Humour, the capacity to express or perceive what’s funny, is both a source of entertainment and a coping mechanism which help us with difficult situations and stressful events.
Humans start developing a sense of humour as early as 6 weeks old when babies begin to smile in response to stimuli (“smiling” before that is usually just response to discomfort within). Laughter is universal across different cultures. From its most light-hearted forms to its more absurd ones, humour can play an instrumental role in forming social bonds, releasing tension, or attracting a mate.
Robert R. Provine, the world’s leading scientific expert on Laughter stated that “The necessary stimulus for laughter is not a joke, but another person.” Laughing in the presence of others indicates the interaction is safe. In addition to the positive feelings that joking and laughing stirs, there is also a component of increased feelings of social support and an improved ability of buffering the effects stress may have.
A sense of humour may even help with detecting and connecting with like-minded people.
Scientists have proposed competing explanations for why some things are funnier than others, but it seems clear that humour often involves the violation of expectations. Negativity is an intrinsic part of humour. Without violating a norm or rule of some kind, a joke just isn’t funny. But violations can’t stray too far otherwise, they become unappealing or even disgusting and upsetting. The theory of benign violations proposes that something is funny when it seems both wrong or threatening and essentially harmless. Culture, age, political orientation, and many other factors also influence on what people find funny.
Research had shown that those who are drawn to humour as a way to interact with people are likely to rate higher on the traits of extraversion, agreeableness, and openness to experience. More agreeable and conscientious people also seem less likely to use humour in a disparaging or
offensive way. Appreciation of humour correlates with other strengths too such as wisdom and love of learning. Humour activities or exercises result in increased feelings of emotional well-being and optimism. Humour can be used to make others feel good, or gain intimacy and belongs to the set of strengths which help us forge connections to the world and provide meaning to life.
In the business world, many successful organizations such as Google for example deliberately build play areas into their workspaces and organize fun events to reduce the stressful nature of work, boost morale, and increase productivity. Humour may provide a respite from tedious situations in the workplace.
This “mental break” might not only prevent a loss of productivity, but also might help individuals to maintain focus on tasks.