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Sense of Humor: Definition, Types, and Development

A sense of humor defines a person’s sensitivity to humorous situations and jokes. Developing a sense of humor is possible by building awareness of the various types of humor, determining which forms of humor best align with your personality traits and tendencies, then honing your sense of humor through practice in social settings. Your sense of humor is a complex part of your personality that manifests differently depending on the present social context. Generally speaking, a person with a good sense of humor is more responsive to situational humor in a wider variety of contexts than a less well-humored person. (Moreover, good-humored people excel at fostering fruitful platonic, romantic, and professional relationships.) Thus, developing a good sense of humor is the practice of applying the precepts of different types of humor to the appropriate social setting. 

How to develop a good sense of humor
A good sense of humor is a skill built on your natural talent and developed abilities

The term humor dates back to Ancient Greece and has roots in early medicine. The four humors were different liquids in the body and gave rise to the phrase being in good or ill humor. The positive benefits of laughter saw the connections drawn between humor and comedy as art. Comedy and humor are often used interchangeably, whereas really, they show the difference between having a sense of humor and being funny. Being funny and having a good sense of humor are opposite sides of the same coin. A sense of humor and the ability to be funny seldom exist in isolation but neither means the same as the other. For example, a funny person can effortlessly crack jokes but lack the ability to understand certain types of humor if it’s reciprocated. Conversely, an unfunny person can appreciate a wide breadth of humor but be unable to tell a successful joke.

Developing a good sense of humor has a number of strong physical and psychological health benefits. Crafting a good sense of humor promotes better heart health and boosts your immune system. Additionally, laughter works as a natural painkiller by releasing endorphins and triggering an analgesic effect on the mind. Similarly, the ability to laugh and craft a sense of humor has also been shown to reduce stress levels, promote better memory retention and provide an all-around greater understanding of ourselves.

Laughter and a good mood go hand in hand because laughing is fun. Regular bouts of laughter result in a natural high and feel-good sense of mood. Crafting a good sense of humor is important not just to let you understand jokes and fit into a social group but because of the range of positive effects it has on the body.

Cultivating a good sense of humor takes time and effort; however, the gains far outweigh the cost. Crafting your own sense of humor is broken down into 8 simple steps. Understanding your personality type and how humor and personality formation are intertwined is the primary step. Following that, understanding how to read a room and knowing which boundaries you are able to push lay the cornerstone of refining a sense of humor.

Practicing your jokes is a great way to perfect your timing and delivery while learning how to take a joke as well as tell them helps craft a well-rounded sense of humor. It’s important to be prepared to face failure and rejection head-on while you craft a sense of humor. Learn to use different types of humor as motivation for the continued crafting of your skills. For example, as you begin to develop a sense of humor, try riffing on shared experiences with friends and family. However, if witty banter and riffs fail, or if the jokes do not progress as you hope, just remember to be kind to yourself and others. Nothing good happens overnight, and the more you work at your jokes, the better your sense of humor becomes.

A good sense of humor serves you well in life. However, there are times you will come up against someone with no sense of humor. The best way to deal with someone who has no sense of humor is to remain friendly and accept that your jokes will most likely fall on deaf ears. There are two options for dealing with someone devoid of a sense of humor, drop the jokes and be serious until you’re done, or carry on as normal, because it’s their loss, not yours.

Crafting a sense of humor requires you to understand why you laugh and how your personality plays a role in your sense of humor. Below, we explore the different types of humor and offer advice on how you can develop and benefit from a good sense of humor.

What is a sense of humor?

A sense of humor is a person’s ability to find things funny. The different things a person finds funny further defines their preferred type of humor. The resulting definition for having a sense of humor changes with the person, but almost everybody has a sense of humor. Stoic individuals hide their sense of humor well behind a mask of eternal professionalism. However, once you find the right key, it’s possible to make even the most stony-faced executive crack a smile. A sense of humor is one of the constants by which we tend to judge others. For example, consider the personals section of any paper or website, and you’ll see the abbreviation GSOH, which stands for “a good sense of humor.” A good sense of humor puts people at ease and is a very important character trait to possess. Managing that sense of humor is the trick many people struggle with.

Is being funny the same as having a sense of humor?

