The Fifth Humor Habit: Look for Humor in Everyday Life

[Note: If you’re new to this series of articles on improving your sense of humor, also read the previous articles under “Senior Humor Training Exercises.”]

“From there to here and here to there, funny things are everywhere.”     (Dr. Seuss)

Last week’s article offered guidelines for learning to create your own spontaneous puns and other verbal humor.  A separate article offered guidelines to help non-native speakers of English improve their skills at creating verbal humor in English.

The Fifth Humor Habit is to start actively looking for the funny things going on in YOUR everyday life.  People often tell me, “If I had you life, I’d be laughing too; nothing funny every happens in my life!”  I’m convinced that this is not true.  The people who say this simply have not cultivated the habit of looking for the unexpected, bizarre, incongruous or ironic things that happen to all of us from time to time.  For example, how could I not laugh when I saw the sign in front of a Presbyterian Church in New Jersey (announcing the title of the sermon for the upcoming week), which said

Sermon at 9 a.m. – Jesus walks on water,

Sermon at 11 a.m. – Searching for Jesus

And how could I not laugh when I saw a guy backing up in a traffic circle because he missed his turn?  I mean, it’s a circle, right?  It’s pretty easy to just go around again.  Even Public Television offers opportunities for a chuckle.  A few years ago a PBS broadcast on the history of psychiatric approaches to treating “Madness” ended with “Madness is made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the support of viewers like you.”

Seeing the Funny Stuff vs. Sharing it with Others

The goal of this Humor Habit is to learn to see the funny side of things as they are happening.  (Reminder: As we noted in connection with telling long stories in connection with the Fourth Humor Habit, the key thing to remember when you share with others the humor you encounter is to not drag it out and make it a “shaggy dog” story.  Just say the key parts that make it funny . . . and also remember that sometimes “you had to be there,” and no matter how you describe it, it won’t be as funny as it was to you at the time.

The boxer Evander Hollyfield’s trainer made the following statement years ago about an upcoming fight with Mike Tyson: “It’s not a matter of life and death; it’s more important than that.”

So How do You Get Started Noticing the Funny Things?

The full set of guidelines for cultivating the ability to find the funny stuff in your life is provided in Humor as Survival Training for a Stressed-Out World: The 7 Humor Habits Program.  However, here are some basic strategies to get you started.

1) Start reflecting about what it means to have a humorous perspective on life.  Talk to your friends and colleagues about what this means.  These conversations alone will help sensitize you to seeing the funny stuff that’s been there all along.

2) Set yourself a specific goal of finding FIVE funny things every day for the next week (or two).  If I were to pay you $500 for every funny thing you noticed in the day, you know you’d find plenty of things to laugh at—because you’re be actively looking for them.  They’re there waiting for you.  Just put looking for them on the “front burner” for one week and see what happens.

3) Look for humor in signs, ads and newspaper headlines.

“Dog for sale.  Eats anything.  Especially fond of children.”

“Bras half off.”  (Sale sign in department store.)

“We skid you not.”  (In an ad for tires.)

“Deluxe Dry Cleaners.  25 years at the same spot.”  (Sign in front of the store.)

“A recent report indicated that some college graduates cannot read or right.”  (Newspaper editorial.)

4) Pretend you’re Alan Funt (of Candid Camera fame).  Steve Allen once said, “Nothing is funnier than the unintended humor of reality.”   Alan Funt kept a generation laughing every week by creating crazy, unexpected situations in order to watch people’s reactions to them.  The humor in that case came from watching the innocent onlooker’s reactions to these situations.  But there are also real weird, nonsensical things that come up in your own life.  So spend a week pretending that Alan Funt has set these situations up for you to enjoy.  Your job is to just find them.

5) Write down the essence of the funny thing that happened as soon as you can.  Writing it down strengthens the habit of noticing it.

Copyright owned by Paul McGhee.  This article may not be reproduced without written permission granted by Paul McGhee.