41 Humor is No Joke

Bailey Heartfield

I want to dedicate my writing to those who inspire me most, my fellow peers. As academics, we read numerous papers, study material for countless hours and absorb so much information over the course of our education. Why? Because we are curious people who seek to better understand the world around us. I write for you, and in the name of our curiosity. Additionally, I have formatted my chapter to fit the realm you have become accustomed to, academia… but with a twist. For those of us who yearn for fact-based information presented in a casual style, I hope you enjoy my relaxed academic chapter about humor.

Keywords: Laugher, Quality of life, Unity, Ease, Strengthening


 

I am a student completing my last semester of college. This means I am in the unique phase of wrapping up my long-winded education and starting my post-graduation professional career. Only when I reflect on my days as a student do I start to grasp just how much knowledge – ranging from rhetorical theory to Freudian psychology – I have accumulated throughout the past four years. I have also come to the realization that with this large influx of information comes the unfortunate loss of some of it along the way. As my graduation date looms closer and closer, I have begun to ask myself this question: was there any way I could have latched on more securely to all the information I learned in school?

 

Research has introduced me to the powerful rhetorical tool of humor. Yes, humor… and listen up, folks, because the popular question of “how does the stuff we learn in class actually apply to my personal life?” can be answered when learning about humor. Humor is a tool that you, me, educators and employers alike can adopt to elevate our personal and professional lives. I believe that, when appropriate, incorporating humor into academic and professional settings can engage your audience, increase information retention, improve one’s quality of life, and even enhance the health of interpersonal relationships.

 

Funny enough, the term humor did not originate as a word meaning “the ability to be funny or to be amused by things that are funny,” which is how we understand the term today (Merriam-Webster). To really understand humor and the rhetorical impact it can have on an audience, I believe it is worth diving into the word’s etymology. The concept of humorism is thought to be derived from ancient Egyptian medicine and adopted by Greek physicians and philosophers, like Hippocrates. Humorism is an outdated medical system that aimed to explain human emotional and behavioral inclinations based on four main “humors,” including: blood, phlegm, yellow and black bile. It was not until the 1680s that humor adopted its modern meaning of referring to something funny. Humor, overtime, became synonymous with the word mood. This then evolved into “humoring,” or altering, someone’s mood with communication tools such as comedy (Zaffaris).

Humor’s etymology is fascinating as it shows how the concept originated as a medical practice and eventually evolved into a rhetorical tool with enough influence to alter an audience’s mood. Modern research has shown that humor now goes beyond a good joke, and can actually be beneficial in educational settings. Appleby explains that humor in the classroom can increase learning, divergent thinking and test performance among students. Research by Buskist et al. even found that 81 percent of students reported learning more if an instructor used humor in the classroom. This research highlights that, while education is serious, educators do not have to be strictly serious to be effective. Educators can take the findings presented in this research review and incorporate them to improve teaching methods which will help students further enjoy the educational process and motivate students to learn. To incorporate humor into the classroom, try telling jokes or funny stories, use lighthearted and relevant personal examples, and laugh alongside students (Appleby). You might find that, in addition to a good laugh, you can also strengthen the vital educator-student relationship.

 

Stepping outside the classroom, humor can be utilized to bolster positive psychological impacts. A study conducted by Sarah Schall in 2021 found that incorporating self-enhancing humor styles can increase the quality of a person’s life, specifically when that person is diagnosed with a chronic illness. Self-enhancing humor is a style of humor that involves making you feel better by finding amusement among life’s hardships (Humor that Works). Schall’s research explains how the use of self-enhancing humor can boost the degree to which life is enjoyed, even when battling serious health issues like a chronic illness. To increase your self-enhancing humor, and successfully cope with upset or stressors, think of something funny about the situation you are facing (Ford et al.). The next time you are feeling overwhelmed, focus on the last time you laughed really hard and you just might ignite your ability to engage in self-enhancing humor.

 

Further research on humor has also uncovered that the rhetorical device can enhance interpersonal relationships and daily life. For instance, having a higher predisposition for humorous communication was associated with greater efficacy in coping with interpersonal transgression in relationships and, additionally, everyday stress. An interpersonal transgression is any nontraumatic social interaction that is seen as morally wrong or personally harmful to you (LaBelle et al.). An interpersonal transgression should always be addressed, and you should feel validated, understood and safe before coping. Once these steps are taken and everyone in the relationship feels comfortable, the relationship can begin to mend and adapt in a healthy way. In the context of interpersonal relationships, humor is used as a unifying rhetorical agent that can bond people through a shared, positive experience. LaBelle et al.’s research informs us that serious situations can be diffused and surpassed with the incorporation of humor.

 

With humor’s many benefits laid out, it seems equally as important to examine the tool’s limitations. Any good rhetor will tell you that, in order to have an effective impact, you must first understand your audience. This rings especially true when using humor. If the person you are speaking with does not share the same sense of humor, the tool can have adverse effects. Too much joking or joking about triggering and offensive topics can harm a relationship by establishing a rift between the audience and yourself (Solomon). Humor holds the power to both assist and sever relationship strength and longevity as the tool can antagonize your audience’s insecurities. Thus, humor is audience-dependent meaning that you should always consider the humor style and timing to which your audience will be receptive.

 

As a fellow student, you, too, probably ask yourself how the information learned in the classroom can translate to your life outside. Nearing the end of my college experience, this factor of application is increasingly important to me as I will soon be living solely outside the classroom. Humor is one such concept that has practical, and crucial, applications to everyday life. Psychology Today summarizes the psychological benefits of using humor as a rhetorical tool, including: diffusing tense situations and strengthening social bonds, creating a stress-buffering effect, and increasing overall well-being. More generally, humor is inherently a rhetorical agent in that it has the ability to impact your opinion and change your behavior (Communication Science). While just being a funny person and cracking jokes does not create a cure-all for information retention or struggling relationships, humor can be incorporated as one step to enhance your quality of life, both in the classroom and beyond.


Works Cited

 

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Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, Feb. 2018,

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“Can Humour Make You More Persuasive?” Communication Science, 30 Oct. 2018,

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Ford, Thomas & Lappi, Shaun & O’Connor, Emma & Banos, Noely. (2017). Manipulating

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Ramírez, M. C., Esteve, R., López, M. A. E., Miró, J., Jensen, M. P., & Vega, R. (2020). Beyond

pain intensity and catastrophizing: The association between self‐enhancing humour style and the adaptation of individuals with chronic pain. European Journal of Pain, 24(7),

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Solomon, Alexandra H. “‘Can’t You Take a Joke?”: What to Do When Teasing Hurts.”

Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 30 June 2019,

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“The 4 Humor Styles.” Humor That Works, 4 Mar. 2021

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Zafarris, Jess. “The Etymology of ‘Humor.’” Useless Etymology, 22 Oct. 2019,

https://uselessetymology.com/2017/11/29/the-etymology-of-humor/

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Rhetoric in Everyday Life by Bailey Heartfield is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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