No, being funny is not the same as having a sense of humor. Being funny and having a sense of humor are opposite sides of the same coin. By the letter of definition, a sense of humor is the ability to find things funny, but that does not mean you are funny yourself. There are plenty of people who give a hearty laugh to any joke they hear but cannot tell a joke themselves. The core difference between having a sense of humor and being funny is the skill and timing needed to tell a joke the right way. There is no single way to tell a joke. Different jokes, even within the same humor style, all bring their own subtleties that need to be mastered in order to tell a joke successfully. A sense of humor allows you to understand these subtleties when delivered, while being funny means mastering the techniques needed to entertain those with a sense of humor.

What is the origin of the word humor?

The origin of the word humor is traced back to Latin and early medicine. Ancient Greek physicians such as Hippocrates believed that there were four fluids that governed a person’s health. The four fluids of Ancient Greek medicine are blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. The collective term for the four bodily liquids was humor, which means fluid. The term humor moved through old French into Middle English, where it entered the common vernacular through the concept of being in particular humor. For example, the phrase “I am in good humor / I am in ill-humor” employs the archaic concept of humor. Humor came into use not as a reference to comedy but rather through its association with psychology and the state of a person’s mind, first recorded in 1520. The use of the word humor and its association with comedy and laughter was not made until the mid-17th century as a result of French satire.

What are the benefits of humor?

There are three core benefits of humor for physical health. Firstly, a sense of humor is beneficial for good heart health. Regular bouts of laughter increase the heart rate and, as a result, lower blood pressure. Secondly, a good sense of humor provides a form of pain relief. Laughter promotes the release of endorphins which are a natural painkiller produced in our body. Additionally, laughter serves as a distraction from pain, lessening its impact on our bodies. Many doctors, including the famous Patch Adams, are vocal supporters of the use of comedy in combination with medicine. Finally, laughter naturally boosts your immune system. The study Affective Immunology: where emotions and the immune response converge by Fulvio D’Acquisto, a professor of immunology at the University of Roehampton, found that laughter increased the production of antibodies in the human system and also boosted T-cell effectiveness.

There are also three core benefits of humor for our mental or psychological health. Firstly, laughter reduces stress. Laughing reduces cortisol levels, which is a major stress hormone found in the human body. Secondly, a sense of humor helps improve memory. The Effect of Humour and Mood on Memory Recall study published in issue 97 of Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences found that when facts were delivered in combination with a dose of humor, the rate of memory retention rose. Finally, a sense of humor aids in gaining a true sense of self-understanding. Learning what we find humorous and what we don’t help people gain a better understanding of their own character. An appreciation for different humor styles and an idea of which best entertains us also allows for the creation of stronger friendship circles and social positioning.

Why is it fun to laugh?

It’s fun to laugh because laughter releases endorphins. Endorphins are a hormone released into the brain that help elevate mood and reduce pain. The release of endorphins activates the brain’s opiate receptors creating a feeling of euphoria and happiness. Laughing creates a natural high putting you in a good mood that lasts. Laughter is the best medicine is a popular phrase people throw around, but the truth remains that laughing is indeed very good for the heart, body, and soul.

How do I develop a sense of humor?

You develop a sense of humor through a combination of personality formation, personal experiences, and exposure to different types of humor. Developing a sense of humor is a process, and while there is no special formula for it, there are several stages and aspects to a sense of humor that you need to develop. A sense of humor runs deeper than just being able to find something funny. A sense of humor is a part of the human condition, regardless of the health benefits and the more basic concept of entertainment. Having a sense of humor is part of what defines us as human beings.

Below are the eight key parts that go into developing a solid sense of humor.

