How would you feel if a colleague suggested you take a comedy class to improve your sense of humor? I felt crushed.
At home that evening, I asked my other half whether he thinks I’m funny. Then I texted my best friend. Then my brother. And his wife. “Of course you are,” they all reassured me. What else could they say? And anyway, I’d already made up my mind. Some people just aren’t funny, and I’m one of them.
Yet, according to Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas—authors of the book Humor, Seriously, and experts on the subject—humor is not something you are born with or without. Rather, it’s a muscle you can strengthen. What’s more, finding our funny sides makes us appear more competent and confident, strengthens relationships, unlocks creativity, boosts resilience, and makes us more likable. It helps in any life situation.
This undoubtedly explains why future masters of the universe are eagerly signing up for the humor course Aaker and Bagdonas teach at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. They agreed to teach me how to find my funny bones, too.
My first interaction with the pair is over e-mail and, as you would hope, they are very amusing—not gag-a-minute, try-hard funny, but witty and warm. They begin by sending me a lengthy questionnaire about what I find funny, what I don’t, and how I attempt to make others laugh. The results will apparently reveal my humor type.
In our first call, Aaker, a social psychologist, explains that many of us leave humor behind when we arrive at adulthood: A four-year-old laughs up to 300 times a day. A 40-year-old takes ten weeks to laugh as much.
Next, we discuss the common misconceptions that stop many of us in our comedy tracks. The first, Aaker says, is the belief that humor has no place in certain situations, especially at work. We worry about harming our credibility and about not being taken seriously, but 98 percent of top executives say they prefer employees with a sense of humor and 84 percent of bosses believe those employees do better work.
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