Are Funnier People Healthier People? Reviewing the Relationship Between Humor and Health

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Wills, Abby
Humor; Sense of Humor; Health; Positive Psychology
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Psychological research into the relationship between humor and health has been trying for decades to assess whether or not specific features of humor are in fact correlated with positive aspects of health. This paper summarizes research addressing the relationship between two elements of humor and certain health outcomes. Specifically in regards to humor, I look at external humorous material - like funny TV shows and jokes - and individual sense of humor. I argue that inconclusive results in this literature exist because of the inadequacy of some measures to gauge the most influential factor of an individual's sense of humor in the context of the relationship between sense of humor and health: the difference between a healthy, adaptive sense of humor and an unhealthy, maladaptive sense of humor. The Humor Styles Questionnaire (Martin, Puhlik-Doris, Larsen, Gray, & Weir, 2003) recognizes that a sense of humor can be both beneficial and detrimental, and for this reason remains the most useful measure of sense of humor. Evidence that takes this distinction into account shows significant negative correlations between humor - be it sense of humor or humorous material - and negative life stresses, as well as depression and depressive symptoms. Moreover, studies tend to show a significant positive correlation between humor and psychological well-being, longevity, immune system functioning, pain tolerance, and perceived physical health. Further research should look at the mediating effects of positive personality characteristics on the relationship between humor and positive health outcomes.