Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


What's So Funny? The Sense in a Sense of Humor

How humor changes the brain, the body, and the person.

Source: 5688709/Pixabay

Most people insist they have a good sense of humor, though many of their acquaintances would disagree. Humor can range from affable, “Ho-Ho,” intended to bring people together, to snarky, “So’s your sister... just kidding!” aimed to hurt or humiliate.

When humor is not insulting, it allows an opportunity to step back from the situation and gain a better perspective. Translating the anger and frustration of changing a flat tire in the rain to a farcical escapade that will soon “make a good story” relieves tension, reduces self-critical shame, and minimizes any sense of threat.

Without minimizing the seriousness of a situation or degrading another, the ability to maintain a feeling of playfulness allows a person to better endure this and other challenges. In social situations, like current holiday parties, humor reduces self-conscious tendencies to isolate and lessens concerns about what others are thinking.

Playful jesting also relieves tension and reflects changes in the body and brain. When study subjects are exposed to humorous situations, they report reduced anxiety. Measures of blood pressure and sugar levels decrease. Epinephrine, a fight-or-flight hormone that raises blood pressure and pulse, is also decreased. In the brain, BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), a protein that promotes brain cell growth, increases.

During the stresses of this holiday season, be sure to maintain your sense of humor!

More from Jerold J. Kreisman M.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Jerold J. Kreisman M.D.
More from Psychology Today