People Who Can Make Fun of Themselves Might Just Be Happier

an emoji of a person shrugging on a white background
Image by Topher McCulloch / CC BY

People who can make fun of themselves have long been my favorite people. I’ve anecdotally found them to be much more confident and caring than people who only ever make fun of other people.

And making yourself the primary target of your humor makes sense for a few different reasons.

For starters, I learned a long time ago attending workshops on humor therapy and laughter yoga in my previous professional life that when it comes to humor, there’s really only one “safe” target: Yourself.

Furthermore, personality theorist Abraham Maslow’s description of a self-actualized person noted that they employ a non-hostile sense of humor. When they laugh, they laugh at themselves and situations, not at other people. And they use humor to incite joy in themselves and others — not to cause humiliation or harm.

Many comedians focus primarily on mocking themselves or participate in self-deprecating humor. And audiences laugh and laugh.

Some People Are Deeply Uncomfortable With Self-Deprecating Jokes

However, I’ve often found that when I’m out walking around in my everyday life that people won’t respond to self-deprecating humor the same way they do when it’s a comedian up on a stage. Instead, they will often become concerned when someone is making self-deprecating jokes. As I’m prone to poke fun at myself, I’m often met with people who will interrupt me and say, “Don’t say that.”  Or argue with my (joking) brutal self-assessment.

Even when they know I’m joking, some people are very uncomfortable with self-deprecating jokes being told at all.

I asked some of these people why they felt this way, and they replied that they felt like making self-deprecating jokes was a sign of sadness or lack of confidence. And because they don’t want me to feel that way about myself, they have to stop me.

Mocking Yourself Might Actually Be a Good Sign

However, while this is a fairly common viewpoint, that’s not at all what new research shows.

Instead, a recent study found that people who make self-deprecating jokes are actually happier and more socially well adjusted than most people.

“In particular, we have observed that a greater tendency to employ self-defeating humor is indicative of high scores in psychological wellbeing dimensions such as happiness and, to a lesser extent, sociability,” said Martin, study co-author.

They did note, however, self-deprecating humor’s potential to be used as a strategy to suppress other negative emotions like anger.

As Navarro-Carillo, another of the study’s co-authors, put it, “The results suggest that humor, even when presented as benign or well intentioned, can also represent a strategy for masking negative intentions.”

The study’s authors suggest future research, especially across various cultures, in order to further explore these issues.

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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