A Sense of Humor

The British sense of humor

Everyone has some idea  what a sense of humor is, though he would find it difficult to give a definition or an explanation. We all know what we mean when we say that a person has a good sense of humor, or that his sense of humor is poor. But to say exactly why we think this of him is a hard work.

A sense of humor is not  solely connected with humor  or funniness. In fact, its other applications are both harder to pin down and more important. But certainly, one part of the sense of humor is concerned with jokes, ludicrous situations and so on. What is funny in all these cases is incongruity. We are led to expect one thing and are told something different.


An example will show what  I mean. A very old joke tells of a man  who had the misfortune to drop his gloves from a fifth floor window. Why was that such a misfortune? Because he was wearing them at the time. Here the humor arises out of the bizarre way of reporting the accident, focusing the attention on a trivial  irrelevancy as though it were the main point.

The formal joke is a poor guide to the presence or absence of a sense of humour. It is a sense which reveals itself most  surely not in the response  to set, artificial jokes, but in response to the real life situations of everyday experience. It comes from seeing in real life the same incongruity that is artificially created in the formal joke.

A sense of humor is not always shown by laughter. Laughter may result from feelings of superiority or hostility, or other forms of generally unacceptable social behavior. It may be caused by the misfortunes of others. It may arise from a joke which gives offence to others because it deals with their religious or political prejudices. It might be based on sarcasm.

It is when we laugh at ourselves that we are beginning to reveal a real sense of humour; when our misfortunes strike us as funny. The ability to see the humourous side of life invites the natural good will of people. This is the test of a sense of humour.

To be able to laugh at ourselves, to see the humourous side of our own misfortunes and mistakes, we need to develop an objective view. We must learn to stand aside mentally and look at our behaviour or predicament as another person would see it. The best way to  do this is to ask ourselves this question, “How would I feel if this were someone else?” Once we begin to see this objective view it  becomes possible to   acquire a proper  sense of proportion, to see the trivial setbacks for what they are.

The greatest of cricketers, to take a simple example, will lose his wicket  for a duck on occasion. He will walk back  to the pavilion with a smile and turn the failure aside with, “Not my day today”. or “I’II take it out of them in the second innings”. He takes the decided, philosophical view, admiring professonally the skill  of the bowler who got him out. He knows  that an occasional failure is not reflection on his ability, that he will soon make another big  score. Because of his self – confidence he is able to treat his duck with a sense of humour.

Some people are too earnest about everything , Everything is looked at through  literal eyes.  A sense of humour cannot be developed when this attitude prevails. Imagination and fantasy are needed, the ability to see some unexpected aspect in the ordinary situations of everyday life. This capacity can be increased by greater awareness and by practice. It involves looking for a fresh viewpoint, finding similarities in apparently quite dissimilar things.

The ability to see beyond the immediate conditions is an essential element of a sense of humour. By means of it, tense situations, when nerves are on edge, may be relieved, or the hostility of others maybe turned aside. A flash or humor, can alter the entire complex of emotions revealing the triviality, in the wider setting, of the little daily annoyances.

We can summarize then by saying that a sense  of humour may be developed by concentrating on four aspects of personality. First, set out  to acquire an objective view of life. Secondly, develop a sense of proportion. See the trivial for what it is. Thirdly, do all you can to build up your self – confidence. This will enable you to suffers defeats and setbacks or in need of excuses. Fourth, increase your capacity for fantasy and imagination. See ordinary situations in proportion and helps to create detachment needed to take an objective view of your problems.

A sense of humour is a valuable asset and one which anyone may achieve who is determined not to take himself and his affaris more seriously than they deserve.


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