How Laughing at Yourself Can Be Good for Your Well-Being

How Laughing at Yourself Can Be Good for Your Well-Being

via Psychology Today

KEY POINTS

  • Laughing at oneself is healthy when it is not motivated by self-demeaning drives.
  • People who engage in excessive self-defeating humor may be trying to hide underlying emotional problems.
  • Self-directed laughter can remind us of our humanness and promote positive interpersonal interactions.

Laughing when people say humorous comments or do funny things is one issue but laughing at oneself is another. Most people enjoy laughing, partly because it releases endorphins that may not only ease tension and pain, but makes people feel good. Some believe that people cannot have a sense of humor if they cannot laugh at themselves. Psychologists use the term “self-directed laughter” to describe laughing at oneself. In the early period of studying self-directed laughter, Allport (1961) identified the ability to laugh at oneself as having insight while still having a sense of self-acceptance. In other words, laughing at oneself is healthy when it is not motivated by self-demeaning drives. McGhee (1996, 2010) viewed laughing at oneself as healthy when you:

  • Are able to look kindly at your weaknesses or mistakes
  • See how embarrassing situations can be funny
  • Can laugh without putting yourself down

It is important, however, to distinguish how laughter directed at oneself can cut both ways—increasing self-acceptance or self-disparagement. Sometimes self-directed humor is based on belittling or negative comments about oneself. For example, professional comedians who do so for monetary gain or publicity. Apart from comedians, others who find humor in their own shortcomings or behavior may do so for a number of reasons:

  • Helping one maintain positive mental health, particularly during stressful times or when feeling tension
  • Reducing the “sting” of a critical remark by another
  • Aiding oneself in gaining a clearer perspective of what is and is not important
  • Enhancing interpersonal relationships with others by breaking down barriers and making people realize each other’s similarities and thus building rapport

Conversely, some forms of self-directed laughter can have negative effects for the individual, which is often called self-deprecating or self-defeating humor. Individuals who are not comfortable in social interactions may use self-directed laughter to achieve or maintain interpersonal connections with the hope of getting the approval of others. Kuiper and McHale (2009) view this in terms of well-being. However, such behavior can backfire. People who engage in excessive self-defeating humor may be trying to hide or avoid dealing with underlying emotional problems, such as low self-esteemdepression, and anxiety. Although a person may engage in cynical or self-defeating humor to attract others or gain their approval, studies found that just the opposite occurred—people were less likely to want to interact with the individual. Consequently, self-defeating humor not only discourages fostering relationships but also contributes to further impairing an individual’s well-being resulting in greater social rejection and lower levels of self-esteem (Kuiper & McHale)…

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