Humor: The Psychology of Living Buoyantly

By Kess, Joseph F | Canadian Psychology, August 2001 | Go to article overview

Humor: The Psychology of Living Buoyantly

Kess, Joseph F, Canadian Psychology

HERBERT M. LEFCOURT Humor: The Psychology of Living Buoyantly New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2001, 220 pages (ISBN 0-306-46407-1, us$47.50, Hardcover) Reviewed by JOSEPH F. KESS

"The joyous heart is a good remedy, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." Proverbs 17:22, quoted in a chapter outlining the history of early conceptions of humour, may capture the thrust of the book in a way the title does not. The discussion does not focus on humour as the panacea for the difficulties that everyday life places in our path, but it does explore its virtues in helping humans cope with stress from both an evolutionary and a synchronic perspective. A dozen chapters deliver a learned inventory of facts and figures about humour from psychology and its interdisciplinary allies, as well as providing a very personal point of view.

Lefcourt traces the changing concerns of psychology, and the reason why the psychological study of humour has often been trivialized as an unlikely candidate for research support in the past. The author charts his own personal odyssey in the field, one in which he is drawn to the study of human strengths rather than human frailties. How does one come to accept the unacceptable, even control the uncontrollable? Humour seems to offer one avenue by which humans have come to cope, and effectively at that. It may be that Lefcourt is in the vanguard of a movement in which psychology will overcome its past preoccupation with a medical model of mental illness and deficit, and turn its attention to the positive, even optimistic, aspects of the human experience.

An early chapter sets us up for the remaining chapters by reminding us how we experience humour in everyday life. Verbatim anecdotes from students in previous seminars offer vignettes which allow the reader to grasp the situation vicariously and to see how and why the humour of the situation could have arisen. It is here that Lefcourt confides that his is a functionalist psychological perspective, and that he views humour as a characteristic that has been useful to our species. If the survival of a species is one of adaptation to circumstance, then humour may have been one of those evolutionary modifications that allowed us to both cope with unbearable circumstances and to draw closer to one another.

Perhaps this is why smiles and laughter occur in all human societies, although what elicits them is not universal and much that elicits laughter is not humourous. The fact of early onset in the maturational schedule, specific neurophysiological correlates, and reflections in closely related species only reinforces this assumption. The absence of verbal play notwithstanding, some higher order primates apparently display a sufficient awareness of self, a "theory of other minds," and the cognitive capacity to supply prerequisite underpinnings for humour. For humans, though, Lefcourt makes the crucial distinction between self-directed humour and hostile humour. The former is usually self-deprecating, even defensive, and encourages group solidarity; in contrast, hostile humour may cement in-group vs. outgroup identities, but if directed at one's fellows in the in-group, it can be ultimately divisive as others take cover for fear they will be the next target of ridicule.

just as with metalinguistic abilities, individual differences characterize children in their appreciation and use of humour. But the suggestion is that individuals with a good sense of humour are more likely to take an active stance toward their own life experiences, taking steps to alter unpleasant mood states instead of enduring them passively. Is it not therefore possible to infer that such individuals are less prone to let the negative effects of stressful life experiences roll right over them, without trying to ameliorate them in some way? Here one comes to the crux of the argument for most readers. Is humour, then, a coping strategy, ultimately devised in our evolutionary ramblings, as a protective cushion against the jagged impact of stressful experiences? …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Humor: The Psychology of Living Buoyantly


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.