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Humour, Gladness and Ideas of Abraham Maslow
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Humour, Wit and Gladness

What is humour? There are obviously many sides to humour. Humour and laughter function along similar wavelengths, but not perfectly so. Humour and laughter go together, but are not the same. We may:

  • Laugh at one or more others.
  • Laugh with one or more others.
  • Smile indulgently together or at.
  • Neigh or chuckle merrily,
  • Poke fun with others
  • Poke fun with ourselves (it can be risky, sometimes)
  • Not show how amused we may be.
  • Even reach general philosophy -

"Wittgenstein once said that a serious and good philosophical work could be written that would consist entirely of jokes (without being facetious)." - Norman Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir.


Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary says the meaning of the term 'humour' has changed in time, and is currently related somehow to:

  1. One or more postulated qualities which "appeal to a sense of the laughable or absurdly incongruous".
  2. The capacity to discover, perceive, express, or relate the ludicrous, the comical, and the absurd or absurdly incongruous in human life and to express these, most commonly without bitterness.
  3. Something that is or is designed to be comical or amusing.
  4. Wit.
"Man was predestined to have free will. " - Hal Lee Luyah

Cognate: Wit

The term 'wit' is akin to such as Old High German 'wizzi', which is knowledge. And still further back in time the name of the oldest Indo-Aryan books, the Vedas, derive from Sanskrit 'vid', to know. Cognate with its main roots and as a product of its long history, the term 'wit' has acquired meanings like the following:

  • Wit has to do with mind and reasoning power, mental or inner brightness (some call it intelligence), mental soundness, sanity; mental capability and resourcefulness.
  • There may be ingenuity involved too, as well as some measure of astute perception or judgment.
  • We also find acumen, that is, the ability to relate seemingly disparate things so as to illuminate or amuse - it can be both.
  • Wit may also include a talent for banter or persiflage.
  • Wit may be clever or apt humour, and involve witty utterances or exchanges.
  • Problem-solving may or may not go into wit.

Like humour, the words wit, irony, sarcasm, satire, repartee often refer to expressions intended to arouse amusement:

  • Wit suggests the power to evoke laughter by remarks showing verbal felicity or ingenuity and swift perception especially of the incongruous.
  • Irony applies to a manner of expression in which the intended meaning is the opposite of what is seemingly expressed.
  • Sarcasm applies to expression frequently in the form of irony that is intended to cut or wound.
  • Satire applies to writing that exposes or ridicules conduct, doctrines, or institutions either by direct criticism or more often through irony, parody, or caricature.
  • Repartee implies the power of answering quickly, pointedly, or wittily.

"Avoid witicisms at the expense of others." - Horace Mann, educator.

Other humour synonyms

There are many more humour synonyms to reflect on:

Comedy, comicality, comicalness, drollery, drollness, funniness, humourousness, wittiness, jocosity, jocularity, jocundity, jocundness; flippancy, levity, lightness; banter, chaffing, jesting, joking, kidding; banter, chitchat, pleasantry, repartee; esprit.

There is also the humour of comic strips. In Norwegian-American humour, Peter Julius Rosendahl uses that modern genre to express the life of Norwegian Americans in the Midwest from 1918 to 1935. "Don't take life too seriously. Very few are said to have got out of it alive." - With Elbert Hubbard

Cognate: Gladness

Gladness of heart looms tall. It tends to be easier to appreciate humour and humourous aspects of living if you feel happy and contented.

'Glad' comes through Middle English 'glad' (shining), from Old English 'ględ', which is akin to Old High German 'glat' (shining, smooth), and the Latin 'glaber' smooth, bald.

Gladness today usually implies such as "marked by or expressing the mood of one who is pleased or delighted" or "experiencing pleasure, joy, or delight".

Being glad often has to do with having a cheerful or happy disposition by nature, but not always. We may be made happy too, may be made pleased, satisfied, or grateful; and in such cases gladness may rise or get involved.

Gladness thus signifies 'marked by, expressive of, or caused by happiness and joy". There may be a tinge of willingness in gladness too, for example when we are glad to help or serve.