  • Understand your personality type: Understanding your personality type and how a sense of humor is part of the general development of an individual personality is important for those trying to develop their sense of humor.
  • Push limits without crossing the line: You have a great degree of flexibility when telling jokes. The normal boundaries of what is socially acceptable do not apply to comedy. As such, successful comedy finds boundaries and pushes against them. However, any aspiring comic must also understand that certain lines are not meant to be crossed.
  • Read the room: Developing a good sense of humor means learning how to read a room and understanding what is going to work and what is not based on the atmosphere and mindset of the group.
  • Be able to take a joke: Having a sense of humor and being funny are not the same thing. However, they do go hand in hand. When looking to develop a sense of humor, getting an understanding and appreciation for the different delivery styles is crucial.
  • Riff on shared experiences: Shared experiences are something many people relate to and make great source material for jokes. Riffing on shared experiences help you develop your sense of humor because everybody understands what your saying and are perfectly positioned to find humor in a familiar situation.
  • Practice makes perfect: You can develop your sense of humor with practice overtime. Forcing humor is never good, but that does not mean you should not practice your jokes. Tell them to yourself in the mirror, to your pets, or to your long-suffering friends that roll their eyes but laugh anyway.
  • Don’t be afraid of failure or rejection: Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam is credited with saying that to fail is just the First Attempt In Learning. When looking to develop a sense of humor, it is imperative you embrace both rejection and failure as part of the growing process. Tell jokes that bomb and leave a room silent, and listen to jokes that leave you scratching your head because only through failure do you find what works for you and your audience.
  • Be kind to yourself and others: You can develop your sense of humor by being kind to yourself and others. Life is hard, and being mean-spirited only makes it harder. Being kind makes you a better person and subconsciously helps you become more receptive to humor.

Having a sense of humor is not something you are able force. However, it is possible to practice cultivating a sense of humor in order to get the most enjoyment out of life.

Understand your personality type

Developing a good sense of humor is an easier process if you understand your personality type. A person’s personality type is a combination of behaviors, characteristics, and attitudes that define their core being. A 2020 University of Vienna study, Humor Styles and Personality: A systematic review and Meta-analysis on the relations between humor styles and the Big Five personality traits, discovered strong links between an individual’s personality type and their growth within that type and the development of a sense of humor. Additionally, developing humor through understanding your personality means you should examine the different types of humor. There are four primary styles of humor: affiliative, self-enhancing, aggressive, and self-defeating. Out of the four primary styles of humor, self-enhancing and affiliative humor are closely linked to more extroverted personality types, while those with an introverted personalities showed clearer tendencies towards self-defeating and aggressive humor. Furthermore, the University of Vienna study found that those with a fondness for a self-enhancing sense of humor are more averse to neurotic personality traits, while those with a tendency to show a self-defeating sense of humor were more likely to display neurotic tendencies within the boundaries of their personality type. Likewise, strong links were found between affiliative humor and an openness to experience life as it happens, while those that developed a taste for aggressive humor paired with personality types that were less agreeable and sociable. For example, a person with the INFJ personality has naturally introverted tendencies and commonly shows a preference for morbid jokes and a gallows sense of humor. Conversely, someone with an ENFJ personality, which leans more on their natural tendency for extroversion, is more concerned about their jokes causing upset and leans heavily on silliness and developing a goofy sense of humor.

Push limits without crossing the line

Learning to push limits without crossing the line helps develop a good sense of humor. Good comedy pushes the limits of social acceptability. A secret superpower of good comedy is that it helps people feel more comfortable dealing with certain subjects. A well-versed comedian understands the freedom they have to work with and creates a routine that goes up to and pushes against the boundaries. However, another thing that someone with a well-developed sense of humor understands is exactly how far to push things and still avoid crossing any lines. Comedy is great at making people think and question the social norm, but it is not designed to cause intentional offense or be malicious. Understanding the lines you cannot cross is a vital component in developing a solid sense of humor.

Read the room

Developing a sense of humor means you need to learn to read the room. The ability to read a room and understand the context of humor is crucial and goes far beyond merely using or ignoring certain subject matters. Telling jokes is not a one-size-fits-all occupation. Whether a professional comic or a water-cooler funny guy, one certainty is that not everybody will appreciate your jokes. However, the mark of a good comic is the ability to read the room and instinctively know the style of humor that is going to have the best impact on the audience.

You must be able to take a joke

Developing a sense of humor means you need to be able to take a joke. Not only do you need to be able to be told jokes and laugh, but you need to be able to accept jokes being made about you. Comedy often walks a fine line; however, good comedy is never used to ridicule or mock in a negative way. Developing a strong sense of humor means you need to recognize and understand the difference between witty banter and cruel intentions. A lot of comedy is observational, and if you become the subject of such an observation, you should not take it personally. Someone with a well-developed sense of humor rises above pride or other self-serving sentiments, finds the comedy, and laughs at it.

