Developing your Sense of Humour

Daily Life, Humour, Laughter, Theoretics

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Your sense of humour has been developing since you were born. It has developed in stride with all your cognition, and has been shaped by your upbringing. You might laugh at the same things your parents do, and you might have difficulty understanding humour outside of the range of your familial and social background. Even within your familial context, you aren’t likely to be in on every joke.

You might need extra context to understand some humourous references, or you might express your sense of humour differently than others. Developing your sense of humour will help you communicate with others, and it can help you go easier on yourself.

Identifying and Responding to Humor
Learn to tell when someone is making a joke.

Listen for errors, for exaggerations, and for absurdity. Incongruous statements are often jokes. Check for physical signs, such as a flattened or overly animated voice, a sudden exaggerated accent, or expressive gestures and facial expressions. Someone who looks from face to face in a group might be telling a joke and checking for comprehension.

  • Indicators that someone might be making a joke depend on the kind of joke. Someone using sarcastic humour might roll or bug their eyes. They might act especially casual, but say the opposite of how they feel.
  • Someone using ironic humour might use excessive slang, speak in a monotone, or profess to care deeply about a nonessential outcome.
  • People often use humour to make fun of themselves, or others, in a friendly way. If someone is describing an embarrassing situation, they might be trying to make you laugh rather than asking for pity.
Learn to respond when someone else tells a joke.

How do you respond to humour? Do you tend to laugh, or smile? Not everyone laughs when they are amused, and this can lead others to believe they have no sense of humour. Try laughing or smiling when something is funny, but don’t force it. If a smile doesn’t feel natural, you can just say “that’s funny.”

  • Learn to banter. If you understand the tenor of the joke, you can try to make the same kind of joke in return. This is a common expression of friendliness and of flirting.
Learn to take a joke.

You might want to develop your sense of humour if you find yourself easily offended or upset. If you are being teased, try to joke back instead of getting mad. If you are not certain whether or not you are being teased, ask yourself “is it likely that this person would want to upset me? Is it just as likely that they are trying to be friendly?” If you can’t tell, you can ask.

  • If something meant to be friendly upsets you, ask yourself what bad feelings it brings up. Humor can help you discover hidden insecurities and fears.
  • If a joke hurts your feelings, you don’t have to pretend you think it’s funny. Everyone has sensitivities, and everyone has sensitive moments. If you are being persistently teased in a way that hurts you, explain that you don’t enjoy the teasing and would like it to stop.
Learn what jokes cross the line.

If a joke is racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise bigoted, you should feel free to politely shut it down. Ask “can you explain the humour, here?” or say “I can’t go there with you.” You probably aren’t the only person offended, so you’ll be doing a good deed by speaking up.

  • People who tell offensive jokes often defend themselves by saying “it’s just a joke.” You can retort “yes. It’s a sexist/racist/islamaphobic (etc) joke.”
Learning to Joke Around
Learn to tell the sort of jokes you find funny.

Once you’ve learned what kind of humour you enjoy, try including it in your conversations with friends. Try telling jokes you’ve learned, and don’t be too disappointed if they don’t make your friends laugh. Try to tell your joke as if you are commenting on the weather. A casual delivery is often the funniest part of an absurd comment.

  • Make up jokes. Look for the absurdity of a situation you are in, or an illogical decision you made, and try to tell it like a funny story.
  • Write silly captions for the photographs you take. Do the objects in your photographs appear to be doing something other than what they are doing? Saying they are doing something they are obviously not is one easy way to joke.
Joke about shared experiences.

Most conversational humour focuses on shared circumstances, whether it be the weather or the workload. Jokes about commonalities don’t have to be particularly funny: their first function is to increase a sense of connectedness. If it’s snowing outside, say it’s a good day for a picnic.

Joke kindly and carefully.

Jokes about acquaintances should not show that acquaintance in a bad light. If you are making fun of a mutual friend, for instance, try to joke about a positive aspect of that person, rather than a weakness. If a colleague is always on time, say you set your watch by them. If your child writes a good paper for school, say they’ll be promoted to teacher next.

  • Avoid jokes that comment on the appearance of others, even positively. The ways appearances are evaluated is inevitably radicalized, classed, and gendered. Joking about someone’s appearance is likely to put them in an uncomfortable position, and may look like a power move on your part.
Joke with yourself.

Joking with yourself is an excellent way to relax and move on from stresses. It is also a crucial tool for dealing with the ups and downs of life. Learn to take your problems lightly, and laugh at your mistakes. When you make a mistake or have a disappointment, laugh at yourself, and think of how to turn it into a story later.

  • To see the humour in a situation, you need to take a step back. This bit of critical distance can put things in perspective.
  • Developing a sense of humour helps you develop resilience, and can ease you through your darkest times.
Learning Your Sense of Humor
Figure out what you find funny.

Your sense of humour is particular to the way your mind works, and has a lot to do with how you were socialized. The next time you find something funny, think it over. What is funny about it? Was it surprising? Familiar? Exaggerated? Write down all the elements if you can. What elements could be altered or removed for the humour to be lost?

  • For example, you might laugh at a video of someone falling while trying to impress someone. You would probably still laugh if they fell and weren’t trying to impress someone, but you would laugh less. If they fell and were badly hurt, you probably wouldn’t laugh at all.
  • Determine whether or not you share a sense of humour with anyone you know. Does only your sister know how to make you laugh? Ask her what makes her laugh.
  • Your sense of humour is likely to skew toward your other abilities. Are you a mathematical thinker? You might find wordplay funny. Are you a big-picture thinker? You might have a strong sense of irony. Think about your strengths and how they connect to the things that amuse you.
Figure out what you don’t find funny.

The next time you don’t get a joke, don’t despair. Think it through. Did you not understand that it was meant to be a joke? Did you think it was a serious statement, or did you think it was a mistake? Most jokes depend on social context to be understood. Study your friends and colleagues when they find something funny. What do they react to?

  • If you understand that something is a joke, but you are offended, ask yourself what bad feelings the joke brought up. It is often harder to take humour that is about our weaknesses and wounds.
  • Check to see if you are missing social context. Ask a friend to explain their joke if you don’t understand it. You might find the joke funny once you understand why your friend does.
Explore comedy.

Watch different comedies and videos of stand-up comedians to learn the kinds of humour that appeal to you. If videos do not ever make you laugh, try listening to recording of a comedian, and reading humourous novels and comics. You might find you respond more to written words than to voices, or to illustrations than to facial expressions.

  • Most comedy isn’t funny to most people, so don’t give up if it takes you a while to find something you like. If you don’t like Adam Sandler, try Maria Bamford.
  • If you are having trouble finding a comedian or comedy you enjoy, look for work that is produced by people with a background similar to your own.

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