What is the emotion you feel when laughing at something funny?

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Superiority and Relief

For more than 2,000 years pundits have assumed that all forms of humor share a common ingredient. The search for this essence occupied first philosophers and then psychologists, who formalized the philosophical ideas and translated them into concepts that could be tested.

Perhaps the oldest theory of humor, which dates back to Plato and other ancient Greek philosophers, posits that people find humor in, and laugh at, earlier versions of themselves and the misfortunes of others because of feeling superior.

The 18th century gave rise to the theory of release. The best-known version, formulated later by Sigmund Freud, held that laughter allows people to let off steam or release pent-up “nervous energy.” According to Freud, this process explains why tabooed scatological and sexual themes and jokes that broach thorny social and ethnic topics can amuse us. When the punch line comes, the energy being expended to suppress inappropriate emotions, such as desire or hostility, is no longer needed and is released as laughter.

A third long-standing explanation of humor is the theory of incongruity. People laugh at the juxtaposition of incompatible concepts and at defiance of their expectations—that is, at the incongruity between expectations and reality. According to a variant of the theory known as resolution of incongruity, laughter results when a person discovers an unexpected solution to an apparent incongruity, such as when an individual grasps a double meaning in a statement and thus sees the statement in a completely new light.

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Can laughing too much kill you?

Death from laughter can also occur if laughing too hard leads to asphyxiation or suffocation. Laughing too hard may prevent adequate breathing or cause a person to stop breathing, depriving their body of oxygen. This type of death is likely with a nitrous oxide overdose.

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5. Write it all down

This is to another way to “bookmark” your laugher, and it’s particularly useful for during a work meeting. Essentially, it’s why I bring my notebook with me everywhere I go—because, really, I never know when I’m going to be overcome with inappropriate laughter. With your pen and paper at the ready, Dr. Irwin recommends you act as though you’re taking notes and “write out that you are in control now and appropriate in this setting, and will enjoy the laughter later, even more.” And then, hopefully, that release will keep you from laughing then and allow you to do so later.

Laughter brings people together and strengthens relationships

There’s a good reason why TV sitcoms use laugh tracks: laughter is contagious. You’re many times more likely to laugh around other people than when you’re alone. And the more laughter you bring into your own life, the happier you and those around you will feel.

Sharing humor is half the fun—in fact, most laughter doesn’t come from hearing jokes, but rather simply from spending time with friends and family. And it’s this social aspect that plays such an important role in the health benefits of laughter. You can’t enjoy a laugh with other people unless you take the time to really engage with them. When you care about someone enough to switch off your phone and really connect face to face, you’re engaging in a process that rebalances the nervous system and puts the brakes on defensive stress responses like “fight or flight.” And if you share a laugh as well, you’ll both feel happier, more positive, and more relaxed—even if you’re unable to alter a stressful situation.

How laughing together can strengthen relationships

Shared laughter is one of the most effective tools for keeping relationships fresh and exciting. All emotional sharing builds strong and lasting relationship bonds, but sharing laughter also adds joy, vitality, and resilience. And humor is a powerful and effective way to heal resentments, disagreements, and hurts. Laughter unites people during difficult times.

Humor and playful communication strengthen our relationships by triggering positive feelings and fostering emotional connection. When we laugh with one another, a positive bond is created. This bond acts as a strong buffer against stress, disagreements, and disappointment. Humor and laughter in relationships allows you to:

Be more spontaneous. Humor gets you out of your head and away from your troubles.

Let go of defensiveness. Laughter helps you forget resentments, judgments, criticisms, and doubts.

Release inhibitions. Your fear of holding back is pushed aside.

Express your true feelings. Deeply felt emotions are allowed to rise to the surface.

Use humor to resolve disagreements and tension in your relationship

Laughter is an especially powerful tool for managing conflict and reducing tension when emotions are running high. Whether with romantic partners, friends and family, or co-workers, you can learn to use humor to smooth over disagreements, lower everyone’s stress level, and communicate in a way that builds up your relationships rather than breaking them down.

Final Thoughts

I’m not even going to begin listing the positive traits that humor gives us which include relieving stress, living longer, feeling healthier, and feeling better about your day. If you can master telling a joke, people will like you and you’ll be able to make connections easily. If anything, life will be a lot less seriously and a lot more fun. Opportunities will come to you if you can be funny and people will be attracted to you as well. So now that I have given you the magical formula for being a jokester, do you have any jokes up your sleeve? Why not share one in the comment section below?