There are various sides to gladness:

  • Delight: One can be filled with (or full of) delight. Synonyms encompass happy, joyful, joyous, lighthearted. Related word are delighted, gratified, pleased, rejoiced, tickled; blithe, exhilarated, jocund, jolly, jovial, merry; gleeful, hilarious, mirthful.
  • Brightness or cheerfulness: Synonyms can be bright, cheerful, cheery, radiant. Other related words are beaming, sparkling; beautiful; genial, pleasant.
  • Being pleased: Gladness can involve 'something pleasant, full of brightness and cheerfulness', joyful or joyous. The word pleasant comes from Middle English 'plesaunt', from Middle French 'plaisant', which comes from 'plaisir'. It involves having qualities that tend to give pleasure. Largely agreeable. Having or characterized by pleasing manners, behavior, or appearance.

Joy is much the same as gladness. The words can be used alternately. 'Joy' comes through French 'joie' from Latin 'gaudia', from 'gaudere' to rejoice; probably akin to a Greek word for rejoice.

  • Joy is the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.
  • It is delight, and expressing or showing such emotion. And what is delightful can be highly pleasing.
  • It is gaiety, a state of happiness or felicity.
  • It can be bliss, a source or cause of delight.

To be joyful is "experiencing, causing, or showing joy", or being happy, then. Humour and bland gladness of merriment often imply joviality: markedly good-humoured especially as evidenced by jollity and conviviality. And what is felicitous (above) is very well suited or expressed.

Merriment is something that gives pleasure; or being full of gaiety or high spirits. The synonyms merry, blithe, jocund, jovial, and jolly mean "showing high spirits or lightheartedness". Thus:

  • Merry suggests cheerful, joyous, uninhibited enjoyment of frolic or festivity. Merriment is gladness or gaiety as shown by or accompanied with laughter; or it may signify being keenly alive and exuberant; having or inducing high spirits.
  • Blithe suggests carefree, innocent, or even heedless gaiety. blithe is akin to Old High German 'blidi' (joyous). Blithe means (1) "of a happy lighthearted character or disposition" or (2) "lacking due thought or consideration".
  • Jocund stresses elation and exhilaration of spirits. The term comes from Late Latin 'jocundus', and stems from 'juvare', to help. It is marked by or suggestive of high spirits and lively mirthfulness. And being mirthful is being marked by festivity or gaiety.
  • Jovial suggests the stimulation of conviviality and good fellowship.
  • Jolly suggests high spirits expressed in laughing, bantering, and jesting. It suggests being cheerful and given to conviviality; also extremely pleasant or agreeable; expressing, suggesting, or inspiring gaiety. The word comes through Middle English 'joli', from Old French.

Happiness comes from Middle English, 'hap'. It can be related to:

  • Being favored by luck.
  • Expressing or suggestive of being pleasant, glad, pleased.
  • Being in a dazed irresponsible state.
  • Enthusiastic about something to the point of obsession.
  • Notably fitting, effective, or well adapted.
  • Enjoying or characterized by well-being and contentment.
  • Having or marked by an atmosphere of good fellowship, or internal friendliness.


In the Steps of Abraham Maslow

Deficit-needs drive you. Being-needs make you awake.

Dr. Abraham Maslow presents a holistic overview of soundness-related notions. His way of presenting items of interests is somehow related to ours above, too. Maslow's pyramid-shaped hierarchy of human needs is famous:

Maslow's Pyramid

"The essentials to happiness in this life appear to be many, but that is on the outside."

Abraham Maslow's Pyramid of Needs +

Figure. Abraham Maslow's postulated pyramid of layered (hierarchic) needs

"Fulfillment steps" that Maslow postulated, to be read from bottom and up:

  • Self-actualization desires and yearnings.
  • Esteem hankerings.
  • Social yearnings.
  • Safety adherence.
  • Physiological, steady competence needs.

