Humour has been an integral part of communication over many millennia, evolving through time into a rich, varied language we all use, as part of our interpersonal relationships with others in our social surroundings.
Despite many hypotheses, we still do not have a unified theory of humour. What is evident is the potential for humour to offer distinctly opposing outcomes, ranging from positively constructive alignment during interactions to negatively destructive conclusions.
There is also a clear differentiation of the types of humour, which can influence the types of outcome experienced. Affiliative and/or self-enhancing humour tends to offer a more beneficial outcome for individuals, from engaging in spontaneous witty banter, to sharing jokes and funny anecdotes, which can reduce tension, and provide an effective coping mechanism during times of overwhelming stress.
Alternatively, divisive or self-defeating humour tends to be more detrimental for individuals, for instance using sarcasm, teasing/ridiculing others or making themselves the ‘butt of the joke’ as a way of deflecting truthful feelings.
Consequently, using appropriate types of humour regularly offers nurses a valuable element of their communications skillset when developing therapeutic relationships, and reliving individual tensions and helping to build psychological resilience.
Humour helps to create environmental conditions where individuals can feel ‘safe’, over time helping to improve overall wellbeing. This is achieved by embracing qualities such as warmth, compassion, empathy, and unconditional positive regard.
Humour can also enable nurses to be less ‘task-orientated’ focusing on developing rich and sincere interpersonal connections, aligning towards person-centered theory. Spending time with clients and offering light conversation with no preconceived expectations on those involved, while sharing experiences (collaboratively), can add spice and variety to interactions forming stronger relationships. Consequently, the level of communication can develop beyond basic pleasantries to more deep and meaningful engagement.
Furthermore, a direct correlation between humour and health is evident, having a multifactorial influence on wellbeing and consequently, therapeutic relationships.
These impacts can be direct, such as the benefits on our physiological health – improved immunological responses, cardio and respiratory function, reducing hypertension, and overall glucose serum levels.
The simple act of laughing can stimulate a rhythmic internal massage, which helps to relax muscles and therefore enhances blood supply to vital organs. Additionally many indirect responses are also evident from moderating adverse stress responses, enhancing coping mechanisms, while potentially improving relational and socialisation skills.
”Humour can also help to enhance working relationships too”
Some psychological changes include increasing dopamine production to reduce symptoms of low mood and depression, or helping to neutralise stress hormones, increasing our internal relaxation response, helping up bolster self-esteem and self-worth, optimism and hope.
Humour may also provide a form of universal language transcending many cultural and interpersonal diversities.
Considering the value of humour as discussed above, humour can also help to enhance working relationships too – potentially enhancing team dynamics and promoting positive working environments.
By developing closer working relationships between work colleagues, we can potentially increase overall efficacy, encouraging increased levels of individual and team motivation. The resulting effect aiming for better quality outcomes, and experiences, for all.
Steve McCarthy-Grunwald is senior lecturer mental health nursing at the University of Cumbria