The complex phenomenon of Humour

Humour, Laughter

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Humour is a topic which has been discussed often but little has been written about it. Humour is a complex phenomenon and it is an essential part of mankind. Through the age’s, anthropologists have never been able to find a culture or civilization where there was no humour.

Humour also depends on the following: Geographical location (Were you born in England or in Brasil), upbringing (were you raised in Dallas or in Amsterdam), life values and many other things. All these things give you a certain point of view about the meaning of life. This also gives you a sense of humour. A sense of humour is both a point of view about life and the behaviour that this point of view radiates.


There are many definitions.

  • Humour is the quality of being amusing or comic, especially as expressed in literature or speech, a mood or state of mind. (The Oxford Dictionary)
  • Humour is an eye and a sense of cheerfulness contradictions or cheerfulness contradictive expressions.(Dutch Dictionary)
  • Humour is a way to relieve oneself of too much energy and tension, a rear and precious gift (Sigmund Freud).
  • Humour is communication, a means to strengthen mutual relationships (Pasquali).
  • Humour is to help the patient recognise and appreciate funny, amusing or ridiculous situations so that relationships can be built, tensions released and one can easier cope with difficult situations (McCloskey & Bulechek).
  • Dr. Barry Sultanoff, former president of the American Holistic Medical Association says “Laughing can be a time of intimacy and communication, a time where we totally can be ourselves and one can come close to humanity and vulnerability. By laughing together one can recognize each other’s unity and one can experience this unity. This can be the best way to show our ability to give healing energy”.
  • Humour is “a short circuiting in one’s brain that leads up to spastic movements”, in other words, laughter. What is life without laughter? (Knooppunt Humor)
  • Humour is the shortest social distance between two people (Aschwin van Loon).

There are times when it is perceived that humour is only for happy situations. However, humour has a role when times get tough and it can help manage and improve the situation. In other words humour is a way of communication, a coping mechanism. It gives people the opportunity to build relationships. It helps to put things into the right perspective so that one can better handle the difficult and tragic moments of life.

When I combine everything that is described above you see that you can use humour in all kinds of situations. I use humour whenever the opportunity rises, even when this moment is a sad one. We can all think of moments when you are happy. But can you think of humour when there’s a sad moment. I can truly say that I have.

I was working a night shift and there was a terminal cancer patient who couldn’t sleep. We started talking and we talked about life and the meaning of life. She said to me that she saw here life as a train ride. It had lots of ups and downs and we took a train ride on memory lane of her life. We had some good laughs and tears were rolling down our cheeks. Finally she said that she thought that the train ride has come to an end and that I had to get of her train. We said goodbyes and I left the room. When I came back 15 minutes later the lady had passed away and she still had a smile on here face.

What is your experience in using humour in odd situations?

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