The first four of these stages he called deficit needs, or D-needs. B-needs (Being-needs) above relates to Self-actualization desires and yearnings. [More]

The figure is to be understood in a light like this: First one has to satisfy basic human needs before the presumed higher needs find room for development. It may be argued in connection with this that in a tot the curiosity needs are very marked and often override short-term needs for food and safety. And curiosity is the beginning of investigations, research and much self-actualization too, so in some cases and in some respects one of the highest needs shows up from the start, so to speak. Thus, the divisions between needs cannot be absolute.

Maslow himself sees parts of that problem with his theoretical model. He argues that once a person has started to self-actualize, he or she may forego many lower needs (so called) in order to unfold the sweeter or higher desires. Also, if you think of man as homo ludens, 'playing man', and considers play and playfulness as very high outlets - many do - then you may also realize that it is a dear and high need in mammals, particularly in children and the young. It is often seen that children desire to forego food and sleep for a while in order to play (but hardly to pray). In the modern world, football is still called play. It may be called marred play.

Now, research has been able to substantiate a few of Maslow's claims connected with the model, but not all of them. The order of progress may very well be different in any case; for example, some persons may skip safety to be with preferred mates and become parts of gangs. Others, again, may drop or tone down social strivings for better class and belonging in order to self-actualize, or to have self-esteem. Both things may happen; it seems pretty obvious.

What seems important in his model, is a general trend toward subtler or more refined fullfilments with age. That could fit many sound individuals.

In our opinion, a fair blend of the various needs is there from the start and needs to be catered to till death is not far.

The spiritual life is part of the human essence. . . . without which human nature is not fully human. - Abraham Maslow

Being-values we link to humour

In the opinion of Abraham Maslow, gladness is akin to realizing oneself a lot too. And one or more being values may be involved. The following are being-values as postulated by Maslow, that may have a bearing on our understanding of humour. The items are taken from a longer list, and the numbering is left unchanged.

1. Wholeness: (. . .) order.
3. Completion: (. . .) fulfillment; (. . .) fate.
4. Justice: fairness; orderliness; lawfulness; "oughtness".
5. Aliveness: process; (. . .) spontaneity; (. . .) full-functioning.
7. Simplicity: (. . .) nakedness.
8. Beauty: rightness; form.
10. Uniqueness: idiosyncrasy; (. . .) novelty.
11. Effortlessness: (. . .) beautiful functioning.
12. Playfulness: fun; joy; amusement; gaiety; humour; exuberance; effortlessness.
13. Truth: (. . .) nakedness.
14. Self-sufficiency: (. . .) not-needing-other-than-itself-in-order-to-be-itself; (. . .) environment-transcendence; (. . .) living by its own laws.

Source: Maslow, The Psychology of Being, 2nd ed. p. 83.

Driving Being-needs of Fulfillers

Another way that Maslow approaches the problem of self-actualization is to talk about special, driving needs (Being-needs) of self-actualizers. To be happy (italics added) in their lives they appear to need:
  • Truth, rather than dishonesty.
  • Goodness, rather than evil.
  • Beauty, not ugliness or vulgarity.
  • Unity, wholeness, and transcendence of opposites, not arbitrariness or forced choices.
  • Aliveness, not deadness or the mechanization of life.
  • Uniqueness, not bland uniformity.
  • Perfection and necessity, not sloppiness, inconsistency, or accident.
  • Completion, rather than incompleteness.
  • Justice and order, not injustice and lawlessness.
  • Simplicity, not unnecessary complexity.
  • Richness, not environmental impoverishment.
  • Effortlessness, not strain.
  • Playfulness, not grim, humourless, drudgery.
  • Self-sufficiency, not dependency.
  • Meaningfulness, rather than senselessness.
Maslow believes that much of what is wrong with the world ties in with unfulfilled good drives, that the vast majority of people does not have their basic needs taken relevantly care of.

