Two Ways to Use Humor Beyond Entertainment for Stronger Connections

cover art of episode 146 showing Karyn Buxman laughing

It’s more important to see funny than it is to be funny.

Humor can be used beyond entertainment for stronger connections in all your relationships. Let’s explore two additional uses of humor and how you can add more of it to your life.

We recorded this episode in April 2023.

Your Challenge Invitation

Expect humor and seek it as you go through your days. Include it in your conversations and your presentations through the content and delivery. Use it in a way that uplifts, and don’t bully with it.

When you find something funny, share it with others. This can increase your influence and build connections. You can use visuals, and videos to leverage other people’s stories. If you are in a meeting, and you call on someone to share a funny story, they get to share their story and everybody laughs. You’re also seen as having a sense of humor, which is a desirable trait. 

Contact and follow Karyn on LinkedIn.

You can connect with Damianne on the Changes BIG and small website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube. You’re also invited to join the Changes BIG and small Facebook community.

Similar Episodes

Timeline of the Chat

[04:09] The Three Purposes of Humor
[06:16] Cultivating Humor
[11:08] Humor as we age from childhood
[14:02] Why You Should Get Serious about Humor
[18:51] Is sarcasm okay?
[19:46] Alternatives to Sarcasm to Use Humor for Connection
[24:34] Invitation – Put It in Action
[26:42] Knowing when to use humor

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[Try a new thought]: “I expect to see humor today.”

People wanna do business with or follow people they know, like, and trust and humor can help do all of those things.

Transcript of the Episode

[00:51] Damianne: It was fun getting a message from you on LinkedIn because you said that I didn’t have a neurohumorist in my circle, which is true. In your bio, you talked about a humorist is at the intersection of humor and neuroscience 

[01:08] Karyn: humor and the brain, which is where I live,

[01:11] Damianne: So tell me, what do you do as a neurohumorist?

[01:13] Karyn: you know, I have been researching humor for over 30 years. I stumbled into it in grad school when I was tasked with doing research and a thesis. And so this became my research project. And when I first started looking at humor, it wasn’t necessarily because this was something, oh, I’ve been searching for this all my life. It was something that I kind of stumbled into. The more I learned, the more excited I became. And eventually, people started asking me to share some of my findings with them.

 I can remember the very first time that I was asked to do a presentation and I’m all set to give my p value of less than 0.05 and blah, blah, blah, blah. And I discovered that people thought I was funny. It was like who knew. So, it just escalated very quickly and pretty soon, I had to make a choice between teaching at the university or doing speaking.

And I thought, oh, I’ll do this for a year, you know, and then I’ll come back. But every year it just kept escalating and now it has taken me from Burbank to Bangkok and just, you know, audiences of 10 to 10,000. And people are so curious and excited about what we are finding and, and much of it is supporting what we’ve known all along.

We enjoy humor; it’s the rare person whoever thinks about using it intentionally and strategically. There’s so many other things that it does health wise, including improving your mental health, your physical health, your spiritual health, your social wellbeing. It’s a very holistic type of approach. 

So I would ask you, do you think you’re funny?

[03:12] Damianne: Some people say that I am funny, but I think it’s kind of a dry humor. And so I would say yes in some situations.

[03:21] Karyn: Good. How about sense of humor? Do you have a sense of humor?

[03:26] Damianne: Yes. And not as well developed as some other people. When I was preparing for this conversation with you, I was thinking that I have some friends who laugh all the time, even one of my sisters. We’ll just be hanging out and she’ll start laughing and I’ll be like, what are you laughing at? I don’t even see what is the thing that could be funny right now?

[03:49] Karyn: You just nailed the core of all of my work, so yay you. Because here’s the thing. People think that the purpose of humor is to be funny, it’s to make the other person laugh, it’s to entertain. 

[04:09] The Three Purposes of Humor

[04:09] Karyn: And what I have come to realize and my body of work is built around the fact that there’s three purposes of humor, not just entertainment, which makes the other person laugh, but wellbeing, which can improve your own health or help improve someone else’s health and influence, which is to inspire, connect, educate, uplift, motivate, you know, all of these things. If you’re entertaining somebody, you measure your success by how often they laugh. If you are trying to influence someone, let’s say in a personal relationship, you wouldn’t measure your success by the number of times that you made them laugh, but in the quality of your relationship. So this is why I say it’s more important to see funny than it is to be funny.

