Definitions of Humor

Where Has All My Humor Gone; Long Time Passing...
Humor from Children to Adults
By Steven M. Sultanoff, Ph.D.

Originally published as the "President's Column" in
Therapeutic Humor,
Publication of the American Association for Therapeutic Humor, Fall, 1999,
Vol. XIII, 4, p. 2.

In a workshop many years ago I was participating in a group where we were asked to use alliteration on our name tags to describe ourselves. Some made choices such as "Friendly Fred" and "Passionate Patty" while I choose the adjective "silly" and became "Silly Steve." As we mingled and read each other's name tags one participant read mine and remarked, "Silly Steve. I am sorry you see yourself that way." At first I was befuddled by his comment but then realized he thought that I was being self-degrading. I was surprised, yet his perspective may be more common than I perceive with my personal "comic vision."

While "research" indicating that toddlers laugh 400 times a day and adults laugh only 15 may be "humor legend," most of us observe children laughing far more than adults. Why is it that adults appear to laugh less often than children? What has happened to us as we have grown to be adults? Wipe that smile off your face!! Do you want people to think you are stupid? You are not being serious. No one will respect you.!

Sound familiar? Most of us have heard comments like these from grown-ups and children alike. Perhaps we have even made some of these remarks. It is statements and attitudes like these that encourage children to become "humor-impaired" adults.

Children enter life with an inherent capacity to laugh, smile, play, and generally make fun and light of life. Their sense of humor is then cultivated by how they experience their social environment---especially their families. Positive humor, negative humor, resistance to humor, or a negative view of humor all develop as we experience humor in the world around us. One of the greatest potential contributions we can provide for children is to present ourselves as "humor beings." By living with a humorous perspective, we teach children to effectively manage life's challenges with far less stress.

Our use of therapeutic humor is not an isolated moment in time. It is a lifestyle or perhaps a philosophy of life. We teach humorous-ness (or seriousness) by the way children experience us. If we take ourselves lightly, so will children. If we use humor to manage life's challenges, so will children. If we share therapeutic humor and avoid humor that is degrading, condescending, and critical of others, so will children.

It has been suggested by some that humor is a "social lubricant." If this is true, then what better legacy can we offer our children than that of how humor reduces interpersonal tension, reduces stress, feels good, and teaches us how to keep perspective on life’s challenging events.

The theme of this newsletter is "humor in families." As they grow, children refine their individual sense of humor as they experience it in their world. It is important that we remember that humor is not "turned on and off" but is a way of being…a humor being!

As Br’er Rabbit once said, "Everybody’s got a laughin' place. Trouble is, most folks won't take the time to look for it!" As we "mature" we may have been "taught" to bury our laughing place, but we still have the opportunity to uncover it as well as, provide an environment for children where they can cultivate their own laughing places.


Humor Matters™

Steven M. Sultanoff, Ph.D.
Mirthologist and Clinical Psychologist
3972 Barranca Pkwy. Suite J-221
Irvine, CA 92606