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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 'glæd', 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 do not have their basic needs taken relevantly care of.

What we laugh at may be looked on in the light of various 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

Maslow: "I feel justified in making at least the following affirmations or propositions, all of which [could be] testable." (1968, 101)

He then lists seven points about peak experiences. (Maslow 1968, 101) - [They are here]. He also finds it fit to caution:

It finally seems clear that the cognitive experiences I have been describing cannot be a substitute for the routine skeptical and cautious procedures of science. However fruitful and penetrating these cognitions may be, and granting fully that they may be the best or only way of discovering certain kinds of truth, yet the problems of checking, choosing, rejecting, confirming and (externally) validating remain with us subsequent to the flash of insight. (Maslow 1968, 100. Emphasis added)

Maslow also lists and explains 16 characteristics that blend or intertwine, but allow for a careful holistic analysis. Some forms of humour can be studied in the light of them. [Maslow's list of 16 factors]. (From Abraham Maslow: Toward a Psychology of Being 1968, 101-14)

You may want to add to Maslow's list: Research findings show that wise, benevolent humour is helpful for health and thriving. Daryl Peebles writes in his doctoral thesis on humour:

Some academics and philosophers praise humour and encourage its use. (Peebles 2015, i)

To differentiate the humour style preferences . . . in workplaces . . . has enabled more targeted and meaningful research to be undertaken. Researchers can now look specifically at workplace humour which is predominantly affiliative, inclusive and uplifting, to determine if this specific style of humour is of value in terms of enhanced worker attitude and performance. (Ib.)

Studies are also emerging that show that workplaces are benefiting from the application of positive psychology in enhancing workplace satisfaction, motivation and productivity. (Ib.)

Self-efficacy, resilience, hope and optimism [are] associated with improved organisational productivity. (Ib., ii)

Why not include sagicity in Maslow's list too?


Humour quotations

Laughter quotations

Ola and Per burlesques


Humour, Gladness, Abraham Maslow notions, Literature  

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

Bardon, Adrian. 2005. "The Philosophy of Humor," in Comedy: A Geographic and Historical Guide, ed. by Maurice Charney. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005.

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.

Peebles, Daryl. 2015. The Value of Positive Humour in the Workplace. Doctoral thesis. Sandy Bay, Tasmania: The University of Tasmania, The Tasmanian School of Business and Economics. Raskin, Victor, ed. 2008. The Primer of Humor Research. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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