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
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
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.