And you’re so right about nurturing that sense of humor. Because what I have come to find is that for people who do wanna be funny, that if they spend more time nurturing their sense of humor, then they become naturally and authentically funny.

And some people it comes more naturally. Perhaps your sister or some of the other folks that you’re hanging with, they’ve done this maybe intuitively. But for others, it’s the intentionality of looking for humor, seeking humor for others, because what that is doing is rewiring our brain to see more of what’s already there so that you can see the things your sister’s seeing, cuz she’s not just making them up. Her brain is tuned into seeing them and you, through some intentional practice, can rewire your brain to see those things too. Is that not the coolest?

[06:16] Cultivating Humor

[06:16] Damianne: That is pretty cool. And what I’m also wondering is what are some of those intentional practices? Is it a matter of having the intention and looking for those opportunities or are there specific things that we could do?

[06:31] Karyn: You know, I think that the very first thing that I would encourage you to do is to set a mindset, which is, I expect to see humor today. I am looking for validation of that because there’s a part of our brain called the reticular activating system, and this is a filter because if everything came into our brain that is out there all at once, our brain would just blow up.

So our brain filters what comes in and it automatically shows us more of what we pay attention to. If you find out that one of your close friends is pregnant, the next time you’re in the grocery store, you’re gonna be walking around and you’re gonna think, oh my gosh, what do we have in a population explosion here? Where did all these pregnant people come from? Well, they were always there. You just didn’t notice them. 

You know, we see this in a negative way. When people start more or less doom scrolling, they are concerned about something that might happen negatively, and pretty soon they’re tuning themselves into more and they’re looking for that. And then pretty soon it’s showing up for them everywhere. 

You can do the opposite of that and just say, I expect to see humor. And if you don’t see it right away, don’t give up. Because some people will say, see, I told you there’s nothing funny happening in my life. But sometimes it takes a little longer to rewire our brain, but then you’re going to see something or hear something that is humorous.

I was in a clothing store not too long ago and I am trying on a pair of pants and I overhear the woman in the stall next to me and I couldn’t see her, but it just painted a picture for me cuz she said, good lord, if this dress was any tighter, it fit me like a mammogram. I am just crack…. I stopped putting on my pants and I got out a piece of paper and I wrote it down. Because that’s another thing that we have to capture these moments sometimes, because as funny as it was, I forgot about that after I walked out of the store, but a week later when I’m getting into my purse and I pull out that piece of paper, it’s like, oh my gosh, that was so funny. I had to put it somewhere where I could record it and keep it for the future so that I could wire it into my brain.

But when you start overhearing things like that now, your synopsis are gonna fire, neurons are gonna wire together, and it’s gonna be a little easier than next time. And then you’re gonna overhear somebody, like the person I was standing behind in a hotel to check in at Miami, on this ocean front property. The guy in front of me says to the clerk, you know, tomorrow we wanna do some sight seeing. Can you tell me which beach is closest to the water? I want you to think about that. What beach isn’t close to the water? But this guy was very sincere. He didn’t even know what he said was funny, but to me that was funny.

 I hear funny and I see funny everywhere. I’ve done it for so many years that I can’t turn it off. And I’ll laugh at things that everybody else is looking and going, well, you know what’s so funny? What’s so funny? And when I tell them, they’re like, wow, you know, I never saw that coming. But you can do this and you can help others to do this as well.

So the very first thing is expected. 

The second thing I would say is seek it because the other people around you have humor to share with you. I never get in an Uber without asking my driver, tell me the funniest ride you’ve ever had. And then they’re like, oh my God, which one? You know, they can tell me crazy, funny stuff. I ask hotel clerks, I ask grocery clerks. I ask new people that I meet, just you know, what’s the funniest thing your grandchild has said, or what’s the weirdest thing a client has ever told you, or things along that nature. 

Now, if it’s an intimate relationship and you’re getting to know one another, or even if you have known one another, it’s really interesting. We think we know people well, but part of the fun in getting to know one another person is to learn some of their stories.

