6 Simple Ways to Enhance Your Sense of Humor

Having a good sense of humor reduces stress, helps you cope with pain, creates empathy in social situations, and can even improve your odds of finding a mate. But what is a "good" sense of humor, and how can you improve yours? Read on to find out.

By Brandon Specktor
Miss Wright, Wikimedia Commons

Learn to laugh at yourself

If you can find the absurdity in your own circumstances, you can keep them from getting you down. That's what comedian Tig Notaro did after finding out she had breast cancer. Instead of canceling her upcoming sets, Notaro worked through her fears onstage in a stand-up show that friend Louis CK called "masterful." If you attack your own fears and embarrassments by turning them into amusing stories that you share, friends will laugh with you—and laughter is the best medicine.

P.D Jankens and Reader's Digest Magazine

Laugh at others (within reason)

In the first issue of Reader's Digest in 1920, Charlie Chaplin wrote, "The one point of human nature that I play upon more than anything else…is that it strikes people as funny when they see someone else placed in an undignified and embarrassing situation." His insights are as true today as they were 2,500 years ago when Plato pitched what we now call the "Superiority Theory" of humor, which basically explains that laughter is an expression of our superiority over an embarrassing individual, or even a former state of ourselves.

Jim Summaria

Keep an ear out for "benign" humor

In The Humor Code, authors Peter McGraw and Joel Warner suggest that the best jokes are "benign violations." For something to be funny, the punchline has to be a violation—it breaks your expectations, social taboos, or even personal space (like being tickled by a friend). But to stay funny and not scary, it must also be benign—not too dark, relatively inoffensive, and ultimately non-threatening (tickling suddenly seems less funny when it's done by a stranger in a back alley).

Allan Warren, Wikimedia Commons

Learn a variety of jokes

Still not getting the laughs you want? It's not you; it's your lines. Learn a few strong jokes of different types (try for one a week) and you'll kill regardless of the company. Sarcasm not working? Try dashing off some puns or one-liners. Memorize a few good bar jokes before a night on the town. Always have one funny personal story in your back pocket. Remember: Laughter is universal, but sense of humor is acquired.

Angela George, Wikimedia Commons

Actively look for a laugh every day

A hearty, gut-busting laugh can engage all 43 of your facial muscles (not to mention the gut you just busted). And every muscle needs exercise to stay functional. Add an item to your daily to-do list: Find something humorous. Don't mark it off until you do it, suggests Jeanne Robertson, a humor expert and author of several books on the topic. A few places to find or get a chuckle: • Hold a comedy festival on the couch (100+ funniest movies of all time) • Start a ha-ha Pinterest board or Twitter account • Answer offensive people with humor instead of hostility • See the circus, a movie, a stand-up comic, or a funny play, because laughter is contagious; watch it spread in a live environment • Develop a silly routine to break a dark mood, even something as silly as speaking with a Swedish accent (unless you are Swedish, of course)

N.A.F., Reader's Digest magazine

Laugh at death

If you wonder why death is such a popular character in jokes, magazine cartoons, and comedy skits, New Yorker cartoons editor Bob Mankoff has an answer: "Illness and death are the primary sources of anxiety," Mankoff says in a recent 60 Minutes segment. "One way of dealing with anxiety is to laugh at it. The Grim Reaper's gonna get the last laugh; until then, it's our turn."

Keep the laughs coming every week!

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