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Humor, Seriously

Category: Work

Date: March 16, 2021

We continued our Work series with an informative, hilarious conversation with Jennifer Aaker, a behavioral scientist whose research focuses on cultivating a meaningful life. She shared with us how humor is endemic to professional success, social connection, and personal well-being, and how we can foster more of it throughout our work and home lives in order to mitigate stress, build networks, and cultivate an appreciation for the present moment.

Humor as A Critical Leadership Skill

Leaders who joked in the office were viewed as more motivating, more admired, and were considered more enjoyable to work with. Their teams were twice as likely to solve a creativity challenge. They also earned more money; just by adding a lighthearted line to the end of a sales pitch, customer willingness to pay increased by 18%! Leaders who joked were ultimately more memorable. Jennifer shared an example of Sarah Blakely, the CEO of Spanx, who couldn’t get Buyers to bring Spanx into department stores. She sent a shoe to a Neiman Marcus Buyer with a note that read, “I’m just trying to get my foot in the door.”

With all of these benefits, it seems essential to learn how to be funny, but Jennifer continuously assured us that it’s not about being funny – it’s about understanding styles of humor. Just knowing the styles and the styles of others is a huge step forward.

Humor Styles

  1. Stand ups – bold and irreverent, can make up humor on the fly, comfortable with cursing, unafraid to ruffle feathers, and they come alive in front of crowds.
  1. Sweethearts – honest, earnest, understated, reluctant to hurt feelings, reluctant to be in limelight, uses humor to lighten the mood, and prefers to plan out humor.
  1. Magnets – expressive, warm, avoids controversial humor, loves the limelight, generous with laughter, expressive, warm, charismatic, can nail impersonations and characters, and their delivery is animated and charismatic.
  1. Snipers – edgy, sarcastic, nails deadpan zingers and one liners, hard to make them laugh, and their detail orientation can lead to a humor that is accurate but doesn’t account for emotions or interpersonal context.


The core of humor is in observing and stating something true, and then following that truth with misdirection or a surprise. For example, “I’m sorry that I’m late, I didn’t want to come.”

More secrets from comedians can be found in Chapter 3 of Jennifer’s book, Humor, Seriously.

3 Easy Ways to Create a Joke

  1. Exaggeration 

Example: Everyone is tired on monday mornings, but not after your 12th cup of coffee.

  1. Contrast  

Example: Everyone is tired on Monday mornings, but soon you’ll be extremely tired on Monday afternoons.

  1. Rule of Three – takes advantage of the peak end rule, which refers to people’s tendency to remember the most intense moments and the final thought. Comedians skillfully take their funny thought and put it at the end of their joke.

Example: Everyone is tired on Monday mornings, but you’ll feel better once you get your coffee, have a nice breakfast, and scream into your pillow for a solid minute.

Humor In Your Home

Researchers asked couples to think about a moment when they shared laughter together. Then they asked how happy they were in their relationship. The individuals who reflected on a humorous moment with a loved one were reportedly 23% happier in their relationship than those who did not. Remembering shared moments of laughter has a qualitatively huge impact on how you experience your relationships, and thus how we view and live our lives. Laughter and subsequent reflection can subtly transfort tragedies into comedies, as levity has a huge impact on not only your mental well-being, but due to the contagious nature of laughter, on the mental well-being of your entire family.

Jennifer also suggested making your children feel like they’re funny. Make statements like: “You are so humorous.” When individuals feel like they have a sense of humor, they possess an element of self-confidence and self-esteem that makes them unsurpassable.

Laughter As an Antidote to Regret

Jennifer encouraged us to consider life as a collection of our remembered stories.

Humor and laughter generously mitigates all the other four regrets that are noted towards the end of life. People wished they had been bolder, more present, experienced more joy, and focused on love. Humor helps you to move through negative emotions more nimbly, be present to notice small absurd moments, and establish joyful, authentic connections with loved ones, effectively circumventing these regrets and living more purposefully.

Tips & Takeaways 

  • Be generous with your laughter.
  • Invite someone to laugh with you. Catch their eye and laugh.
  • It’s about understanding how to read the room.
    • Understand other people’s humor styles
    • Understand status
  • Understand your own authentic style
    • If you want to expand your style, find trusted teammates and stretch your humor a little bit. Get feedback from your trusted circle. When you begin to make progress, and feel comfortable with it, you can start to shift your style. Keep in mind, if you do try and shift your style, know the context and have a goal. It’s not about trying to be funny.

For teams who need a behavioral nudge, Jennifer has a 21-day virtual bootcamp to help teams navigate personal differences and build rapport amongst coworkers. 

You can buy Jennifer’s book for more insight into the benefits of humor and simple strategies to use it in your everyday life. (She recommended the audio version. It’s hilarious and her book is long.)

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