[11:08] Humor as we age from childhood

[11:08] Damianne: We see children having fun and using humor all the time, right? I mean I could pay, play peekaboo with a kid and they are having the grandest time and laughing and it doesn’t matter how many times you do the thing, they will laugh over and over again.

What happens? Do we lose that sense of humor? Are we socialized out of it? 

[11:30] Karyn: You know, that’s very close. We’re socialized out of it. We’re educated out of it. When we are young, so much of our humor comes from that joy and delight. And as we’re growing up, we start having constructs added to our life. In the classroom, you know, it’s settle down. You know, wipe that smile off your face, you know, quit laughing. My son used to be chastised for that a lot. You could imagine that the fruit didn’t fall far from the tree, and he would laugh all the time. And he actually had a teacher say, I don’t want you laughing in class. And he said, but what if I find something funny? And she said, if you laugh, I’ll send you to the principal’s office.

And unfortunately, he said, well, you might as well start now. And she did. You know, he thought that was funny. But, as parents, we say come on honey, act your age, which is one of the craziest things we should ever tell a child, because what we’re really saying is we want you to behave like a 40-year-old wrapped in an eight-year-old body. We tend to dampen it.

Many cultures and, and not so much now, but in some parts still, people say, especially for little girls, honey, it’s not polite to laugh out loud or it’s not polite to laugh with your mouth open. Some people are criticized for their laughter and made to feel uncomfortable or ashamed of their laughter. And then as we grow up more and more and more, there is a message that’s instilled that if you want to appear professional, that you be serious. But we’ve confused serious with solemn because you can be incredibly serious and still be fun or be funny. 

Southwest Airlines has proven that. Their number one job is to keep you safe from takeoff to landing. But when they say there may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but there’s only four ways to leave this plane. And, you know, this is a non-smoking flight, but if you just have to have a cigarette, you can go out on our non-smoking section found on the wing and watch today’s feature gone with the wind. They just have a whole comedy routine wrapped around safety. They’re doing something very serious. But they’re not solemn about it. And so part of this is breaking this mindset that we can only communicate being serious by being solemn.

[14:02] Why You Should Get Serious about Humor

[14:02] Damianne: And that’s exactly where I wanted to go because people might be listening and they might be saying, okay, well, okay, yes, I get this humor thing. I’ll watch a comedy every once in a while, but when I’m working, I need to be serious. Or when I’m having a serious conversation, I need to be serious. And you’ve given some examples of where yes, you can have a conversation that’s important, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t also have levity and humor in there.

And so I wanna strengthen the invitation for people on the importance of humor. Why is humor so important? 

[14:39] Karyn: So give me a context of a particular setting, and I’ll give you some very specific.

[14:44] Damianne: Okay, great. So in any sort of relationship, so at work, for example, maybe you wanna come across as competent. Why would you use humor when you’re trying to be competent?

[14:54] Karyn: Awesome. So researchers are now starting to look at humor in the world of business. Initially most of the research was done in healthcare settings and what it had to do with health. And I will say that even in a business setting, with stress being such a huge issue and this particularly coming out of Covid with mental health being such an issue, that we now know that practicing humor, experiencing humor on a regular basis, which most studies are looking at times of 15 to 20 minutes a day minimum, and that could be a favorite sitcom or a podcast, but that kind of humor builds resiliency and it helps people cope by, by diminishing what’s happening in their brain. Because when we become stressed out, we’re firing neurotransmitters, adrenaline, norepinephrine, cortisol and all of these things, which really increase the feeling of stress and that stress response. So humor can be the antithesis for that. In terms of relationships, an interesting thing is that people see humor as an important leadership trait.

One article that I read went so far as to say whether you’re looking for a leader or a lover, sense of humor is one of the top three traits that people are seeking. Having a sense of humor as a leader or as somebody in the workplace, it shows confidence. It shows a connection because when you are sharing humor with another person during that moment of laughter, and this is particularly true if the humor you’re sharing is in a story form or a self-deprecating type of humor, that there is this connection at the level of the brain. 

When we’re sharing a funny story, when we’re sharing any kind of story, if we were to put myself and my listener and scan our brains, the scans would show the same parts of our brains firing at the same time. We’re creating a connection at both the physical level and at the neuro level and the emotional level.

