the ability to discern and appreciate what is funny

a.k.a. sense of humor, jocosity, levity

Among other things, humor is a stress-reliever, and can cut tension in social situations if one is careful to deploy it sensitively. Not taking yourself too seriously is a part of humility/modesty, and humor can be a part of that.

Humor can be a way of broaching sensitive or taboo subjects more safely, and for this reason among others is a valuable component of rhetoric. Humor is often used to take pompous people down a peg or to mock deviants, and so has a function of enforcing social norms.

Being laughed at or held up to ridicule is unpleasant; it may imply a disconnect between what you are trying to do/be and what you are apparently doing/being.

Complementary virtues

Contrasting vices

  • coarseness, vulgarity, buffoonishness (vices of excess)
  • a cruel sense of humor, making fun of others, mockery
  • “can’t take anything seriously”
  • humorlessness, dourness

Virtues possibly in tension

How to acquire or strengthen it

  • P.E. McGhee (Humor, health, and the amuse system 1999) came up with a group therapy method of teaching humor skills in increasing difficulty order. I came across this in Character Strengths and Virtues (2004, pp. 596–97) but was unable to find the original source anywhere, and it looks like there wasn’t yet much data about its effectiveness.
  • Nevo, Ofra, Aharonson, Haim, & Klingman, Avigdor. “The development and evaluation of a systematic program for improving sense of humor”. The Sense of Humor: Explorations of a Personality Characteristic edited by Willibald Ruch, Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter Mouton, 2010, pp. 385–404. (Character Strengths and Virtues summarizes: “Results only partly supported the hypothesis that humor could be cultivated.”)

Notes and links

Mentioned elsewhere


Inspirational quotes

  • “Heraclitus would shed tears whenever he went out in public; Democritus laughed. One saw the whole as a parade of miseries, the other of follies. And so, we should take a lighter view of things and bear them with an easy spirit, for it is more human to laugh at life than to lament it.” —Seneca, On Tranquility of Mind 15.2