CAL Tip #14: Bring Your Sense of Humor Out of the Basement

When I was a kid, my entire family was confused by a guy in the neighborhood. He never seemed happy. He always seemed to have a big sigh or some kind of complaint. I think my dad started this theory: the neighborhood guy was the kind of person who went down into the basement to have his one big belly laugh for the day. Then, he was done laughing. No more laughs for the day.

You might know other people like that. They never seem to crack a smile.

While I am an optimist, I admit that not every day is full of sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns. There are some days where nothing looks funny at all.

Yet, humor is necessary for our health, both physical and emotional.

But, how do you increase your sense of humor? First, here’s the definition of humor:

A comic, absurd, or incongruous quality causing amusement

It’s the absurd or incongruous qualities that we can use to increase our sense of humor.

In Humor That Works, (An)Drew Tarvin (yes, that’s how he writes his name on the cover) says that humor can be any of four styles:

  • Affiliative, where we use humor to build relationships
  • Self-enhancing, where we find humor in life’s hardships
  • Self-defeating, where we say things at our own expense. I always heard this as self-deprecating.
  • Aggressive: where we disparage others to manipulate them.

I like the first three styles. I have not been as successful using aggressive humor—people see me as mean. Since I don’t want people to think I’m mean, I tend to use the other three styles.

Use affiliate humor.

​This is the “We’re all in this together; let’s make the best of it” kind of humor. We use this in groups or teams.

I ride the elevators—I never take stairs. And, when I’m an elevator and the door opens, I start to walk out. Even if the floor is not the floor I wanted.

I’m not alone—this is a human reaction. The doors open and we walk out. Well, unless you’re really careful about which floor you’re on and you check every single time.

Every time I do this on an elevator, we all laugh. Not so much at one person, but because we’ve all been there and done that. Our shared experience—the affiliate part—makes if funny. (It’s only absurd when people discuss the floor they want, and then they walk off before that floor because they’re too busy talking. And, they don’t hear the rest of us saying, “Come back!”)

Use self-enhancing humor.

Self-enhancing humor helps us manage our challenges or struggles. Long ago, we took a family vacation where the original temperature forecast was hot and sunny. Instead it was cool and gray. We amused ourselves looking for patches of blue sky. “I see a patch over there!” When asked how large that patch was, the answer was “too small for the human eye to see!”

We all knew the weather wasn’t going to change. That wasn’t the point. It was about the absurdity of the situation—a hot vacation was now a cold one. And, we hadn’t brought the ski clothes.

Use self-defeating humor.

Self-defeating humor allows us to point out something funny about ourselves. I often say, “I’m owning the little old lady look. Got the rollator. Got the white hair. Got the short height, the little. All I need now is the lady part.”

With any luck, you smiled at that. The incongruous part (the lady) makes the rest of it even funnier. I’m not going to walk without the rollator. I’m not going to dye my hair. I’ve been working at that height thing my entire life, and I’m not getting taller.

I find that the more I exercise my sense of humor, the better I am at being a little funny. I don’t get stuck in the basement with my one belly laugh all day. I hope you also see and experiment with more humor.


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