Humor is good for you—if you do it right

Humor isn’t always useful or beneficial for reaching our goals, new research suggests.

The research breaks people’s goals into three broad categories:

  • hedonic goals (maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain),
  • utilitarian goals (optimizing long-term well-being),
  • and social goals (getting along with others).

While humor appreciation can help make bad experiences better and help us bond with new friends, laughter and amusement do not always improve utilitarian outcomes, such as decision-making or health. For example, laughing tends to make people more creative—but also more careless.

Similarly, watching a funny movie may help someone recover from emotional ailments, such as depression or an anxiety disorder, but there is little evidence that humor will help with physical illness.

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One notable conclusion from the paper is that the effects of making others laugh depend on the type of joke, as well as whether or not the joke actually cracks them up. Teasing and telling insulting jokes are less likely to help people cope with loss or navigate an awkward social interaction than joking about about milder topics.

The researchers report their findings in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Additional coauthors are from the University of Melbourne and the University of Colorado.

Source: Amy Schmitz for University of Arizona