MJ MARGGRAFF

Your humor style says a lot about you. A sense of humor means getting and giving a laugh—a truly human quality. Having a sense of humor is important enough that it’s a trait sought in candidates applying for one of the most serious jobs on earth (or off): NASA Astronaut. Humor, researchers contend, is correlated to many positive qualities: a love of learning, optimism, wisdom, resilience, gratitude, intimacy, and the ability to manage and reduce stress. Imagine being confined to a small spaceship with just a few other astronauts for several months and you begin to understand how humor would be critical to surviving the stress. In short, a sense of humor makes you feel good and brings others together, outcomes that are positive and healthy for us. But the style of humor is important too. There are four basic humor styles—two of them bring out the best in us, while the other two are often not as funny to everyone concerned. Being aware of the way we use humor and the way others use it says a lot about how we think, who we are, and how others see us. Here are the four styles, how to identify them, and how one day we will have help to teach us how to make our humor even more effective.

Humor style says a lot about a person. Having a sense of humor means getting and giving a laugh—a truly human quality. Having a sense of humor is important enough that it’s a trait sought in candidates applying for one of the most serious jobs on earth (or off): NASA Astronaut. Humor, researchers contend, is correlated to many positive qualities: a love of learning, optimism, wisdom, resilience, seeking stress reduction, gaining intimacy, and gratitude. Imagined being confined in a small spaceship with just a few other astronauts for several months and you can imagine how humor will be critical for stress-survival. In short, a sense of humor makes you feel good and brings others together, outcomes that are positive and healthy for us. But not just any kind of humor counts. There are four basic humor styles—two of them bring out the best in us, and the other two are not so funny. Being aware of the way we use humor and the way others use it says a lot about how we think, who we are, and how others see us. Here are the four styles, how to identify them, and how one day we will have help to teach us how to make our humor even more effective.

The four styles of humor are easy to see—we see them daily. More importantly, understanding the four styles can help choose the kind of humor you practice. Because it’s not about the laughter that matters most, it’s the way you go about getting a laugh. Here are the four basic humorous styles: Affiliative, Self-Enhancing, Aggressive, and Self-Defeating humor. Affiliative humor is a social ice-breaker, like making a joke at no one’s expense, engaging, and fun for all—Affiliative humor is an all-in-one stress-reliever and social glue. Self-Enhancing engages in self-laughing: telling a story about a personal mistake that shows how you persevered, coped, and perhaps became a little better from it but not in a boastful way yet stories we enjoy and with which we sometimes identify. Both affiliative and self-enhancing humor are intelligent styles of humor, humor that connects us and serves to support our better angels. Then there are two other kinds of humor. Aggressive humor, a humor that puts others down, has ridicule at its core. Think of a bully or high-ranking official who smirks about others to get a laugh at their expense—with laughter that arises from his supporters. Does the laugh we give to a bully’s humor say something about him or us? Self-defeating humor is humor that puts down oneself; while this may sound humble, too much of it is self-pity draped in humor’s clothing and victimhood. Aggressive humor and self-defeating humor are filled with contempt and sorrow.

You have the power to choose how you act and that includes your choice in your taste of humor. Observe your humor. Listen to that of others. If you’d like to take a scientifically validated test of your humor (a study by Rod Martin, Rod Martin—formerly of the University of Western Ontario), take the Humor Styles Questionnaire published in the Journal of Research in Personality. You can find it here: https://www.thecut.com/article/whats-your-humor-style.html

Each day I am reminded of the kind of sense of humor I want to have—and not have. In my commitment to developing a healthy lifestyle, I attend a local gym. Though my body says to stay in bed, especially at 5:30 a.m. and now when dawn is getting later each morning, I crawl out and, with minimal grumbling, push myself to go out the door to my (very) early Pilates class.

Getting there is met by mostly cheery people who, like me, are still waking up. But the challenge each morning there is to walk by a small group of smirks who hang out near the coffee pots, available to us early risers: you can hear them jeer at others who are quietly succeeding in life, scoff at anyone in range who may not be of their political leaning and are in general miserable but generous in doling out their aggressive humor for all others to hear. If we are judged by our company, the key lesson here is to carefully choose your company that exercises an intelligent sense of humor. Determined to get a hot cup of java, I have to go by them. But I don’t listen and remind myself to choose differently: my humor will get me through them and other things: like surviving the Pilates class and other unexpected challenges through the day.

In the future, we will have a humor coach. Perhaps you have one now, usually another person, who gives you feedback on what you say, how to say it, and how to tell the story better. But I envision something else that will help us. It will be an artificially intelligent (AI) humor agent, not a droid, like C3-PO, though I’d like to have him around and banter with him. This AI agent will engage with us to listen to our humor style (if asked to), make suggestions on how to make us more engaging (maybe we take too much time to tell the story and get to the punchline), and how to be appealing using affiliative and self-enhancing humor intelligently. Humor that is smirking and ridiculing is not intelligent or healthy for us. The AI agent for humor will coach us in other ways too, as it curates information about us, suggesting ways to be empathic, caring, respectful, and inclusive of others. How do I know this AI agent will be a reality one day? I am part of a team developing one now, called ‘Kodii’. As a result of helping us aspire to communicating in positive ways, Kodii will help feel more connected to the people in our lives that matter most: close friends, friends we want to develop a closer relationship to, family members.

Humor. It will help you live longer. Observe and choose your humor style—seriously.