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“Laugh at yourself for a man is most comical when he takes himself too seriously.” -Og Mandino

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Use a Character Switch

When we tell a story, there are usually multiple characters in that story. More often than not, those characters have very distinct personas that people will make assumptions about. For example, Little Red Riding Hood is the vulnerable one, and the Big Bad Wolf is the dangerous one. But what if you switch personas around and the Big Bad Wolf suddenly is vulnerable? That’s when people’s assumptions are overturned and things become really interesting and funny.

Obviously, Ellen was talking about Sofia’s English since Sofia is the foreigner with the thick accent here. But Sofia just pretended that Ellen wasn’t talking about her, but about Reese. This unexpected character switch is funny.

In the story of Jennifer Lawrence getting into a bar fight in Budapest, two characters are involved: Jennifer and the aggressor.

Seth implied that Budapest was a dangerous place for Jennifer to get into a fight. But Jennifer pretended that Seth was not referring to her, but the other character in the story — the aggressor.

A ‘How to Be Funny’ Tip: If you and your friends are talking about an experience or a story where at least two characters are involved (that’s just about any story isn’t it?), then it could be your chance to be funny. Switch the character traits for an unexpected twist.

Bonus Example: Fifty Shades Freed

In the movie Fifty Shades Freed, Ana asked Christian, “If you are not coming with me to the forest, what if I run into a bear?”

“Too bad for the bear!” quips Christian.

Christian substituted Ana with the other character in the story — the bear.

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Use safe humor

The audience is not your target, usually! ☺

The audience is not your target, usually! ☺

Use humor that doesn’t use the audience as the butt of the joke. 

This is not the time to make jokes about audiences so thick their brains have the consistency of concrete or similar observations.

Avoid dividing an audience

Use humor that doesn’t isolate and target a segment of the audience: all the blondes, males, females, English speakers, people of Italian descent, people who have a commerce degree, or Sunday afternoon yoga practitioners … A descriptor that separates and intentionally sets one group up to laugh at another is not nice. 

Keep out of the gutter

Use humor that doesn’t rely on coarse language or profanity to make its point.

Stick to safe subjects

Use humor that avoids taboo subjects: religion, politics, race, class or sex.

Focus the laughs on yourself

Using humor effectively often means using yourself as the subject, if it’s relevant to your topic, and kindly.

Nobody wants to hear or see you putting yourself down harshly. You may laugh at your foibles or quirks publicly but not prostrate yourself for a whipping in front of an audience. That will embarrass them.

When you poke fun at yourself in a balanced, truthful way you are giving the audience permission to laugh with you, not at you.

You are also inviting them to identify with you, creating openness and trust. Your audience will be more likely to listen because you’re reflecting or showing them an aspect they know to be true of themselves, as well as you.

These stories do not have to be about big life events to work. Those small incidents where we are brought up short are very effective in the right place.

For instance, here is a story about what happened one late afternoon, after I’d finished teaching for the day, and had picked up my son, then aged four, from child care.

On the way home we called into the supermarket. We were standing in front of a chiller cabinet full of frozen desserts: ice cream of all flavors, different sorts of gelato, and yoghurt. A woman next to us opened the door and took out a large tub of chocolate flavored yoghurt. My son was amazed. He looked up at me, and then told her loudly, “My mother says that’s full of sugar and complete rubbish!”

Yes. Quite. I was deeply embarrassed as was the woman with the rubbish yoghurt in her hand. My zealous ‘better than thou’ food snobbery was outed, right down to the indignant intonation.

We’re human. We all have stories about ourselves to use. ☺

Laugh about what you know

Use subjects you’ve earned the right to joke about.

For example an over weight person may make comments about being large, a disabled person can joke about the difficulties they encounter on a daily basis or a woman can laugh about the trials of child bearing, provided she has had a child.

A safe guideline is, if you don’t know it, as in having lived it, don’t jest or make light of it.

Test and refine

It is better to have several strong anecdotes in your presentation rather than a string of weak ones.

Always rehearse and test the humor you plan to use. (Scroll down for rehearsal tips.)

To test have several people listen and give you honest feedback. Listen to it. It maybe that the subject is wrong for the situation, or perhaps your delivery needs work, or your language choice needs altering. Any of those could cause a humorous throwaway comment or a story to fall flat.

