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 -
ACCORDING to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, humour is related to 'damp', i.e. 'humours' that were connected with the non-intellectual, the instinctive,
unreasoning side of drives, and the crude, elemental sides of the existence. But the meaning
of the word 'humour' changed in time, so the meanings of humour that we look into, relates
more and less to:
- One or more postulated qualities which "appeal to a sense of the laughable or
- 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.
- Something that is or is designed to be comical or amusing.
- Besides it is related to 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
- 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
- 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.
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 rather modern genre to express the life of Norwegian Americans in the Midwest from
1918 to 1935.
IT TENDS to be easier to appreciate humour and humourous aspects of living if you feel
happy and contented inside, research has shown. [Svebak p yy]
'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'
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
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
- 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
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
- 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
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:
Abraham Maslow's postulated hierarchy of 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.
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;
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:
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.
- Truth, rather than dishonesty.
- Goodness, rather than evil.
- Beauty, not ugliness or vulgarity.
- Unity, wholeness, and transcendence of opposites, not arbitrariness or
- 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.
What we laugh at may be looked on in the light of varioius Maslow findings. Three
aspects may stand out:
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.
- 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
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
And are there other sides to Norwegian-American humour? We will look into that in
time, if we can.
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]
- Peak-experiences may and do have some therapeutic effects in the strict sense
of removing symptoms. I have at least two reportsone 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.
- They can change the person's view of himself in a healthy direction.
- They can change his view of other people and his relations to them in many
- They can change more or less permanently his view of the world, or of aspects
or parts of it.
- They can release him for greater creativity, spontaneity, expressiveness,
- He remembers the experience as a very important and desirable happening and seeks to
- 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]
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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 momentof becoming responsiblein therapy . . . in education, in
- Free from blocks: He is now most free of blocks, inhibitions,
cautions, fears, doubts, . . . self-criticisms, brakes. . . .
- Simple, guileless and spontaneous: He is therefore more spontaneous,
. . . more innocently behaving (guileless), . . . more natural (simple, relaxed . . .), more
uncontrolled and . . . "instinctive," unrestrained . . .
- 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
- 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. . . .
- 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 . . .
- 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.
- 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)
- "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)
- 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 . . .
- 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 . . .
- 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
[All from Abraham Maslow: Toward a Psychology of Being 2nd ed. p.
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)