This post was originally sent by Dr. Ryan M. Niemiec to the PP mailing list. Dr. Ryan M. Niemiec kindly agreed to let us republish it here
Since the emergence of the VIA Classification in 2004, the scientific study of humor has increased. While there is too much for me to summarize in this email, here are a couple things – first is a paragraph I sent to the PP list several months ago, second is a double-blind study on a humor intervention conducted by one leading humor research team, and third is an abstract studying humor in couples.
1.) Humor is classified under the virtue of transcendence, however, while this is somewhat fitting, some factor analyses have found it fits better under the virtues of wisdom or humanity. It is the character strength that is most associated with the pleasure pathway to authentic happiness. Some research at West Point has found that humor was the character strength among military leaders that was most associated with earning their soldiers’ trust. A leading researcher on the character strength of humor is Willibald Ruch, who conducts his studies in Switzerland.
2.) Ruch et al.’s research suggests that people can learn humor and that humor increases life satisfaction, rather than vice versa. One intervention they studied is “Writing a Humor Diary”: “In a double-blind placebo controlled internet study of 680 people (reported at the European Conference on PP), one of the conditions was to write a humor diary modeled on the gratitude diary intervention. People were asked to write down the three funniest things which happened to them that day. This intervention increased life satisfaction and decreased depression and still had an effect three months later.”
3.) Campbell, L., Martin, R. A., & Ward, J. R. (2008). An observational study of humor use while resolving conflict in dating couples. Personal Relationships, 15, 41–55.
Abstract: This research focused on whether affiliative and aggressive humor use was associated with relationship satisfaction and with greater perceived closeness, problem resolution, and emotional distress following a conflict discussion task. Ninety-eight dating couples from a large Texas University participated in this research. Both partners independently completed questionnaires about their relationship perceptions, participated in a videotaped conflict resolution task, and then answered some additional questions. The results revealed that individuals whose partners used more affiliative and less aggressive humor during the discussion were more satisfied with their relationship and reported an increase in perceived closeness and better problem resolution following the discussion. These results highlight the importance of both positive and negative forms of humor in the regulation of close relationships.
Dr. Niemiec is Education Director of the VIA Institute on Character, a scientific, nonprofit organization that bridges the science and practice on character strengths. He is a licensed psychologist, certified coach, and practices & teaches mindfulness meditation.