When Is It Appropriate to Use Humor?

Humour or humor is usually the natural tendency of unpleasant encounters to give entertainment and elicit laughter. The word derives from the ancient Greek medicine, which regarded the balance of vital fluids in the body, called humours, and controlled emotion and health. The role of humour in our everyday life is more like a filter through which unpleasant events are presented in a light humorous vein. It is therefore not surprising that we seek out and use humour as a means to diffuse the effects of stressful situations, or when someone we care about may be having a particularly tough day. However, why are we unable to detach our self-deceptive nature from the stressful emotional content of a given situation and just enjoy the show?


I believe that we are often unable to detach ourselves from humour because we find funny things as an antidote for the seriousness of the situation, and this is particularly true when we experience difficult times. Even though humour may be a defence against difficult times, it is equally a defence against listening to the right things, particularly when they are presented in an entertaining way. When we have an understanding of how humour works and how we can use it to diffuse stress and make us more resilient we are better equipped to make the most of life. And while we can find humour it is important not to rely on the presence of humour to escape a difficult circumstance or cope with an attitude that we disagree with.

In fact, one of the ways in which we are able to create a space in which we can make the good and the bad appear funny is by knowing when to draw the line. When you find yourself in the company of people who appear to have great enjoyment from any situation, you can safely assume that there is a reason for the enjoyment. This may be an underlying philosophical principle, or it could be a natural response to the challenges in front of you. Regardless of whether you determine that you are enjoying yourself or not, there is no doubt that other people will share your view and will find you very funny indeed.

The fact that other people enjoy your approach to life provides an opportunity to use humour in a constructive way. Instead of making yourself laugh so hard you wake up the next day with a sore throat you can use your understanding of humour to inject a bit of levity into otherwise serious situations. There are many stories about the development of funny stories to tell at family reunions, sporting events and similar events where you are likely to be the subject of some attention. When you listen to other people’s stories about moments that make them laugh and then try to relate yourself to that situation, you may find that your conception of humour improves. If you do decide to draw the line you should keep in mind that this does not mean that you have to go over the top, just that you know when and how to draw the line so as to maintain control of the situation.

Another factor that may help you identify the funny side of an interaction or event is to analyse whether there is an incongruity between what you say and what is being said. Incongruity exists in all kinds of relationships and can be particularly problematic for those involved in arguments or conflict. It can be particularly easy to miss the obvious and use instead the wrong kind of language or tone. If you find that you are being compared to other members of the group, it can be tempting to indulge in some humour to counter the comparison. While you should not indulge in this behaviour in front of your colleagues or peers, it can be useful when sharing lighter humour with friends and family members when you cannot really be sure that they understand what you are saying correctly.

The third factor that will help you determine when to use humour is to remember that other people also use various forms of humor and will not necessarily see any problem with your using it. They are not incongruous or acting out a desire to offend, but are participating with the same intent in whatever they are doing. The fourth consideration that will be important to bear in mind when deciding when to use humor is that not all forms of humour are appropriate for certain situations. Some forms of humor are very direct, others are more indirect. It can therefore be worthwhile to seek guidance from an expert on the rules for using various types of humour.