Cultivating a good sense of humor is an essential quality when facing life’s challenges.
What is humor?
Dictionary.com defines humor as both a noun: “a comic, absurd, or incongruous quality causing amusement; the faculty of perceiving what is amusing or comical“ and a verb: “to adapt or accommodate oneself to.“
Why is it important?
Developing and cultivating our humor is important because it helps us see things in a different way, which brings a sense of perspective and lightness to our situation. It's the key that unlocks our humility. Here’s a quote from the legendary leader Winston Churchill that captures his great sense of humor:
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
This quote speaks to the need for grit and determination in the face of our struggles. It’s also somewhat self-deprecating, acknowledging that none of us have all the answers all the time.
But it’s so easy to become disheartened when we try and then fail. It reminds me of another quote by Robert H Schuller: "Failure doesn't mean you are a failure, it just means you haven't succeeded yet." I love how he uses time to frame failure, like our failures are really the seeds of our unrealised future successes. This helps us reframe our difficulties in a way that gives us the strength we need to carry on.
3 things worth remembering
A friend once asked me – if I had only 3 pieces of advice, what would they be? Well, here they are:
What humor isn’t
Just to be clear, I’m not talking about making fun of other people to hide your own lack of self-esteem. Yes, we’ve all done this and we know it doesn’t feel good. I’m also not talking about being a clown, cracking jokes every 5 minutes. That’s just a display of nervous insecurity.
Humor in business and life
Humor = mood, and your mood affects your thoughts and your feelings. So, if you have a good (positive) attitude (humor) then you’ll be able to think more clearly and therefore make better decisions. Then you’re going to need to find some courage to act, and some patience when it’s not the right time to act – a little bit of acceptance will come in handy too.
The wise-cracking boss Michael Scott in The Office, who’s constantly trying to pep up his demotivated team, doesn't embody the kind of humor I’m talking about here. In fact, his character is a great example of astoundingly bad leadership and humor. This caricature of a highly insecure boss taken to the extreme still resonates with so many of us. But it’s a lot less funny having a boss like this in real life!
Cultivating humor also affects your family and personal relationships. As social creatures, we’re highly tuned to each other’s shifting moods and emotions. Not only are you affected by others' humor but you’re affecting them too. So be mindful of this. Acknowledging that you or someone else is going through a difficult time, and that it’s not the end of the world, can make a huge difference.
How to practice humor
We humans are constantly doing crazy, absurd and often very funny things when seen in a certain way. Finding this lightness can really make a difference. Often our colleagues and partners are the first to see and point this out to us. When this happens we’re actually being given an opportunity to practice humor instead of getting defensive and irritated.
So, the next time someone you love offers you up a teaspoon of truth, take the chance and accept it. Take a moment and laugh at yourself instead of freaking out. You’ve actually just been given a gift.
Not taking ourselves too seriously can also really make a huge difference when it comes to cultivating a good sense of humor. Acceptance is a great wingman for humor if we can shrug off our sense of urgency and self-importance.
Don’t forget that you can also dish out a little humor and when it’s well-timed it can make a huge difference to people’s days. So many times I’ve seen people’s faces light up when I’ve made a passing comment, delivered with love but at the same time cutting to the point. This is an art, though, and I’m happy to say I learned this from my dad. He has a quick and sharp tongue that can deliver a little well-timed truth when it’s needed.
What’s holding you back?
Taking ourselves too seriously and trying too hard are the two things that often hold most of us back when it comes to developing our sense of humor. We can also fear upsetting others or not being taken seriously. Remember, a good sense of humor brings relief not only to you but those around you too.
Need some help?
Do you feel like you need to lighten up but don’t know how? Perhaps you feel like you’re trying too hard or fear not being taken seriously. You may actually be pushing your partner, friends and colleagues away from you. I can help.
Cultivating a sense of humor is just one of the Concepts that I use in my coaching. Once you get the hang of it, life will get just a little bit lighter for you and those around you and this will energize you, giving you the strength and grit you need to keep moving forwards.