When we’re sharing a humorous story, one of the things that our body produces is oxytocin. Some people know that as the cuddle hormone because when a new mother has a baby, they’re exuding oxytocin. This makes people feel bonded together, but we experience that oxytocin release and we feel a level of bonding.

I have developed seven competencies, which I would be happy to share with your listeners. I have an infographic on that, on how to do this more effectively because a lot of people are afraid to go here because the top resistance I hear is, but what if I’m not funny or what if I offend, or what if I am not taken seriously or I’m not taken professionally?

And so when I’m coaching people or, or doing my classes, these are the kinds of things that we focus on. With the competencies, you wanna make sure that you are not doing something that would farm the relationship, because humor is a double-edged sword. Humor can be a wonderful tool to bond, but it can also be weaponized. So many people say I love sarcasm. 

[18:51] Is sarcasm okay?

[18:51] Karyn: Are you a fan of sarcasm?

[18:53] Damianne: Yes, in general, but also with certain people. I know who I can use it with, and with other people, I know not to use it.

[19:03] Karyn: Exactly. Oh, you’re right on. Because the root word of sarcasm means to tear the flesh. And so if this is somebody you know well, and if there is already a trust established, sarcasm can be a very fun form of humor.

[19:24] Damianne: Right, cuz sometimes we’ll say it and then we’ll laugh about it 

[19:28] Karyn: Exactly. It’s almost a form of play,, some people call it verbal fencing. But if the very first competency is rapport, the longer you’ve known someone, the greater that level of trust, the safer your humor will be.

[19:46] Alternatives to Sarcasm to Use Humor for Connection

[19:46] Karyn: If you don’t know that person very well, a better approach is to use humor that maybe is mildly self-effacing, because when you’re gently poking fun at yourself, you are showing that you have some vulnerability. In showing that vulnerability you, either at a conscious or subconscious, non-conscious level are appearing safer.

When we laugh, have you ever thought about the fact that when people are laughing, they’re throwing back their head?

[20:19] Damianne: Hmm.

[20:20] Karyn: Closing your neck, you’re vulnerable. It’s almost like when your pet dog, you know, sees you and runs up and then throws herself on her back waving your legs in the air. It’s like, oh, I’m vulnerable, and we can bond. That’s what you’re doing when you’re sharing self-effacing humor. 

Now, don’t overdo it because you want people to recognize you made a mistake. You don’t want ’em thinking you are a mistake. You know what I mean? So that is an example of how to use humor in a work relationship by sharing humor. When you can admit something that you have done that maybe was an error, you use that as an example to your staff or your coworkers or your students or whatever.

 When I was teaching, I would tell my students a story about the time I accidentally wore two left shoes to work all day long. And I mean, I had the worst backache by the end of the day. And I said, you know, it’s really hard when you’re wearing two left shoes to get off on the right foot. What I did was share that with them so that they would realize I’ve made mistakes. It’s okay. If you make a mistake, come tell me; I don’t want you to get in further trouble with whatever mistake it is that you’ve made.

[21:36] Damianne: It’s interesting because I used to be a teacher, and one of the things we would do in the first week of classes was we would do the chicken dance. I would be the one leading the chicken dance and everybody, we couldn’t help but laugh doing that. It was kind of the same thing that you were talking about.

And I don’t think any of my students would ever have said that they did not respect me or that I was like an easy teacher necessarily. But really we knew that it was a place that we could make mistakes and we could be silly and we could sometimes have fun. And the whole idea was also that having fun at the beginning of a session actually primes the brain for learning.

[22:19] Karyn: It does, it does. There is a colleague of mine, Gurinder Bains, who has done some research on humor and the brain and found that people in his study showed an increase of retention of short term, which is great when you can’t remember what you just had for breakfast or where you put your keys, you know, kind of short term memory. So it really is both at work. 

I call it the perfect toolkit because it’s like having the combination of WD 40 and duct tape. Cuz my dad used to tell me when I was little, you know, if it moves and it shouldn’t duct tape it; if it doesn’t move and it should, use WD 40 and 

[23:02] Damianne: I like that.