What we laugh at may be looked on in the light of varioius Maslow findings. Three aspects may stand out:

  • DUE TO LOSS: People often like to ridicule and gossip from both marred and unfulfilled potensials in themselves. Crude, gloating laughter and its concomitant deranged humour variants may fit into that picture.
  • DUE TO ENERGY: Joy of living and exploring things.
  • DUE TO SELF-REALIZATION: Buddhist views backs up that part of Maslow-related findings nicely.
Humour and laughter in real life are not as simple as this divisioning either, but a little may help.

The value of the many words in Maslow's list above depends on how we interpret them, and on what is juxtaposed to go along with them.

The words in (added) italics in the last string of rich and meaningful words, are typical elements of fiendishness, which is often given outlets in lots of jokes, in humour. Humour of this degraded kind may protect families, may provide safety valves against tensions and negative feelings, and hardships. Also, humour in gossip could be a sign of not having fully realized oneself some way or other. It may be worth thinking about. Self-explorers may ask themselves at this stage, "Why do I laugh? What could be remedied?" It could give interesting insights.


After-effects of Peak Experiences

Below are dominant themes from the book Toward A Psychology Of Being by Abraham Maslow. He writes:
[As for] after-effects upon the person . . . I have no controlled research data to present. I have only the general agreement of my subjects that there were such effects, my own conviction that there were, and the complete agreement of all the writers on creativeness, love, insight, mystic experience and aesthetic experience. On these grounds I feel justified in making at least the following affirmations or propositions, all of which [could be] testable.
  1. Peak-experiences may and do have some therapeutic effects in the strict sense of removing symptoms. I have at least two reports – one from a psychologist, one from an anthropologist – of mystic or oceanic experiences so profound as to remove certain neurotic symptoms forever after. Such conversion experiences are of course plentifully recorded in human history but so far as I know have never received the attention of psychologists or psychiatrists.
  2. They can change the person's view of himself in a healthy direction.
  3. They can change his view of other people and his relations to them in many ways.
  4. They can change more or less permanently his view of the world, or of aspects or parts of it.
  5. They can release him for greater creativity, spontaneity, expressiveness, idiosyncrasy.
  6. He remembers the experience as a very important and desirable happening and seeks to repeat it
  7. The person is more apt to feel that life in general is worth while, even if it is usually drab, pedestrian, painful or ungratifying, since beauty, excitement, honesty, play, goodness, truth and meaningfulness have been demonstrated to him to exist. [All so far: p. 101]
Such after-effects of esthetic experience, creative experience, love experience, mystic experience, insight experience, and other peak-experiences are preconsciously taken for granted and commonly expected by artists and art educators, by creative teachers, by religious and philosophical theorists, by loving husbands, mothers and therapists and by many others. - Abraham Maslow. [p. 102]


Great value

Who is of great value? Here are rather simple characteristics:

Many may ask themselves who among the renowned "great or big guys" are truly good. The humanist psychologist Maslow sought out hallmarks; we will show 16 points. On top of that you may make your own check-list if you like.

From the list markings it could be possible to make out the ones with a benign profiling of themselves, or one quite compatible to your own, if you think you have one.

What are peak experiences in a Norwegian's opinion? They are experiences that are closest to oneself at one's peak, or best - roughly said: Abraham Maslow considers many such matters further. Below we have abbreviated a well-known text to highlight central issues. What stands out could be very central issues in experiences that intertwine a lot.

