Seligman (2003) describes humour as part of authentic happiness, liking to laugh, helping others to smile and being aware of the lighter side of life. Humour and Playfulness are classified under the Character Strengths of Transcendence. I have found humour a powerful coping mechanism on many a dreary occasion.
Humour does not necessarily solve a problem but could weaken the momentary hurtful impact of an adversity and also resolve a conflict or an argument that could otherwise have turned very unpleasant.
It is suggested that humour evolved as an alternative to irritability and annoyance that could have escalated into anger and violent behaviour which no longer fitted into a more closely knit society.
Seemingly there are two types of humour 'self-deprecating' humour and hostile humour.
Hostile humour is viewed as an aggressive way of controlling others
Self-directed humour is where one laughs at one's own failures and disappointments and experiences relief from stressful situations.
Hostile joking is experienced as intimidating, creating a fear of rejection and possible isolation in the surrounding by-standers
Self-depreciative humour is inclusive and creates positive connections all around.
People who rate the highest humour levels experience less irritability and depression in dealing with life stressors. Humour also seems to help withstand pain and fears surrounding illness, bereavement and death. It is observed however that humour might need to be accompanied by optimism, hope and a reframing of the experience.
Interestingly, research suggests that men and women experience humour differently. Men seem to score high on humour creation while women score higher on humour appreciation. It seems that men enjoy their marriage more when they appreciate their own humour while women do not link their own sense of humour with marital satisfaction. Much of this research is done in a traditional set marriage situation and is by no means conclusive.
Laughing with rather than at someone can be another form of helpful humour where one does not put oneself down but might highlight the humourous side of a friend's or close one's behaviour which may have been upsetting. My own dear mother used to suffer with psychotic episodes where she would change from being a thorough lady to using curses that one never suspected within her personality. We never had as many laughs together as after it was all over. Humour can facilitate healing but also highlight hidden issues that may need to be examined more closely.
Thankfully humour is a growing field of research. The tenth International Summer School and Symposium on Humour and Laughter took place this year supported by Willibald Ruch, an experienced humour researcher who seems to specialise in personality characteristics and humour.
I personally see humour as an important topic to include in the teaching of Positive Psychology skills to children and adolescents possibly as an antidote to bullying and aggressive behaviours.