The Second Humor Habit: Cultivate a Playful Attitude

“Life is too serious to be taken seriously.” (Oscar Wilde)

The Feb. 10 and Feb. 19 articles were devoted to the First Humor Habit in Dr. McGhee’s 7 Humor Habits Humor Training Program.  Again, this series of articles offers general guidelines for what you need to be doing throughout the week to strengthen each Humor Habit. The full manual (with additional skill-building exercises and a detailed discussion of the 7 Humor Habits Program is published in Humor as Survival Training for a Stressed-Out World. Use that resource for maximal impact of the Training Program.

If you’ve just now joined  up  with a group of people going through this Humor Training, and would like to complete the training yourself, be sure to go back to earlier weekly articles on humor-building exercises posted here before starting the 7 Humor Habits Program. Research documents the effectiveness of the Program in boosting your sense of humor, but in order for it to work best for you, it is essential that you complete the Program in the order in which the 7 Humor Habits are presented (and spend a week or two on each Habit).

Playing with Your Mind is Your Biological Heritage

So why is such a strong emphasis placed on becoming a more playful person in general before actually working on creating or finding your own humor in daily life? The reason is that—although you’ve probably never thought about it this way—your sense of humor is really a form of play. It is mental play or play with ideas. We are all born with a general predisposition to play. It’s your biological heritage. The problem is that the daily hassles and stress in our lives gradually erode this heritage and a gradual loss of our sense of humor is the inevitable result.  ALSO, MANY SENIORS GRADUALLY LOSE THIS PLAYFUL ATTITUDE AS THEY GET OLDER, SUCCUMBING TO THE CONDITION I CALL TERMINAL SERIOUSNESS!

If you have children of your own, you’ve seen this strong drive to play in your kids from the end of infancy all the way through the childhood years. Much of their play is physical, but it also shows an increasingly strong mental component as they get older. And while some of this mental play is pretend/make-believe, a lot of it is humor (see my book Understanding and Promoting the Development of Children’s Humor for a discussion of the nature of children’s humor).

Throughout my career as a researcher studying humor and a designer of tools for strengthening one’s sense of humor, I have observed that people’s own natural sense of humor re-emerges when they get fully back in touch with that playful approach to life they had when they were kids. So this Habit is much more important that you might guess. That is why you should spend the next week bringing out your inner playful self (which may well have been hiding within you for many years—just waiting for an invitation to come out again), and just observe the impact it has on your daily sense of humor.  Also, think  about the seniors you know who still have access to that playful side of themselves, and compare them to those who are always very serious  and don’t seem to experience any form of FUN anymore.  Who seems younger to you?  Who seems to be happier (even in the midst of physical health issues)?

Skill-Building Exercises for the Second Humor Habit

The main goal for the coming week is to put play and a playful outlook on life on the “front burner” whenever you can. Here are some general guidelines, but also use your own initiative to come up with things to do that are fun for you.

1. Make a list of things you have FUN doing and do a couple of things from that list every day.

2. Make it a special point to engage in physical activities that are fun. Don’t be afraid to let a little silliness come out when you’re playing. (Do this with friends so you won’t be self-conscious about it.)

3. Spend some time watching young children playing. See if you can re-capture that contagious playfulness that comes so easily to them.

For more detailed and systematic guidelines for mapping out the nature of your sense of humor, see the manual for the 7 Humor Habits Program in my book, Humor as Survival Training for a Stressed-Out World: The 7 Humor Habits Program.

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