"It will be apparent . . . that all the "separate" characteristics following are not really separate at all, but partake of each other in various ways, e.g., overlapping, . . . [This is of] "holistic analysis" (in contrast to atomistic, or reductive, analysis) . . . I shall be describing in a holistic way, not by splitting identity apart into quite separate components which are mutually exclusive, but rather by turning it over and over in my hands . . ., seeing it now in this organization (as a whole), now in that. Each "aspect" discussed can be ["turned" in the light of] other "aspects."
As you may see, in this thesis we go into various aspects of humour and gladness in the same way, namely of holistic analysis, as we try to detect inherent patterning or organization that may be too subtle to find otherwise.
  1. Sane integration: The person in the peak-experiences feels more integrated [and] also looks that way, e.g., less split, more at peace, more one-pointed, more harmoniously and efficiently organized with all his parts functioning very nicely with each other, more synergetic.
  2. Fusing dimensions: As he gets to be more purely and singly himself he is more able to fuse with the world, with what was formerly not-self, e.g., the lovers come closer to forming a unit rather than two people, the I-Thou monism becomes more possible (. . .) That is, the greatest attainment of identity, autonomy, or selfhood is itself simultaneously a transcending of itself, a going beyond and above selfhood. The person can then become relatively egoless.
  3. Savory peaking: The person in the peak-experiences usually feels himself to be at the peak of his powers, using all his capacities at the best and fullest. In [Dr. Carl R.] Rogers' nice phrase, he feels "fully functioning." He feels more intelligent, more perceptive, wittier . . . He becomes like a river without dams.
  4. Godlike top outlets: A slightly different aspect of fully-functioning is effortlessness and ease of functioning . . . working . . . "comes of itself." Allied to this often is the feeling of grace . . . that comes with smooth, easy effortless fully-functioning, when . . . functioning at [one's] best, [perhaps with] godlike gaiety (humour, fun, foolishness, silliness, play, laughter) which I think to be one of the highest B-values [Being-values, i.e. 'top values'] of identity. (Italics added)
  5. A creating center: The person in peak-experiences feels [himself as the] responsible, active, creating center of his activities and . . . perceptions. He feels more like a prime mover . . . He feels himself to be his own boss, fully responsible . . . with more "free will" . . . [And he] also looks that way to the observer . . . It is often possible to spot this great moment – of becoming responsible – in therapy . . . in education, in marriage, etc.
  6. Free from blocks: He is now most free of blocks, inhibitions, cautions, fears, doubts, . . . self-criticisms, brakes. . . .
  7. Simple, guileless and spontaneous: He is therefore more spontaneous, . . . more innocently behaving (guileless), . . . more natural (simple, relaxed . . .), more uncontrolled and . . . "instinctive," unrestrained . . .
  8. Perceiving and relating better: He is therefore more "creative" in a particular sense . . . His cognition and his behavior . . . can mold itself in a non-interfering, Taoist way . . . less . . . rehearsed . . . It is therefore relatively . . . purposeless, unstriven for, . . . undriven, since it is emergent . . . and doesn't come out of prior time.
  9. The individual flair looms up: All this can be phrased . . . as the acme of uniqueness, individuality or idiosyncrasy. If all people are different from each other in principle, they are more purely different in the peak-experiences. . . .
  10. Free of conditionings: In the peak-experiences, the individual is most here-now . . ., most free of the past and of the future in various senses, most "all there" in the experience. For instance, he can now listen better . . .
  11. Great purity stands out through independent fares based on a non-grasping identity: The person now becomes more a pure psyche . . . becomes more determined by intrapsychic laws rather than by the laws of non-psychic reality . . . there is simultaneously a letting-be of the self and of the other . . . I can grasp the non-self best by non-grasping, i.e., by letting it be itself, by letting it go . . . just as I become most purely myself when I emancipate myself [while] insisting on living only by the laws and rules intrinsic to me. When this has happened, it turns out that the intra-psychic (me) and the extra-psychic (other) are not so terribly different after all, and certainly are not really antagonistic. It turns out that both sets . . . can even be integrated and fused.
  12. The highest rise to rich gladness of heart, into humour and above id-hankerings: Non-striving or non-needing [can be looked on] as the centering-point (or center of organization) . . . and with certain delimited meanings, the person in the peak-experience becomes unmotivated (or undriven), . . . it makes similar sense to describe highest, most authentic identity as . . . non-wishing, i.e., as having transcended needs . . . He just is. Joy has been attained (. . .) I find this a very illuminating base for the theory of godlike humour . . . (Italics added)
  13. "The rhapsodic poet can begin": Expression and communication in the peak-experiences tend often to become poetic, mythical and rhapsodic, as if this were the natural kind of language to express such states of being. . . . The implication for identity theory is that more authentic persons may . . . become more like poets, artists, musicians, prophets, etc. [Especially "etc." (Joke)] [A note: "Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds." - Percy B. Shelley] (Italics added)
  14. Have only good items to ensure the good completions you are after: All peak-experiences may be fruitfully understood . . . on the paradigm of the Reichian type of complete orgasm, or as total discharge, catharsis . . . From these examples [one] should be able to understand phenomenologically how important completion is . . . [Good completion] seen out in the world is perfection . . . [Here] we come to the edge of the problem of how the good person and the good world make each other. . . . only peakers can achieve full identity (. . .) We may also have a clue here to the puzzling finding that many people report their peak-experiences as if they were somehow akin to (beautiful) death . . .
  15. Homo ludens or integrator is playful, and aspires little: I very strongly feel that playfulness of a certain kind (italics added) is one of the [costly] values. One of the most important (reasons) is that it is fairly often reported in the peak-experiences . . . and also can be perceived (. . .) [Costly] playfulness [can have] a cosmic or a godlike, good-humoured quality . . . It could as easily be called happy joy, or gay exuberance or delight. It has a quality of spilling over . . . It is existential in the sense that it is an amusement or delight . . . and the largeness (strength) of . . . transcending the dominance-subordinance polarity. . . . (Italics added) It is simultaneously mature and childlike. It is final, Utopian (. . .) It is in itself an integrator, as beauty is, or love . . .
  16. Beauty-apperceptive and grateful: People during and after peak-experiences characteristically feel lucky, fortunate, graced. A not uncommon reaction is "I don't deserve this." Peaks are not planned or brought about by design; they happen. We are "surprised by joy" . . . The reaction of . . . the sweet "shock of recognition" (italics added) are very frequent. A common consequence is a feeling of gratitude (. . .) Very often this feeling of gratitude is expressed as or leads to an all-embracing love for everybody and everything, to a perception of the world as beautiful, and good (. . .)