Be prepared to riff on shared experiences

Be prepared to riff on shared experiences to help develop a sense of humor. Life is all about shared experiences. Moments that hold a specific commonality, such as university, dating, having kids, nightmare jobs, or bosses, unite a group of people and create a shared image that people relate to. Sharing your own experiences in a comical way helps others find amusement in their experiences, creating a rich brand of humor that connects everybody yet allows them to draw personalized comparisons based on their individual experiences.

Practice makes perfect

Developing your sense of humor requires practice. Practicing jokes may seem counterintuitive to the fluid approach many believe is necessary for good humor. However, such fluidity does not come naturally and you need to work at it. Telling jokes and developing a strong sense of humor takes work. Telling jokes properly is not as easy as many people think. Understanding the nuances of each joke you know and perfecting the tone, pitch, pace, and general timing of its delivery is imperative. Once you have perfected the individual jokes, the next step is to practice working them together in short and long bursts while making them seem off-the-cuff and natural. Developing a good sense of humor takes time, but for those that put in the effort, it’s worth it.

Don’t be afraid of failure or rejection

Don’t be afraid of failure or rejection if you want to develop your sense of humor. Failure and rejection are part of life. Anybody who has achieved anything has failed multiple times in the build-up. From comics to authors, actors, and businessmen, their list of failures is as long as their list of successes. The difference is that those determined to develop their sense of humor do not allow these knocks to set them back. Rather, they allow failure and rejection to guide them toward the right path. Both rejection and failure teach us a lot and bring a wealth of value to our development in any walk of life. Many of those who have achieved great success in comedy or any other field will attest to having learned more from failure than from all of their successes combined.

Be kind to yourself and others

Being kind to yourself and others will help you develop your sense of humor. Kindness goes a long way and is one of the premier character traits people should think about. Being kind also works for you. While trying to develop a sense of humor, it’s important to be kind to yourself. You cannot rush or put pressure on yourself. Be kind, give yourself time, and good things happen. The same logic applies to your comedy. Whatever style it is you adopt, be kind at all times. Humor makes a great defense mechanism but should never be used to attack. Even offensive humor is not done from a perspective of maliciousness.

What are the styles of humor?

There are four main humor styles, within which all types or senses of humor are categorized.

  • Affiliative humor: Affiliative humor is used to cultivate and grow relationships. Traditionally, affiliative humor is upbeat and entertaining without being too serious. Talk shows and team-building affairs are great examples of places you will find affiliative humor used. Affiliative humor is more commonly associated with extroverted personality types. Comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres is an example of someone with an extroverted personality and a fondness for affiliative humor.
  • Self-enhancing humor: Self-enhancing humor is another humor type favored by those with an extroverted personality type. A self-enhancing sense of humor is one that makes light of life and the common hardships we all experience. Extroverted author, Kurt Vonnegut, used self-enhancing humor to great effect, turning struggles into a point of humor and entertainment.
  • Aggressive humor: Aggressive humor pokes fun at others in a seemingly mean-spirited but ultimately well-intended way. Memes dominate the humor landscape for the current generation and are a prime example of aggressive humor. Aggressive humor is often favored by those with lower eagerness for social interaction. Introverted characters and more reserved extroverts show the highest fondness for aggressive humor. Ricky Gervais is a great example of a comedian who leans heavily on aggressive humor in his routine.
  • Self-defeating Humor: Self-defeating humor mocks the self and shows a lower level of self-esteem and worth than other humor styles. Negative humor that pokes fun at an individual’s character is hard to pull off and often favored by introverted types. Bo Burnham is an introverted character who is most well-known for his self-defeating sense of humor.

The different types of humor are as broad or narrow as anybody would wish, as all are resoundingly placed under the ownership of the four primary styles.

Understanding the different types of humor

The following table categorizes 26 different types of humor to help you understand the differences between humor stylings.

