Humor Gives Back.
Humor is one of those things that many people say is important because it’s useful. Or as philosophers like to say it’s instrumental value or utility. (Hey, I’m a philosopher so I got to give props to my discipline). They’re right? They’re just not right enough.
Humor is often touted as a great tool for decreasing stress, helping us to persevere or overcome obstacles. Yes, humor has been shown to be very useful. It’s also something that we like and value in others. While humor is certainly helpful and useful it can be just as valuable to you the person using it. Not because it can do all those things I just mentioned, but that it’s reciprocally useful and good for you!
I teach philosophy and you can probably imagine the faces of my students. When I introduce myself as a philosophy professor at parties or social gatherings, I usually get that look from the person who had and hated that class in college. I’ve given up on apologizing. I mean, Socrates was killed for practicing the craft. So, yeah, it’s true that philosophy can be off-putting. As a result, I’ve found the more humor I can use to make my class interesting, the better off the class does. Again with the usefulness. But the utility doesn’t end there. I’ve found that the more I am able to use humor effectively, the more I am able to engage students and listeners with a clever joke or witticism, the better they learn. But almost as important is that when I share humor with my audience, I enjoy those moments too.
That’s the big value add that humor brings. The engagement that it creates isn’t simply for the audience, whether that be a class full of students, a roomful of listeners, or a hospital full of patients. The humor user will also feel good. It gives my ego a boost when I use humor and it’s taken well. But more than that, I enjoy the shared laughter, the shared mirth. And that is so important for me and the performance of my job. If employees won’t do as well in environments where there is little laughter. Andrew Carnegie was clear in this when he said “There is little success, where there is little laughter.” But you the teacher, the supervisor, the speaker are a part of that environment too. You are just as effected by a dour work environ as the others who work there. So when you enjoy bringing and sharing humor with your co-workers, audience, or patients, you will do better as well. The value-add is noticeable.
So remember, that when you use humor it’s not just about them, it’s about you too. More importantly it’s about us. Ella Wilcox wasn’t wrong when she said “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; Weep, and you weep alone.”