Self-deprecating jokes are the best — unless I make them. See what I did there? Judging by my humor (or lack thereof), you may think that I'm not a very self-confident person or have a tendency to be sad. According to a new study, however, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Researchers from the University of Granada in Spain set out to investigate different types of humor, and they came to some surprising conclusions.
Contrary to popular belief, they say, those who make self-deprecating jokes do not have low self-esteem, nor are they prone to depression.
They may, in fact, be happier and better socially adjusted than most people.
"In particular," says lead study author Jorge Torres-Marín, "we have observed that a greater tendency to employ self-defeating humor is indicative of high scores in psychological well-being dimensions such as happiness and [...] sociability."
So, in other words, my self-deprecating jokes may actually be a sign that I'm a happier and better-adjusted person who probably has more friends than you do.
Secretly though, I may also hate everybody — and that's the truth because, well, I would never joke about that.
Four types of humor and what they mean
The researchers reached their conclusions — which are now published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences — after applying psychometric analysis to study the humor of 1,068 adults aged 18–65.
To study the link between different styles of humor, well-being, and personality traits, Torres-Marín and colleagues applied the traditional division between four types of humor: "affiliative, aggressive, self-enhancing, and self-defeating."
The researchers explain that pro-social, or "affiliative" humor, is "characterized by saying amusing remarks or telling jokes, being considered a type of benevolent humor."
This humor type was discovered to correlate with personality traits such as kindness, humility, and honesty. The kinder the person, the likelier they are to make "benevolent" jokes that are meant to strengthen social bonds.
Self-enhancing humor, on the other hand, refers to "the maintenance of a humorous outlook during adverse or harmful situations."
The researchers say that they expected self-enhancing humor to correlate with higher scores of positive psychological well-being, but instead, they found self-defeating humor to correlate with happiness.
Additionally — and surprisingly — self-defeating humor was also associated with greater anger suppression. By contrast, individuals who use self-enhancing humor also tend to manage their anger better or simply feel less angry in general.
Finally, aggressive humor correlated with a higher expression and experience of anger in everyday situations.
The authors caution that certain kinds of humor could be used to hide negative feelings. Study co-author Ginés Navarro-Carrillo says, "[The] results suggest that humor, even when presented as benign or well-intentioned, can also represent a strategy for masking negative intentions."
"[Humor] enables individuals with low scores in honesty to build trust, closeness, etc. with other people," he adds, "and thereby use important information in order to manipulate them or obtain advantages in the future."
As a person who truly dislikes telling "jokes" — but who loves stand-up comedy — I cannot resist the urge to pass some of the "comedy greats" through the filter of the new findings.
"Angry" comedians such as Bill Hicks, Lenny Bruce, and George Carlin may genuinely have had anger management issues, given how "aggressive" and sometimes dark their humor was.
If we're to take the findings for granted, Jerry Seinfeld's "sunny" humor may either be a sign that he's genuinely a kind and honest person, or that he's the complete opposite: manipulative and dishonest, just trying to gain our trust.
Finally, in light of this new study, the self-defeating humor of Louis C.K. tells us that in real life he's quite happy, but also that he has...well, definitely some issues, anger management or otherwise.