Affiliative Self-Enhancing Aggressive Self-Defeating
Anecdotal Farcical Dark Blue / Vulgar
Epigrammatic Hyperbolic Deadpan / Dry Burlesque
Highbrow Observational Roasts Cringe
Juvenile Improvisational / Caricatures Satirical Ironic
Lowbrow     Parody
One Liners     Slapstick / Physical humor
Surprise and Incongruity     Toilet
Surreal / Absurd      

Pigeonholing different types of humor is not an easy feat, as humor is highly subjective and in no way categorized based on the subject matter. A single subject covers multiple humor types across different humor styles. As a result, any style and type combination could be argued by anybody willing to be so contrived as to claim supreme knowledge or understanding. The majority of humor types fall into the affiliative category, which makes sense when looking at humor and comedy from a base level. Affiliative humor is all about building relationships and cultivating an air of positivity, and humor makes people feel happier. Self-defeating humor is the second most common, which is understandable because many people use humor as a form of protection. Self-defeating humor is a great tool for masking a person’s real fears and concerns.

What is my sense of humor?

Your sense of humor is an individual preference for or against certain types of humor. Humor is as unique to you as any other aspect of your character and personality type. Identifying your sense of humor is not always easy, especially given the vast range of humor types and styles that exist. Identifying what your sense of humor is, involves exposing yourself to different comedy styles. Only through experiencing a range of comedy are you able to get a feel for your reaction.

Your sense of humor is a combination of being funny and different things that make you laugh. The type of jokes you like to tell do not need to be the same style of jokes that define your sense of humor. A sense of humor is a journey. Developing a sense of humor is a process based on social evolution, cultural understanding, and comedy education. A sense of humor doesn’t need to be one particular style or type. People are free to enjoy as many or as few comedy styles as they wish. Your sense of humor is simple, a part of who you are, and it does not need a more detailed definition.

What are some meaningful quotes about a sense of humor?

Below are 10 meaningful quotes about having a good sense of humor.

  • “Smiling is definitely one of the best beauty remedies. If you have a good sense of humor and a good approach to life, that’s beautiful.” Rashida Jones
  • “If you could choose one characteristic that would get you through life, choose a sense of humor.” Jennifer Jones
  • “Common sense and a sense of humor are the same things, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.” Clive James
  • “I have never believed much in luck, and my sense of humor has tended to walk on the dark side.” Hunter S. Thompson
  • “It is the ability to take a joke, not make one, that proves you have a sense of humor.” Max Eastman
  • “I knew racial discrimination at its worst in the 1930s. I lived with the humility of it, but I never lost my sense of humor. Humor is the escape valve from the deadly reality of adversity.” Nipsey Russell
  • “Humor disarms people. It opens them up to start a dialogue about things they wouldn’t normally talk about. I don’t understand how people who don’t have a sense of humor get through life.” Zach Anner
  • “It’s good to be able to laugh at yourself and the problems you face in life. A sense of humor can save you.” Margaret Cho
  • “Don’t wish me happiness – I don’t expect to be happy. It’s gotten beyond that, somehow. Wish me courage and strength, and a sense of humor – I will need them all.” Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  • “I translated an Emile Zola book, ‘The Belly of Paris,’ because I didn’t find an existing translation that captured his sense of humor. Humor is the first victim of translation.” Mark Kurlansky

How to deal with someone with no sense of humor?

Dealing with someone with no sense of humor requires patience. A sense of humor isn’t necessary to get through life, but it makes life more enjoyable. For example, socializing with someone who lacks a sense of humor can be boring and time will feel as though it is dragging on forever. A proper sense of humor prevents dreary lulls in conversation. However, the best way to deal with someone who has no sense of humor is to limit contact with them wherever possible. Whether you are a jokester, a fan of regular chuckles, or a serious character who appreciates the odd one-liners, dealing with someone totally devoid of a sense of humor is a very hard undertaking. People use humor in a range of different ways, from coping with strong emotions to simply fulfilling a need for attention. Whatever the reason, having a sense of humor is as much a part of our character as any other personality trait. Dealing with someone with no sense of humor is a strange experience, and while not impossible, it makes everything that much more complicated. Someone having no sense of humor doesn’t mean you can’t still crack jokes when they are around. Although, hanging around someone with no sense of humor means you must be prepared for them to ignore or seem oblivious to your attempts at humor. Just tell yourself it’s them, not you.