The 2020 Best Picture Oscar nominations were as somber as 2020 – dramas about war, another war, more war, divorce, lots of killing, and a poor family in Seoul conning a rich family in Seoul which leads to more killing.  I’m Korean and proud of a Korean drama winning the Best Picture Oscar, but C’MON!  What happened to humor, jokes, and laughter?!  Is playfulness so last season, never to be heard from again, along with my 80’s permed hair and pegged acid wash jeans?

Recently I read an article by Joel Stein “This Is Not a Joke: The Cost of Being Humorless” which I thought quite apropos given the state of the world.

Particularly in our professional lives, we don’t know how to act during a pandemic. So we’re putting on a character. We’re withholding our jokes out of fear that it will hurt someone who is experiencing COVID-related suffering, home-school-related suffering, end-of-democracy suffering, or have-to-pretend-to-be-amused-by-your-Zoom-fake-background suffering.  But as risk-reward analysis shows time and time again, a lack of risk costs us rewards. 

A 15-year longitudinal study of more than 50,000 Norwegians found that women with a strong sense of humor had a 73% lower risk of dying from heart disease and an 83% lower risk of dying from infection. Men who scored high on humor experience similar benefits.  Avoiding disease does seem like a pretty big upside right now.

Humor helps our bottom line directly, too. Employees who rate their supervisors as having any sense of humor at all are 15% more satisfied in their jobs and rate their supervisors as 27% more motivating and admired. Even a lighthearted line at the end of a sales pitch increases customers’ willingness to pay by 18%. A study from Harvard Business School showed that putting a lame pun at the end of testimonials as to why people should visit Switzerland (“the flag is a big plus”) made readers think the person who wrote it was 37% higher in status, and also more competent and confident. Participants in the study were much more likely to pick the dad-flag-joke teller as their group leader.