Q: Many of our friends find amusement in things that I personally consider offensive -- movies, TV shows, jokes, etc. We want to enjoy the lighter side of life and encourage laughter in our home but do it in an appropriate and uplifting way. Do you have any helpful guidelines for healthy humor?
Jim: It's important to remember that humor isn't a science. As you probably know, the best way to kill a joke is to explain it. That's because humor is intuitive and spontaneous. You can't really teach people to be funny in an appropriate way. You also can't train them to laugh on cue. But you can prepare the ground, plant the seeds and provide opportunities. It is possible to create the kind of context for healthy humor to spring up of its own accord.
The first step is to realize that humor is really just another form of communication. It's part of our communication skill set; in fact, it's fair to say that humor and communication are just two sides of the same coin. And of course, communication is fundamental to the health and well-being of any genuinely thriving family. Just like laughter facilitates talk, intentional conversation can open windows into the hearts and minds of the people we live with. It can help us understand what really tickles their funny bone. That's a big part of learning to love one another.
Furthermore, every person has his or her own style of humor; experts have identified as many as fifty of them. These distinctive humor styles have to be developed within the context of family interaction. Each member of the household should be allowed and encouraged to be funny in his or her own way.
As I said, genuine humor can't be contrived. It thrives on contrast and surprise. That's why it's at its best when it arises indirectly out of unexpected (and maybe even unsettling) situations. So, one way of promoting healthy humor is simply encouraging your family to try new things.
For example, you might invent some family activities that are designed to shake things up and throw people off balance. Just make sure that this happens in safe, healthy and creative ways. And, incidentally, set all the electronic devices aside, especially phones.
Playing games is probably the most obvious option. Charades, Guesstures -- games that involve imitating different kinds of animals, musical chairs, movement-oriented games -- these are all opportunities for both children and adults to have a good time laughing together. Depending on the age of the kids, it might also be fun to do something completely unplanned and totally out of character. You could stage an impromptu opera in the living room or take everyone to the movies in their pajamas. If you have the courage to try it, I'll predict that all kinds of funny things will happen along the way.
Another idea would involve organizing a family humor night. Assign each of the kids to bring something funny to the table. It could be anything: a joke, a picture, a story from a book or an anecdote about something that happened at school. After sharing some laughs together, give each family member a chance to talk about his or her contribution. Ask them how they chose their material. Find out why they think it's so hilarious. This will give everyone, Mom and Dad included, a chance to get inside each other's heads. It's also a good way for everyone to become better acquainted with different styles of humor.
Finally, here's a general rule of thumb: if you're laughing WITH someone, it's more apt to be healthy humor. If you're laughing AT someone, you may want to rethink things.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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