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Humour: A Pillar of Resiliency

Cultivating laughter and play.

Key points

  • We can make room for humour in times of challenge and darkness.
  • Laughter, play, and having a sense of awe are some of the ways we can incorporate humour into our daily lives.

Resiliency is our capacity to bounce back and recover from a setback or challenging experience. It is how we dust ourselves off and get up instead of giving up when we fall. Much of the work on resiliency focuses on the challenge, hardship, or event that triggered a crisis. However, we can practice resiliency every day by the small decisions we make that set us up to do the extraordinary. Resiliency is there, inside us – it just needs to be recognized and cultivated. When developing our resiliency, there are some key factors that help us to bounce back from and grow stronger through difficulty – and one of those factors is humour.

Humour can honour the significant capacity of not taking oneself too seriously yet also hold space for compassion, fun, light-heartedness, and tenderness despite the stressors, hurt, and pain we all experience.

When dealing with grief, loss, pain, and even daily stressors, people tend to think there is no room for humour. However, it is part of our human condition and it plays a significant role in resilience. Humour’s benefits extend not only psychologically, but physically as well. Humour is a vital tool that can help us gain perspective even in the darkest of moments. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl said, “Humour more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.”

Humour in this context is inclusive and broad. Humour is a constellation of joy, play, not taking oneself too seriously, seeing beauty, having a sense of awe and wonder, and having your wits about you. It can emerge when you’re at your wits’ end and choose to laugh out loud at the absurdity of life instead.

Courtney Cook/Unsplash
Women smiling in a sunflower field.
Source: Courtney Cook/Unsplash

The goal of humour is to lift the weight off your shoulders and soften your heart. Fortunately, there are many ways we can incorporate humour into our daily lives.

Laughter is the body’s natural painkiller, allowing the body to release endorphins. Laughter has other documented benefits as well. In the shorter term, it activates and releases your stress response and soothes away built-up tension. In the long term, research suggests laughter improves our immune system, relieves pain in the moment, and increases our pain threshold.

How do we laugh more? Set the intention to look for it. Seek out media that makes you laugh: movies, shows, videos, books, or memes. Spend time with a colleague, friend, or family member who makes you laugh. Moments of shared laughter and joy can bring a sense of comfort and closeness. Be sure, though, the laughter you are seeking out is not at the expense of another person or an animal.

Another way to incorporate humour is through play. While many of us stop playing in adulthood, it is an act that helps fuel creativity, imagination and problem-solving. Play does not have to be structured and organized; it can be unplanned and a bit messy. Play can also be a state of mind that involves staying curious, open, and adventurous. We can incorporate play at home through hobbies, with kids or animals, or anything that nurtures our playful side. At work, we can provide space for play by allowing time for curiosity or brainstorming. Companies are often now providing opportunities to play around their workspace, as research has suggested play at work boosts productivity and creativity.

One final suggestion for incorporating humour is to notice moments of awe and wonder. This avenue is particularly helpful for those who might not consider themselves the laughing or playful type. To find awe and wonder, think about times in which something took your breath away, or a moment you stopped to take it all in. In her book A Year of Kindness, researcher Pamela Paresky explains that wonder and awe are important for our everyday practices of wellness. Awe and wonder help us stay humble and curious, and take a step back when needed.

Humour affords us brief moments of relief from the seriousness and responsibilities of daily life. Being resilient includes having the strength to see the humour in our circumstances and not taking ourselves so seriously. Sometimes, it is important to take a deep breath, or have a good laugh, and know that all will be okay.


Dunbar, R., et al. (2011). Social laughter is correlated with an elevated pain threshold. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 279(1731).

Frankl, V. E. (2011). Man's search for meaning: An introduction to logotherapy. London, UK: Rider Books.

Keith, M. J., Anderson, G., Gaskin, J., & Dean, D. (2018). Team Video Gaming for Team Building: Effects on Team Performance. AIS Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction, 10(4), 205-231. 10.17705/1thci.00110

Paresky, P. (2011). A Year of Kindness: Discover how journaling about kindness leads to a happier, more meaningful life. Self-published.

West, S.E., Hoff, E., & Carlsson, I. (2016). Play and productivity: Enhancing the creative climate at workplace meetings with play cues. American Journal of Play, 9(1), 71-86.

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