Healthy humour adds sparkle to relationships and can lighten any mood or situation. It has the power to make you resilient to weather the storms of life.
Do humorous people have an edge on lasting relationships and happiness? Theorists suggest that humour and laughter is in fact a survival tool for social animals. “Laughter not just influences a person physically, but also psychologically. It is one of the most commonly experienced emotions in our lives,” says Nandita Sarma, a counsellor and psychologist from Mumbai. “We need people who can laugh at our jokes and also people who can make us laugh. Whether it is choosing friends or partners, we prefer to associate with people who bring a lighter touch to our daily activities, as laughter makes a person feel good.”
You can use humour when you feel nervous or to keep long-term relationships from withering. “I had an arranged marriage and had to establish a rapport with the new person in my life and my in-laws. I realised that being serious will not help, especially in a marriage, where there will often be conflicts. I found that using subtle humour helps to ease the situation and ensures that I get the message across to my new family members,” says Paromita Sarkar.
Humour is an amazing ice breaker, especially when new relationships are being formed. Alison Miranda recounts the first family event that she took her fiancé James to: “My family decided to celebrate Mother’s day with a lunch at my 96-year-old grandmother’s house. James had already met my parents but I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for him to meet the rest of my family. My grandmother has a hearing problem, and she was silent despite all of us being there. The nurse that looks after my grandma is somewhat superstitious and has some outdated ideas. Someone had brought mangoes for dessert, so the nurse refused to give them to her, saying she shouldn’t eat mangoes since she’d just had water. Various members of my family told her it was alright for my grandma to have the mango and that she was mixing it up with the lore of not eating watermelons after drinking water. But she was still apprehensive about giving my grandma the mangoes. My fiancé sat quietly through all the commotion, then he turned to her and said, ‘Elsie, I’m a doctor, so I’m saying that it is fine for her to eat the mangoes, just make sure she waits for one hour before she goes swimming.’ That had everyone in splits, including my grandma who started laughing!” Alison’s family are certainly looking forward to the hilarious new addition to their family.
Useful as a coping mechanism
When life’s challenges leave you cold and bare, a humorous attitude can be a great coping mechanism. “When the going gets tough, the tough get humorous,” believes RamG Vallath. In the prime of his life, a serious autoimmune disorder stripped away his basic motor skills. He rebounded with the support of his family and his never-say-die attitude. He ensured that he remained positive by infusing ample humour in his conversations with his family and friends. “When I had the disorder, my hands used to shake all the time,” he says, “I made fun of it saying, ‘I used to work in sales, so I was used to shaking people’s hands all the time, and now I have developed a handshaking problem.’” Humour helped him cope during this difficult phase. “While I was recovering, I started writing my first book, which was full of humour. The process of writing made me feel positive,” reveals Vallath .
Conflict in relationships is inevitable. Unrealistic expectations and disagreements that build over time can snowball into a major conflict. Instead of letting a conflict wreck your relationship, we can use humour to lighten tense moments. Raviprasad illustrates how he used humour to handle an edgy situation. “When I told my family that I had proposed to a girl of my choosing, the atmosphere became quite tense. My father called me after a few days and said, ‘Ever since your mom informed me about your engagement, I cannot sleep properly thinking about [you marrying] this girl.’ My immediate response was, ‘Dad, even I cannot sleep properly, since I too am thinking about the girl…’ My dad started laughing, which lightened the situation and he wanted to know more about the girl. Now, she is my wife and also the mother of my child,” he says with a twinkle in his eye.
Humour can lessen stress, give you a fresh perspective and show you creative ways to deal with relationship issues.
Key to success at work
When you spend 80 per cent of your time at work, why not make it more enjoyable with humour? Business is serious, but playful communication at the workplace contributes to better productivity and professional success. “At work, the most important thing is to build a relationship so that the other feels comfortable with you. As we have already seen, humour is a powerful icebreaker—and it works even at our workplaces. “Whenever I walk into a meeting room, I lighten the situation with a couple of sentences that are funny. Everybody chuckles and we feel at home with the group,” says Vallath.
Ranbir Singh recalls an incident when an unintentional faux pas created a rather funny situation. It was when his company sent him to Spain. He recalls, “I had to present a PowerPoint slideshow about my company to another group and they weren’t too open to the idea of working with us. Unfortunately during the presentation, the sound went off and the slide got stuck. As much as I tried, nothing seemed to be working. I was totally mortified and wanted to convey my feelings, but I had forgotten the Spanish word for ‘embarrass’. Then I remembered that most Spanish words are similar to English words, except that you add an ‘o’ or ‘a’ to end depending on the gender of the word. So I said ‘Me muy embarazado’ to apologise for the goof-up. But my apology was met with stunned silence as everyone just stared at me. My colleague then informed me that I had just told everyone that I was ‘very pregnant’! But luckily this faux pas actually endeared these people to me because they realised that I was making an effort to learn their language. Today, they are my clients.”
Ways to sharpen your funny bone
Not all people find the same things funny. Some researchers claim one can inherit a sense of humour, while other studies suggest that humour is an acquired trait, which is dependent on your personality and your environment.
Acquired or inherited, there are methods by which you can sharpen your sense of humour if you want to make your relationships better. Here are few ways to develop your lighter side:
- Learn to laugh at yourself: Most of us are unable to laugh at ourselves, because we fear what others will think of us. But nobody is perfect, and when you laugh at yourself, people appreciate your positive attitude. Possible areas where you can focus include your mistakes, past incidents or your personality. However, excessive self-deprecating humour can indicate low self-esteem.
- Look for humour: A witty person is aware of his surroundings and happenings. Pay attention to detail and see the funny side in everything you do to make your humour spontaneous.
- Hang around humorous people: Remember the last time when you laughed so hard that you were in pain? Spend more time with people who are fun to be with. Humorous people tend to twist the truth in a funny way. You will learn by watching how they make others laugh, and this will help you improve your own sense of humour.
- Respond with humour: Whenever people make remarks that are meant to offend you, remember that humour works better than an angry retaliation. Once Mahatma Gandhi went to meet King George V at Buckingham Palace, when a journalist asked him, “Don’t you feel embarrassed to see the king in this scanty attire?” To which Gandhi responded, “Why should I feel ashamed? The king has enough on for the both of us.”
- Immerse yourself in funny things: One of the easiest ways to become funnier is to fill up on a lot of humorous material—books, TV shows, movies, sites and video clips. Observe how comedians use the most trivial things for clean humour. Notice their timing, delivery and gestures. It may help you change the way you perceive things. With time and practice, you too will start coming up with your own ‘killer’ jokes.
Once humour becomes part of your life, you will learn how to naturally incorporate it to build and maintain your relationships and diffuse potential conflicts.
This was first published in the October 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.