Your sense of humor has been developing since you were born. It has developed in stride with all your cognition, and has been shaped by your upbringing. You might laugh at the same things your parents do, and you might have difficulty understanding humor outside of the range of your familial and social background. Even within your familial context, you aren’t likely to be in on every joke. You might need extra context to understand some humorous references, or you might express your sense of humor differently than others. Developing your sense of humor will help you communicate with others, and it can help you go easier on yourself.
Identifying and Responding to Humor
Learn to tell when someone is making a joke. Listen for errors, for exaggerations, and for absurdity. Incongruous statements are often jokes. Check for physical signs, such as a flattened or overly animated voice, a sudden exaggerated accent, or expressive gestures and facial expressions. Someone who looks from face to face in a group might be telling a joke and checking for comprehension.
- Indicators that someone might be making a joke depend on the kind of joke. Someone using sarcastic humor might roll or bug their eyes. They might act especially casual, but say the opposite of how they feel.
- Someone using ironic humor might use excessive slang, speak in a monotone, or profess to care deeply about a nonessential outcome.
- People often use humor to make fun of themselves, or others, in a friendly way. If someone is describing an embarrassing situation, they might be trying to make you laugh rather than asking for pity.
Learn to respond when someone else tells a joke. How do you respond to humor? Do you tend to laugh, or smile? Not everyone laughs when they are amused, and this can lead others to believe they have no sense of humor. Try laughing or smiling when something is funny, but don’t force it. If a smile doesn’t feel natural, you can just say “that’s funny.”
- Learn to banter. If you understand the tenor of the joke, you can try to make the same kind of joke in return. This is a common expression of friendliness and of flirting.
Learn to take a joke. You might want to develop your sense of humor if you find yourself easily offended or upset. If you are being teased, try to joke back instead of getting mad. If you are not certain whether or not you are being teased, ask yourself “is it likely that this person would want to upset me? Is it just as likely that they are trying to be friendly?” If you can’t tell, you can ask.
- If something meant to be friendly upsets you, ask yourself what bad feelings it brings up. Humor can help you discover hidden insecurities and fears.
- If a joke hurts your feelings, you don’t have to pretend you think it’s funny. Everyone has sensitivities, and everyone has sensitive moments. If you are being persistently teased in a way that hurts you, explain that you don’t enjoy the teasing and would like it to stop.
Learn what jokes cross the line. If a joke is racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise bigoted, you should feel free to politely shut it down. Ask “can you explain the humor, here?” or say “I can’t go there with you.” You probably aren’t the only person offended, so you’ll be doing a good deed by speaking up.
- People who tell offensive jokes often defend themselves by saying “it’s just a joke.” You can retort “yes. It’s a sexist/racist/islamaphobic (etc) joke.”