Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Need a Creativity Boost? Try Laughing!

Injecting more humor into your life enhances your creative spirit.

Key points

  • There is a direct correlation between humor and creativity.
  • You can stimulate your personal creativity with regular exposure to humor.
  • Humor advances and promotes divergent thinking.
  • Dad, are we pyromaniacs? Yes, we arson.
  • Never buy flowers from a monk. Only you can prevent florist friars.
  • My friend David had his ID stolen. Now, he’s just Dav.
  • Autopsy Club party here this Saturday! Open Mike Night!
  • Bono and The Edge walk into a Dublin bar, and the bartender says, “Oh no, not U2 again.”

The book Creativity and Humor confirms what we all know intuitively: that is, humor stimulates our creativity. What the authors discovered, among other things, was that watching humorous videos (for example) increased the “cognitive flexibility” of participants in the study. In short, humor (or laughing specifically) not only puts us in a positive mood but also increases our optimism about future events or possibilities. It frees up our thinking and causes us to look at the world with a new set of eyes… with a new perspective.

In one revealing study, researchers discovered a low correlation (r = .29) between creativity and intelligence (see, also, “You Don’t Have to Be Smart to Be Creative”). They also discovered a high correlation (r = .89) between a sense of humor and creativity. Of course, a correlation doesn’t prove causation. Your love of jokes and your ability to create puns don’t necessarily cause more creativity. However, it is possible that a sense of humor and an ability to think creatively are both related to divergent ways of thinking. Regular exposure to humor is also a regular exposure to innovative thinking, creative word-play, and novel ideas.

Other studies have shown that laughter can help people solve problems that demand creative solutions by making it easier to think more broadly and associate ideas/relationships more freely. As Ma points out in his Psychology Today blog, humor releases tension, which can lead to perceptual flexibility—a required component of creativity. Humor has a way of activating areas of the brain that challenge conventional expectations. Steven Gilman, in his penetrating article “A Sense of Humor Increases Creativity,” posits, “I think the research will eventually show that developing one’s sense of humor specifically develops the kind of thinking that leads to greater creativity.”

  • I got over my addiction to chocolate, marshmallows, and nuts. I won’t lie: It was a rocky road.
  • I’ve started telling everyone about the benefits of eating dried grapes. It’s all about raisin awareness.
  • Be careful when you eat at Sam & Ella’s Diner.
  • I’m terrified of elevators, and I’m taking steps to avoid them.
  • A few puns make me numb. But math puns make me number.
Geralt/Pixabay
Source: Geralt/Pixabay

Five creative benefits of humor

John Spencer notes five benefits of the humor/creativity connection:

1. Humor encourages creative risk-taking.

Humor often breaks the rules and expands our awareness of things around us. It gives us permission to use our innate creativity in new ways.

2. Humor develops divergent thinking.

Humor allows us to break out of our rigid thinking and see things from different perspectives. For example, consider this: I’m going to start collecting highlighters. Mark my words! Here is a classic play on words; in short, using words inventively in order to get a smile or laugh. Humor gives us permission to observe the world around us divergently, and in so doing, we engage in some non-linear (creative) thinking.

3. Humor models curiosity and playfulness.

Humor broadens our horizons and expands our vision. Humor invites us to observe life from different vistas and different angles.

4. Humor boosts creative problem-solving.

Humor opens up our thinking and allows us to see life from a broad perspective. In so doing, we begin to make associations among disparate ideas and random thoughts.

5. Creative humor leads to creative fluency.

We often consider creativity as a way to solve serious problems or life-altering challenges. But creativity doesn’t have to be utilitarian or functional… it can be silly, disrespectful, or impractical. It can be fun, joyous, or mind-bending. Humor opens up cognitive possibilities and expands mental horizons. Like this: I went to the toy store and asked the assistant where the Schwarzenegger dolls were, and he replied, “Aisle B, back.”

The implications are clear.

When we inject humor (or more humor) into our lives, we give ourselves permission to look at the world with new eyes and new perceptions. Humor opens up our creative possibilities. Humor promotes divergent thinking and innovative thoughts. Making humor a normal and natural part of your life holds the possibilities for a more creative outlook and more creative problem-solving.

  • That awkward moment when a zombie looking for brains walks right by you.
  • Water is heavier than butane because butane is a lighter fluid.
  • Those who insert animal names in words are hippocrites.
  • Irony. The opposite of wrinkly.
  • I have a friend who speaks to his garden. Yes, Jack and the beans talk.

So, find your own comedian, wit, or humorist; listen to their podcasts, read their books, and watch their live performances. You'll open up untapped regions of your brain, see the world a little differently, and begin creating a plethora of new ideas. Your creative instincts will be revived, regenerated, and renewed.

References

Sarah R. Luria, John Baer and James C. Kaufman. Creativity and Humor (Waltham, MA: Academic Press, 2018).

Anthony D. Fredericks. “You Don’t Have to be Smart to be Creative.” Psychology Today. com (“Creative Insights). July 23, 2021. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/node/1164582.

William E. Hauch & John W. Thomas. “The Relationship of Humor to Intelligence, Creativity, and Intentional and Incidental Learning.” The Journal of Experimental Education, Vol. 40, 1972 - Issue 4.

Daniel J. Goleman. Emotional Intelligence. (New York: Bantam Books, 1995). Pgs. 84-86.

Moses Ma. “The Power of Humor in Ideation and Creativity.” PsychologyToday.com (“The Tao of Innovation”). June 17, 2014. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-tao-innovation/201406.

John Spencer. “Five Ways Humor Boosts Creative Thinking and Problem-Solving in the Classroom.” Podcast: https://spencerauthor.com/humor-boosts-creativity (September 16, 2019).

advertisement