Since we’re in the middle of Humor Month and Stress Awareness Month, let’s look at how our style of humor might be either helping or hindering our fight against stress. Humor researchers have created a Humor Styles Questionnaire, which classifies humor styles into four different categories:
Self-enhancing humor: maintaining a humorous outlook even when alone, being amused by the incongruities and absurdities in life, keeping one’s humor in the face of stress and adversity and the use of humor to cope with challenges.
Aggressive humor: the tendency to use humor to criticize or manipulate other people, including sarcasm, ridicule, teasing and disparaging humor.
Self-defeating humor: the tendency to amuse others by saying funny things at your own expense, to use excessively self-disparaging humor, and to use humor to ingratiate yourself with others. This type of humor is also used to avoid dealing with problems or issues in the workplace.
Many people shift between the various styles depending on their mood and the context. But most people tend to have a predominate style of humor, and this humor style will likely impact how psychologically healthy they are. Affiliative and self-enhancing humor are, as you might guess, considered much healthier forms of humor and have been positively correlated to lower levels of depression and anxiety, and higher levels of self-esteem and overall psychological health. Aggressive and self-defeating humor is associated with higher levels of hostility, aggression and anxiety. (This makes sense, considering that the term “sarcasm” comes from the Greek word “sarkasmos” which means to “tear at flesh like a dog.”)
The research suggests that the best style of humor of all is self-enhancing humor. People who score high on self-enhancing humor are less likely to rehash negative past events, and they tend to be more emotionally healthy. In other words, your workplace needs more Jerry Seinfelds, less Don Rickles.
Michael Kerr is an international business speaker and the author of The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses are Laughing all the Way to the Bank. For great ideas on building a truly inspiring workplace, sign up for his weekly e-zine, Humor at Work.
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