily interactions, is closely tied to our long-term happiness. In this article I will explore the 4 styles of humour identified by psychologists and talk about how specific styles of humour, can be used to better enrich our lives.
The 4 key humour styles.
There are many different ways to make people laugh, however, recent research has suggested that broadly speaking, there are 4 key humour styles, that we all employ in our daily lives.
More importantly, there seems to be good evidence that the style of humour we exhibit, the types of jokes we tell to make others laugh, is strongly linked to both our long-term happiness and our self-esteem.
This is the type of humour often exhibited by bullies. It often involves putting people down, using sarcasm or teasing others, in order to make the group laugh. The problem is that these laughs often come at a cost. Typically there will be some individual, who is all too often, made the “butt of the joke”.
This type of humour, is often used not as a way of bringing people together, but as a way of manipulating or dominating others, in social situations.
Many great stand up comedians, such as Louis CK, employ a style of self-defeating humour, in other words, they put themselves down in order to make other people laugh.
This type of comedy can be seen as commendable, often we appreciate those who can poke fun of themselves, as opposed to constantly seeking laughs at the expense of others. However, this style of humour can often be dangerous and when we put ourselves down too much, it can be linked to lower levels of self-esteem.
This is a highly optimistic form of humour. It involves using comedy as a way of coping with some of the more unpleasant situations life may throw at us. It differs from self-defeating humour in the sense that the individual employing it doesn’t necessarily put themselves down per se, rather they simply learn to laugh at some of the more absurd aspects of life.
This is my favourite style of humour. It doesn’t involve putting anyone else down or even making yourself the source of the joke, rather it is a form of humour that aims to bring us all closer together. This type of humour often involves telling funny jokes or amusing stories, in a way we can all relate to. No-one is offended by such jokes but rather we can all laugh as one.
Maladaptive vs Adaptive styles of humour.
You may have noticed that the first two styles of humour; aggressive and self-defeating are very negative. They’re maladaptive. In other words, this type of humour is often used when we are either criticizing others, or making ourselves the source of the joke, just to gain a few laughs.
On the other hand, both affiliative and self-enhancing humour are much more positive and involve telling amusing stories, witty jokes or anecdotes in a way, in which we can all laugh together.
In order to demonstrate these more positive forms of humour, I am going to use the example of one of my favourite british comedians, Michael Mcintyre.
Learning to laugh at the more unpleasant aspects of life.
Take this first clip for example. Now if you’re anything like me, you probably hate the prospect of visiting the dentist. You almost certainly wouldn’t view a tooth extraction as the making of a funny story.
However, in this routine that’s exactly what Michael achieves. He is able to take a horrible experience (a trip to the dentist gone wrong) and find the humour, off what would have been, at the time, a day to forget.
This is a perfect example of someone using self-enhancing humour to look back at an unfortunate life event, in a more positive and less depressing light.
We see a similar pattern in this second clip. Now here, the british comedian is able to take an aspect of daily life that most of would find mundane, checking into the airport, and turn such an event, in a truly funny story.
This is a great example of affiliative humour, being able to tell amusing stories and find the comedy in everyday life, without needing to put anyone else down in the process.
How the jokes we tell are related to how happy we feel.
Okay, so we have identified that there are different types of humour, but why is this important? Well, an interesting study carried out in 2016, found a significant relationship between the ways in which we use humour in everyday life and our overall levels of happiness. In other words, happy people use humour in a very different way, from unhappy people.
In the research carried out by Ford, Lappi and Holden, it was found that happy people tend to use more positive forms of humour (affiliative and self-enhancing) whilst less happy people tend to rely on more maladaptive styles of humour (self-defeating and aggressive).
Furthermore, the study found that there are 4 key personality traits associated with higher levels of happiness; optimism, higher levels of self-esteem, an internal locus of control and higher levels of extraversion. So, how do people who demonstrate these “happy” personality traits use humour in a different way to the less cheery?
Firstly, happy people tend to use self-enhancing humour as way of dealing with the stressors of everyday life, in other words they have learnt to see the funny side in situations, where the rest of us would simply complain and moan.
Secondly, happier people use affiliative humour as way of bringing people together. They tell jokes with the simple purpose of making people laugh and strengthening social relationships. This is a stark contrast to more aggressive humour styles, which are often used as a way of manipulating or exerting control over other people.
An important lesson on happiness.
It may be worth asking yourself, how do you utilize humour in your own life? Do you often tease or mock others to gain a few laughs, even if it is intended in good faith? Or do you sometimes find that you put yourself down, maybe a little too much, just to gain a few laughs from your friends?
If so, you may actually be doing more harm than good, inadvertently chipping away at the self-esteem or both yourself and those around you.
I think we could all take a lesson from comedians such as Michael Mcintyre and learn to stop taking life so seriously. Perhaps we can learn to start finding humour in the otherwise mundane aspects of daily life, from supermarket shopping to an unpleasant trip the dentist. Afterall, there’s not much we can do about the terrible haircut the barber gave us last week, at the very least though, we can learn to laugh at it.