What trips your trigger?

by Karyn Buxman, MSN, CSP, CPAE

Humor that is positive and doesn’t target others feels good when we experience it. It’s a pleasurable experience usually accompanied by a smile and a laugh. And yet experts find it elusive as to what humor really is and just what triggers that humor response within us.

There are numerous theories about what evokes a humorous response. One of those theories revolves around developmental stages. According to psychiatrist Christian Hageseth, author of A Laughing Place, there are 3 ways to elicit the humor response: Nov-verbal interactive; the stimulation of forbidden subjects; and verbal humor (jokes and word play).

Non-verbal interactive:

What is one of the very first things that evokes a smile in a young baby? Obviously his brain isn’t developed enough to understand the concept of absurdity or incongruity. The baby laughs at a smiling face, which in return smiles back, usually evoking even more smiles. Pure pleasure!

As we grow, such interaction generally continues to evoke a pleasurable response, until we are conditioned to think and respond otherwise. Even in the advanced Alzheimer’s patient, when she’s no longer able to remember faces, dress herself or even feed herself, a big smile accompanied by eye contact will evoke that same pleasurable response and usually a smile in return.

The stimulation of forbidden subjects:

As a child develops his sense of humor, one of the first things he finds funny is body noises– particularly those that evoke a startled response in adults. Eventually, as the child grows, his sense of humor also evolves, but occasionally we meet folks that seem to become ‘stuck’ at that particular phase. (Usually they are know for statements, such as “pull my finger.”) While many find ‘toilet humor’ distasteful, the movie industry makes billions of dollars each year from movies like “Dumb and Dumber” or “American Pie.”

Many occupations, especially those that are involved with tragedy and death, have their own inside humor that others might label ‘disgusting.’ Indeed, much medical humor is known as ‘gallows’ humor or ‘sick’ humor, and usually involves one of three topics: body fluids, dismemberment and death. Nonetheless, this humor serves as a coping mechanism to people like Cyndi, a nurse in California, who says, “If I couldn’t laugh about the smell of poop or the texture of sputum, I’d probably be flipping burgers and asking the person across the counter, ‘Do you want fries with that?'”

Verbal humor (jokes and word play)

While most people think of this category first, language dependent humor actually comprises a very small percentage of what elicits a humor response. Indeed, it’s been speculated that only around 3% of the population remembers and tells jokes well. Most of shake our heads sadly and say, “I can never remember the punch line.” Fortunately jokes aren’t crucial to experiencing humor.

If this tactic appeals to you, seek jokes and funny stories from others, listen to your favorite comediennes, pay attention to television sitcoms. On the Internet, there are joke-a-day services, such as www.Mailbits.com and humor resources, such as www.HumorHabit.com. Most magazines and newspapers have a section that involves humor and word play.

And if you decide that you would like to learn the skill of joke telling, it’s really not that hard. Start with jokes that are short and easier to remember. Practice telling the joke out loud to yourself, preferably in front of a mirror, at least 7 or more times. And once you feel confident, go out and tell your joke to your friends, family members, and those that look like they could use a good laugh!

Granted, we respond to all three categories above. But usually we can identify more with one area than another. Our sense of humor is as unique as our own thumbprint. What makes you laugh may leave another completely clueless. What’s most important isn’t what trips your trigger, but what you do with that knowledge. Merely raising your awareness about what you find fun and funny is a good first step. To gain the most benefits from humor, however, you need to move from a passive role, to an active one. Discover what ‘trips your trigger’ and causes you to experience mirth and laughter. Then seek the experience, practice positive humor and enjoy feeling good.

—-

Copyright 2005 by Karyn Buxman. Used by permission.
A highly sought humorist and nationally recognized expert in therapeutic humor, Karyn Buxman, RN, MSN, CSP, CPAE helps people achieve balance through stress management techniques, including humor. To sign up for her free bi-weekly e-zine, LyteBytes, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.HumorHabit.com