Work--and life in general--can be an easier pill to swallow if you let humor creep in once in while. But what about self-defeating or self-deprecating humor, where you purposely put yourself down (e.g., I'm trapped in a relationship with myself)? That's a no-no, right?

Not so fast.

Researchers from the University of Granada's Mind, Brain and Behavior Research Centre conducted a study that contradicts some previous findings on self-defeating humor. Their work found that people who use self-defeating humor score higher on psychological well-being dimensions like happiness and sociability.

Why might this be?

When you use self-defeating humor effectively, you recognize and point out what you perceive to be faults. You're humble and honest enough to admit you're not perfect. And unlike negative comments from others, you can control what you say about yourself, making it a little easier to take. Once you've let the negative comment or joke fly, you have to practice moving past it and refocusing on the positive, which might help you develop better resilience in general.

The team's research has some cautions

Even though the new study shows it might actually be OK to throw some self-deprecating humor in to the day, the researchers point out that much more work has to be done to understand how cultural differences can affect the results of using this type of humor. They also point out that humor can mask negative emotions and that people who use self-defeating humor have a greater tendency to suppress anger.

Additionally, looking at the four main types of humor in a different way, a study led by Nicholas A. Kuiper from the University of Western Ontario found that people are more likely to interact with someone who uses adaptive self-enhancing or affiliative humor, rather than with someone who uses maladaptive aggressive or self-defeating humor. The adaptive humor types were found to make people feel more positive and less negative about themselves. And of all the humor types, affiliative humor is used the most often.

Putting your jokes to good use

Humor has a wealth of functions in the workplace, such as reducing stress and tightening the bonds between people or groups. But because of the above cautions, it's important that if you do use self-defeating humor, you're taking diversity into account and also using good coping strategies to prevent yourself from bottling how you feel. Venting to a friend, boxing your pillows or even organized activism are all good ways to handle anger and other negative feelings.

You also should make sure that you don't set self-defeating humor as your default. Lean more on affiliative humor when you can, as this is the type of humor that makes you most attractive to others and creates stronger relationships.

Then again, what do I know? I'm just the 4'8" writer who secretly is way better at short stories than business articles.

Published on: Mar 20, 2018
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