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2. Call upon an all-knowing friend to ground you

And if that doesn’t work, you could always have someone hold you down to keep you from laughing. No, not in a literal sense; rather, Gottsman says it’s helpful to have a trusted friend “anchor” you with a hand on your arm or leg to calm you down.

“You need someone who is aware of your discomfort and ready to assist, sitting next to you,” Gottsman says. So this won’t necessarily work if you’re flying solo at a wedding and are internally screaming at the vows Unremarkable Steve wrote for your best hometown friend. But, if you’re with a pal who can read your vibes? It’s great (and kudos to Jessie for kindly restraining me and my giggle fit during the fire drill).

Tips for developing your sense of humor

An essential ingredient for developing your sense of humor is to learn not to take yourself too seriously and laugh at your own mistakes and foibles. As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, we all do foolish things from time to time. Instead of feeling embarrassed or defensive, embrace your imperfections. While some events in life are clearly sad and not opportunities for laughter, most don’t carry an overwhelming sense of either sadness or delight. They fall into the gray zone of ordinary life—giving you the choice to laugh or not. So, choose to laugh whenever you can.

How to develop your sense of humor

Laugh at yourself. Share your embarrassing moments. The best way to take yourself less seriously is to talk about times when you took yourself too seriously.

Attempt to laugh at situations rather than bemoan them. Look for the humor in a bad situation, and uncover the irony and absurdity of life. When something negative happens, try to make it a humorous anecdote that will make others laugh.

Surround yourself with reminders to lighten up. Keep a toy on your desk or in your car. Put up a funny poster in your office. Choose a computer screensaver that makes you laugh. Frame photos of you and your family or friends having fun.

Remember funny things that happen. If something amusing happens or you hear a joke or funny story you really like, write it down or tell it to someone to help you remember it.

Don’t dwell on the negative. Try to avoid negative people and don’t dwell on news stories, entertainment, or conversations that make you sad or unhappy. Many things in life are beyond your control—particularly the behavior of other people. While you might view carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders as admirable, in the long run it’s unrealistic and unhealthy.

Find your inner child. Pay attention to children and try to emulate them—after all, they are the experts on playing, taking life lightly, and laughing at ordinary things.

Deal with stress. Stress can be a major impediment to humor and laughter, so it’s important to keep your stress levels in check. One great technique to relieve stress in the moment is to draw upon a favorite memory that always makes you smile—something your kids did, for example, or something funny a friend told you.

Don’t go a day without laughing. Think of it like exercise or breakfast and make a conscious effort to find something each day that makes you laugh. Set aside 10 to 15 minutes and do something that amuses you. The more you get used to laughing each day, the less effort you’ll have to make.

Delay the funny

When you have a funny quip or idea or joke, it’s hard not to share it right away. But the best-placed pun is actually at the end. Put the funny part at the end of the sentence. For example, if the fact it’s a cat is the surprise or twist in your story, don’t say, “There was a cat in the box.” Say, “In that box was a cat.” That way, you’re not still talking when the audience is meant to be laughing. This also makes your timing look awesome.

You can watch President Obama doing this here:

An easy way to delay (and replay) the funny is to use callbacks. Callbacks bring together everything in the end. This is where you go back (callback) and reference items that just got a laugh, or create something from items mentioned earlier in the conversation. This can be one of your jokes that worked or something funny or memorable from someone else. Remember, you don’t have to tell a new joke to be funny! 

Now I am going to end on something you know, but don’t want to know: Practice makes perfect. The more you practice your jokes, your stories, and your timing, the funnier you will be. Start small, with a few written jokes, a few casual stories around the water cooler. If you are really brave, sign up for an improv class or offer to write a wedding toast. Your funny is worth it.

With these tips you absolutely can learn how to be funny. I know this because I wasn’t born funny. In fact, I wasn’t funny at all. I am still no comedian. But I can tell you that after analyzing and applying these tactics in my daily conversations, I became a much wittier person. 

I want to give a huge thanks to David Nihill and Siyan Li for these amazing tips. They have more great funny tips to share with you:

David Nihill was asked to give a talk at Google, which he was willing to share. Watch his full presentation here on how to be funnier:

Siyan Li has put together an amazing resource, 5 Exact Lines That Will Make You Funny & Witty Immediately, so you can respond to some of the most common scenarios and questions in a funny way!

Speaking of funny, here are a few jokes where I humiliated myself just for you:

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