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    Humor and the Emotional Regulation in Mental Health

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    Depression is something that everyone goes through at some time or another. Everyone has different ways to deal with the emotions of stress to continue with their daily lives, and some of these ways can have a positive or negative impact on an individual’s mental health. We don’t tend to realize it, but humor is all around us and we experience it multiple times a day.

    Our daily interactions with other, to break the ice when meeting someone, even to lighten the mood in tense situations. It is an important part of our daily interactions and it also benefits our moods and emotions. Takaoka (2012) states, it has been suggested that humor can play an important role as a stress moderator and it also reduces any negative emotions that may come from a stressful situation.

    Humor can be used to help regulate emotions as well as keep people sane at times. There are multiple studies currently that have been conducted on the issues of depression and how humor positively effects the individual in times of crisis and stress. Freheit and Overholser (1988) state that empirical studies have shown a significant relationship between humor and coping. They have also found that humor is related to numerous personality characteristics, which lead to ways of effectively coping. This study will include cross sectional research to identify the relationship between humor and the emotional regulation in mental health.

    Hypothesis and Research Questions

    The reason for this paper is to investigate the relationship between humor and the effect it has on emotional regulation in mental health. There have been multiple studies conducted that have shown that humor has a very positive effect on one’s emotional well-being and as well as some healing properties in some cases.

    Humor can have the opposite effect as well, depending on the aspect of humor that is being used. For example, humor that is used to talk poorly about an individual especially in a group setting can lower that person’s self-esteem as well as cause emotional harm to them. It is important to know both sides of anything in order to fully understand the subject.

    I hypothesis that Humor indeed does have positive attributes when it comes to regulating emotions in one’s mental health. Humor can be used as a coping mechanism for some people when facing a crisis or difficult times. If used correctly it can be used to alter an individuals perspective on certain things and in that term cause the individual to have a better sense of well-being.


    Humor is an overlooked emotional response. We express it constantly, yet we really don’t see the importance and the value of it. Most people probably wouldn’t see it as its own emotion, but as a sub-emotion or just categorize it into happiness. Simpson and Weiner (1989) defined humor as “faculty of perceiving what is ludicrous or amusing, or of expressing it in speech, writing, or other composition.; imagination or treatment of a subject”.

    Laughter is contagious as they say. It brings people together and helps people release stress. Humor can take many forms. This is also dependent on the individual. For example, one person can find improvisational humor funny, while another individual who doesn’t care much for improvisational humor finds observational humor funny. The best attribute to humor is that it comes from many things.

    This means that there is a type of humor for everyone (Martin, 2003). In the past, before 1800 western culture considered most of humor to be negative. Criticisms were mostly made against comedy and laughter rather than seeing it as humorous (Morreall 2014). We have come a very long way since then and humor has become something so common and also its popularity has increased. Some individuals make a living off preforming stand up comedy.

    One of the reasons it has become so popular is because people can relate to the stories or the emotion of the individual performing. Lockyer (2015) explains that stand-up comedy is becoming more popular around the world. It has not been restricted to the American regions, but in countries even where stand-up comedy performances are less established.

    The rise of comedy will continue to evolve and expand overtime. With this increase of popularity happening, there will also be an increase of criticisms that come along with the different types of comedy. Not everyone has the same sense of humor so something that one individual might find humorous, someone else might take offence to it. Like most things there are different ethics when it comes to topics and discussions. One of the things about comedy is that all that goes out the window and everything becomes fair game. This approach is the way comedy works and strives.

    On the subject of comedy and ethics, Smuts (2010) stated that Knowing the necessary parts to understand a joke cannot mark an individual as immoral. He continues to propose that the necessary conditions for understanding and finding a certain joke funny, consist of error perception, cognitive shifts, incongruity, attitudinal endorsement of one’s beliefs. There are different types of humor. Everyone may find one kind of humor funnier than the other. They may also find the other types distasteful, all depending on the individual.

    Types of Humor

    There are many different types of humor. Every individual has their preference when it comes to things that they find humorous. Here are some examples of the different types of humor as stated by Martin (2003).


    Another word for this type of humor is slapstick. It involves physical actions like falling, chasing a person around. A perfect example of this would be the Three Stooges.

    • Observational humor involves observing surroundings and human behaviors in everyday life. The humor comes from the type of situations that occur in our daily routines.
    • Topical humor focuses on current events or current trends. Late night talk shows are an example of Topical.
    • Dark humor involves finding the humor in dark themes such as depression or death.
    • Wordplay depends on a play on words. Words are the main subject of the humor. The language is twisted around to make a joke. For example, “What do you call an alligator in a vest? An Investigator.
    • Self-Depreciating involves making jokes about one’s self. The humor comes from self-humiliation or using one’s self as the butt of a joke.
    • Improvisational humor is not scripted, it is basically a make-up as you go kind of type. This type of humor is unpredictable and keeps the material new.
    • Surreal humor comes from illogical situations and stories. The humor comes from how illogical these behaviors or stories are.
    • Bodily humor comes from functions of the human body. Flatulent jokes are the core of bodily jokes.

