Growing up I remember hearing colloquialisms such as “suck it up”, “rub some dirt in it”, or “laugh it off.” These phrases seem automatic and designed to negate any potentially uncomfortable discussion of how a person might truly feel in a given situation. For myself, this brings up concerns that we are teaching children how to repress and avoid their emotions. Do some of these phrases actually serve a purpose? Can someone really just “laugh it off,” if they are sad, hurt, or even depressed? The answer is no, but fear not, there is a time and place for humour!



Humour serves as an important tool to mediate embarrassment or discomfort, to distract, to entertain, and, apparently, to develop resiliency [1]. Although humour is the not the “cure-all,” answer to mental health, it can serve as a protective factor and help to develop resiliency. Protective factors simply refer to qualities, characteristics, or circumstances which allow a person to develop a support system of coping skills, resources, and people to rely on in times of need. In other words, think of humour as a preventative tool in your tool belt; humour may not fix a situation, but it may help to mediate some of the more negative effects.



Trauma is becoming much more of a frequent topic of conversation, news media, and professional circles. It seems that the main topic surrounds why some people react differently to the same or similar experiences. Why do two soldiers return from the same combat zone, having had similar experiences, but only one soldier experiences post-traumatic stress?

There is now talk of something called post-traumatic growth (PTG), which is a phenomenon where people are able to grow in positive ways after experiencing trauma [2]. Of course, this phenomenon has those of us in the mental health field wondering how we can predict PTG and what we can do preventively to resource people before they experience trauma. What factors buffer the potentially devastating impact of trauma? While it’s a complex question without one answer, humour can be a resource. Humour can be a tool through which people are able to view a painful reality with a defiant attitude and a bit of a buffer [2]. Humour has the unique capacity to transform a negative situation into something positive; however, there needs to be an understanding that humour is multidimensional and not all humour elicits positive effects [2].


Benefits for Counselling

There are four types of humour: affiliative, self-enhancing, aggressive, and self-defeating. Whereas benign types of humour, such as affiliative and self-enhancing have shown positive effects in lowering incidence rates of depression, anxiety, and stress, aggressive and self-defeating humour has shown to have negative effects [2]. Affiliative humour refers to the tendency to say funny things, tell jokes, and exchange witty banter, whereas self-enhancing references a humourous outlook on life [3]. One study by Sirigatti and colleagues (2017) has shown positive correlations between self-enhancing humour and overall life satisfaction, self-esteem, optimism, happiness, and psychological well-being.

So we have determined that like all things there is a balance. Some types of humour can create a more positive mindset and overall feeling, while more negative, self-deprecating humour does the opposite (Gladding, Wallace, & J, 2016). Some humour can hurt instead of fostering healing [4]. However, let’s focus on the positive. There is some truth in the saying “laughter is the best medicine.” Although laughter definitely is not “medicine,” nor a curative remedy, it leads to strengthening physical and mental well-being and is positively correlated to longevity. Humour can help with the constructive expression of strong feelings, offer perspective and balance, and assist in coping [4].


In conclusion, no, you can’t just “laugh it off,” but like with anything in life, our outlook can greatly affect how we deal with the obstacles that arise. Can positivity and optimism really hurt too much? If you’re having a tough day, week, or even if you’re not, just remember to take a second to enjoy yourself and laugh.


Q: What do you call a cow on a trampoline?

A: A milkshake!




[1] Tucker, T. M. (2017). Resilience development through humor. Dissertation Abstracts International, 78.

[2] Boerner, M., Joseph, S., & Murphy, D. (2017). The association between sense of humor and trauma-related mental health outcomes: Two exploratory studies. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 22(5), 440-452. doi:10.1080/15325024.2017.1310504

[3] Gladding, S. T., Wallace, D., & J, M. (2016). Promoting beneficial humor in counselling: A way of helping counselors help clients. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 11(1), 2-11. doi:10.1080/15401383.2015.1133361

[4] Sirigatti, S., Penzo, I., Giannetti, E., Casale, S., & Stefanile, C. (2016). Relationships between humorism profiles and psychological well-being. Personality and Individual Differences, 90, 219-224. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2015.11.011