Laughing (and Creating Laughter) is Good for Your Health

April 30, 2014 by John Andrew Williams

Today’s Thought: Laughing (and creating laughter) is good for your health

I couldn’t tell you how thrilled I was to see Humor make it into Peterson and Seligman’s Character Strengths and Virtues. I was equally thrilled that after reading positive psychologists take on humor that they didn’t ruin comedy for me. In fact, I think they may have made it even better, which is a minor miracle considering how stupor inducing the text is at points.

Let’s get the dry facts out the way first and see if we can pin down a technical definition of humor and funny and maybe even get a nuance here and there.

Then let’s see if I can throw down a challenge for these next two weeks to follow. (I think I have one cooked up, based on a previous stand-up class that I took from Alex Falcone, who will be making an appearance on the blog – finger’s crossed! – .)

But first, the dirty deeds of funny from the driest possible source: positive psychologists.

Fun Facts about Funny:

  • Humor wasn’t considered in the comic realm until late 16th century, when it became used in connection with the medieval humors based on body fluids. People who had a lot of sanguine were considered to have a good mood.
  • Humor also got associated with laughing at people trying to be funny (and sadly also laughing at people who were just weird and couldn’t help it.)
  • Around the 19th century a distinction was made by the ever-so-clever English between wit, which is derisive and hurtful, and humor, which came from the heart and is benevolent. (Note: this distinction is uber-important and will show up later this week in a post)
  • Welcome to the 20th (and 21st) centuries, where having a sense of humor is considered a requirement of a complete human being, although few ever take any classes or really pay any significant attention to it except perhaps to mimic our parents, siblings and friends.

And just to be super clear there are two main channels of study when it comes to funny.

#1 Studying “humorous products” like jokes or sketches

#2 Studying people who appreciates and generates humor

Character Strengths and Virtues spends the chapter focused on the latter, and so will I in these next two weeks. (Although I can’t promise that I’ll break down a few jokes and sketches here and there.)
Now that we’ve at least got a brief history and a definition, let’s look at a doable two-week challenge. Mine (and yours if you so choose to accept it as well) is to come up with a minute worth of stand-up material.

The first step – and I’m taking this directly from my comic teacher Alex Falcone’s stand-up class – is to simply write observations about yourself or something that’s important to you. For instance, typing on computers is fun. A sound of a keyboard sounds a lot like rain. Sometimes it’s faster to retype rather than cut and paste. I never use my left thumb when typing. Etc. You get the idea.

For the next week, I’m going to devote 30 minutes a day to simply logging observations.

Join me?

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