    Vrabel et. al. (2017) explained that there are also four distinct aspects of humor. They are aggressive humor, self-enhancing humor, self-defeating humor, and affiliative humor. They continued to add that that the four are categorized into two dimensions. The first-dimension concerns that the humor can be either benign or injurious in form, depending on how it is used.

    The second-dimension can cause enhancement that is believed to enhance the relationship of others or enhance one’s self. These dimensions of humor are combined to create the four aspects of humor previously stated. In a study conducted by David Cheng & Lu Wang, they found that the participants with higher levels of the self-enhancing humor style showed a more positive effect on their persistence.

    The Psychology of Laughter

    The mind is a very powerful thing. It can store so much information and help us express feelings, and emotions (McGhee et al., 1983). Laughter can change our state of mind. A person can go from being afraid and anxious to overcoming those feeling by just thinking about something that they find humorous.

    Some people use this method when they are in uncomfortable situations as a coping method to become comfortable (Klein, 1989). Laughter can make an individual feel uplifted, encouraged and have a sense of empowerment. Natan Anatoly Sharansky is a prime example of being able to overcome challenging times by using humor in order to overcome fear and depression.

    Sharansky was a human rights activist who spent 9 years in a Russian prison in the 1970s. While he was imprisoned, he was to do 16 months of solitary confinement, followed by a death sentence. The police of the soviet would constantly threaten Sharansky with the word firing squad. This would cause Sharansky to be in a state of constant fear. Sharansky was able to overcome the fear that was instilled in him by using humor.

    Instead of being afraid of the firing squad, he would make jokes about it constantly until it just became a word to him. He was able to trick his mind into no longer feeling the fear that came along with the word firing squad. Because he was able to overcome that initial fear, Sharansky was able to take that feeling of terror and hopelessness and manage it by making it tolerable for him (Klein, 1989). Life is unpredictable and can at times be downright cruel to us.

    We have the power of taking all these stressors that life throws at us and minimize the hold they have on our daily lives (Davis, 2001). We can find humor in these types of situations to make them manageable instead of them taking control. Laughter as a therapy is a cognitive-behavioral therapy that can make psychological, physical, and social relationships healthy, and can ultimately improve the quality of a person’s life (Yim 2016).

    The Healing Attributes of Laughter

    Francois Marie Arouet Voltair (1989) the French philosopher stated that “the art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease”. Science has proved that laughter has some medical and healing advantages. It helps reduce stress, promotes healing of the body, and has a huge impact on one’s mental health (Klein, 1989).

    It is also found that it can add some years to someone’s life. Humor is used in multiple ways to bring stress levels down and in some instances help people get through difficult times in life. Some examples include hospitals using humor to ease patients’ pain. A Texas hospital implemented this by showing some patients videos that had comedic attributes to distract patients from the pain they were having. It was found to be successful.

    Although it was a short-term solution, the patients enjoyed the experience and for a while they were able to focus on expressing laughter instead of pain. In some cases, humor mixed with the proper medicine and medical advice lead to individuals overcoming disease and serious illnesses (Klein, 1989).

    Humor is a very powerful coping mechanism that has proven to have positive outcomes when dealing with different hardships. In some cases, people are also able to overcome the fear of death by using humor to cope with it. Takeda et. al. (2010) found that mentally, laughter therapy can help reduce some unpleasant feelings that a person may have which include tension, anxiety, hatred, and anger, it also alleviates the feelings of depression, also it can improve interpersonal relationships, improves insomnia, memory problems and aid with dementia.

    Humor and Emotional Regulation During Times of Stress

    Everyone has a way of dealing with their everyday problems. This portion will focus on how people use humor to cope with problems or stress in order to improve their emotional state of mind. Lazarus and Folkman (1984) considered stress to be the main relation between an individual and the environment, when individuals think that their comfort in jeopardy or that individuals’ resources are lacking.

    There are many levels of stress, but we can all agree that it comes from the environment around us and the type of situations that it bestows. Lazarus and Folkman (1984) have classified stress into three categories. Stress as a stimulus, stress as a response, and stress as an interaction.

    Stress as a stimulus is to gain stress from stimulating image or type of form, surroundings which may include environmental conditions and internal physiological phenomena. Stress as a response is caused by a disruption in a persons psychological and physiological response to the environment, this can come from a change or disruption in emotional equilibrium as well as behavior, physical and mental changes.

    Stress as an interaction comes from a person’s response to stimulus from their surroundings; the individual can make a connection to the stimulus with the surroundings with a response, the individuals’ personal traits and characteristics can affect the surroundings (Lazarus and Folkman 1984).

    Having a better understanding for stress can lead us into ways of reducing stress levels, as well as changing our overall quality of life. Many people turn to alcohol or drugs when it comes to stressors depending on how sever they are. Laughter and surrounding yourself with positive people may be one of the simplest ways to combat stress. Wooten (1996) states that laughter can help individuals endure through stressful situations and stressful processes we may encounter.

    He found that laughter helps reduce depression, and helps individuals judge the problems they may face objectively, and it improves a person’s problem-solving abilities by helping to increase their insight. Laughter helps individuals prevent themselves from taking influences by the environment and to take control themselves.


    The more tools and understanding that we have, the better chances that an individual can regulate their emotional state and improve their mental health.

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