The goal of identity (self-actualization, autonomy, individuation, [Karen] Horney's real self, authenticity, etc.) seems to be simultaneously an end-goal in itself, and also a transitional goal, a . . . step along the path to the transcendence of identity. . . . Put the other way about, if our goal is the Eastern one of ego-transcendence . . . of leaving behind self-consciousness and self-observation, of fusion with the world and identification with it . . . then it looks as if the best path to this goal for most people is via achieving identity, a strong real self, and via basic-need-gratification rather than via asceticism.

[All from Abraham Maslow: Toward a Psychology of Being 2nd ed. p. 101-14]

You may want to add to the list: There are reasons to believe that solid distancing could serve as another hallmark of both self-actualization effects and good-natured humour too. (Add more)

Good to know

Whereas the average individuals "often have not the slightest idea of what they are, of what they want, of what their own opinions are," self-actualizing individuals have "superior awareness of their own impulses, desires, opinions, and subjective reactions in general." - Abraham Maslow

"Self-actualizing people are those who have come to a high level of maturation, health and self-fulfillment . . . the values that self-actualizers appreciate include truth, creativity, beauty, goodness, wholeness, aliveness, uniqueness, justice, simplicity, and self-sufficiency." - Abraham Maslow


Humour quotations

Laughter quotations

Ola and Per burlesques

Humour, Gladness and Ideas of Abraham Maslow, Literature  

Attardo, Salvatore, ed. 2017. The Routledge Handbook of Language and Humor. New York: Routledge.

Bremmer, Jan, and Herman Roodenburg, eds. 1997. A Cultural History of Humour: From Antiquity to the Present Day. Oxford: Polity Press.

Halsall, Guy. 2004. Humour, History and Politics in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Koestler, Arthur. 1967. The Act of Creation. New York: Dell.

Maslow, Abraham. 1968. Toward a Psychology of Being. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Maslow, Abraham. 1987. Motivation and Personality. 3rd ed. New York, HarperCollins.

Morreall, John. 2009. Comic Relief: A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley and Sons.

Palmer, Jerry. 1994. Taking Humour Seriously. London: Routledge.

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