Laugh Your Way to Creativity

How humor can help you be more creative.

Posted Nov 08, 2017

copyright Sally Evans, rights obtained
Source: copyright Sally Evans, rights obtained

There are times in relationships, business, and life when a little creativity can make all the difference.  And in romance, it might even make the difference between “I do” and “I don’t.”

The good news is that creativity is something that’s very easy to develop.  And the very best way to develop it happens to be very enjoyable. It involves humor. Here’s how it works:

To begin with, virtually all humor involves a similar structure, whether actual or implied. (To clarify, I define humor as something that is fun or funny. I don’t include sarcasm, puns, or “jokes” at another person’s expense. Those are just examples of hostility, masquerading as humor.)

So, to see an example of humor structure in action, let’s take a look at a couple of typical jokes:

  • Person A: “What kind of a bug is that?”
  • Person B: “It’s a ladybug.”
  • Person A: “Gad what eyesight!”

A woman is berating her husband for his marital failures:

  • The wife angrily says: “Every morning the man next door kisses his wife goodbye. Then when he comes home after work, he brings her flowers. Why don’t you ever do that?”
  • Husband, shaking his head: “I couldn’t do that. I don’t even know the woman.”

Or, yet another:

  • A man with a dog on a leash is walking down the street. A second man approaches him.
  • The second man asks, “Does your dog bite”
  • The first man replies, “No, my dog has never bitten anyone.”
  • The second man reaches down to pet the dog, and the dog takes a big bite out of his hand. The man recoils in shock.
  • The second man says, “I thought you said your dog never bites!”
  • First man: “This is not my dog...”

So, we have three typical jokes, covering three very different kinds of situations. What do you notice about them?

The big thing is that they all follow the same identical structure. They set you up to expect one thing, and then switch toward the end and give you something completely different. We’re surprised, and we laugh. That’s the formula. That’s what humor’s all about.

There are endless variations to this pattern, and some different ways you can disguise it. But if you look under the hood of almost any joke or funny situation, you’ll find this same comedic “set-up and switch” structure.

Surprise is at the heart of comedy. Surprise is also at the heart of creativity. Creativity is about more than just producing something. It’s about producing something in a new way, a different way, a surprising way.

So, if you want to be creative in your life or work, it’s important to be available to surprise. And the best way to be available to surprise is to spend time immersed in humor, which is based on, and turns on, surprise.

A joke sends a powerful message to your brain and your nervous system. It sends the message that the obvious route you were traveling on, as you moved toward your expected destination, isn’t the only route you could take. There are alternatives. There are other pathways you can choose. 

This is an amazing message that a joke gives your brain.

But the gravitational pull of habit and tradition is powerful. A random joke here or there won’t help you establish a new pattern of thinking. You need to experience enough jokes over a long enough period of time to jostle your mind out of its linear thought ruts and into a new, expansive, creative way of thinking.  

I believe that the best way to ensure that you have enough humor on a daily basis is to set up a daily "laughter break." Gather a library of humor books and videos that you can spend about fifteen minutes or so with every day.

What you choose for your humor library is up to you. The only requirement is that you choose things that really make you laugh, and that you spend time with it every day.

A few things in my own humor library are: cartoon collections from New Yorker cartoonists like George Booth, videos of "The Muppet Show," the book Play With Your Food, and the great Buster Keaton movie, "The General." (This is just a very small sample of my humor library.)

So, creativity.

Much of our daily thinking is conducted on the freeways of habit. Creativity is off-road thinking. Humor helps prepare your brain for those off-road excursions. It helps you develop the “surprise thinking” that results in creative new ideas.

Laugh your way to creativity!