[23:03] Karyn: … duct tape because it bonds, but it’s also a lubricant so that when there is resistance or when there is conflict, that humor can lower that resistance. When you can, you know, just make a little joke about it or make fun of the fact that, yeah, you know, that went well, didn’t it. It doesn’t have to be hysterically funny because again, we’re not entertaining, so we’re not measuring how often we make people laugh.

It can be just that gentle kind of humor that strengthens the quality of that relationship. So encouraging them to share stories, making the workplace more conducive to a fun environment, letting people share funny things, having engaging activities that are fun that people can participate in, even if it’s something as simple as, you know, having a display people and their pets, you know, who looks the most like their dog or people putting up baby pictures and can you identify who this beautiful baby was and oh my gosh, can you believe that’s the boss? So little gentle things that you can do to use that to build your confidence, to build that likability because people wanna do business with or follow people they know, like, and trust and humor can help do all of those things.

[24:34] Invitation – Put It in Action

[24:34] Damianne: You mentioned earlier that humor can be used for entertaining, for wellbeing or for influence, and I think we’re probably most used to humor being for entertainment. And so do you have an invitation for listeners? If they wanna use humor for influence, for example, what’s a practice that they could do?

[24:55] Karyn: Again, expect the humor to seek it from others. It’s interesting if you start asking your coworkers, people that you’re following, to share some humor, even if you never share humor yourself, because in this type of humor of influence, you don’t have to be the one making people laugh. You can leverage other humor. You can leverage visuals. You can leverage videos. You can leverage other people’s stories. If you are in a meeting and you call on someone to share a funny story, one, they get to share their story, they feel good. Everybody laughs. They feel good because you ask the question of this person to share something funny. You’re seen as having a sense of humor. This is a desirable trait. 

All of these things are a very simple way and a very simple exercise to institute humor on, on a low level. There’s lots of other ways and, you know, people are interested in doing more of this, I invite them to connect or reach out to me because I’m gonna be having a monthly mastery starting very soon where we’ll cover these kinds of things.

But how can you include more humor in your presentations? How can you Funny up your delivery is one of the competencies. Your content is one of the competencies. Doing it authentically is one of the competencies. How can you do it safely, where not only are people not physically harmed by a prank, but they’re not emotionally harmed or feeling bullied.

If you ever hear somebody say, what’s wrong, can’t you take a joke, or, I’m joking, chances are they were weaponizing their humor.

[26:42] Knowing when to use humor

[26:42] Karyn: What is the best context to use this in? What’s the right time to use humor? Because sometimes people have used humor and, and the recipient has said, Ooh, too soon. What’s happened is there wasn’t enough emotional distance.

And so all of these different kinds of things come into play and the part that makes it tricky, but still worthwhile, is that there’s no line. People say, I don’t wanna cross the line. But the challenge is that line is a wavy line and it’s kind of constantly moving because in one situation, your relationship might be the most important, but in another, maybe the context might be most important.

With diversity and inclusion, everybody thank goodness, is becoming more aware of this. But sometimes we forget in our humor that there are subtle ways, particularly in jokes, that we are using humor that we’re just not even aware that it could be hurtful or harmful to another person because there’s an underlying message. Jokes have targets and sometimes it’s a gentle target, but sometimes it’s a not so gentle target. And you know, even differences in generations.

I remember back in the, my younger days, When I worked as a nurse at a nurse’s station, you know, one of the physicians would come in and he’d say, girls, girls gather around, I’ve got a story to tell you. Well, it was nice that he was sharing humor, but it was rather condescending and certainly a hierarchy that he would always call us girls but he wasn’t intentionally trying to be imposing or doing anything that would be inappropriate, it just wasn’t even on his radar. And that’s what happens with a lot of people these days. 

So a part of the work that I wanna do is raise their awareness and to recognize that there may be some things that you’re not even aware of, that we can raise our awareness and be aware of those competencies.

 I’ll give you the link. It’s managing They can download an infographic of the seven competencies and that will keep your humor safer. And the more you use it, the more confident and competent you’ll become. So it’s not that you don’t wanna use it for fear that you might make a mistake, cuz you probably will. But learn from that mistake. Do better, help others, you know, educate your children, educate your students that it’s not appropriate to bully people with humor and that you can all have more fun when it’s an inclusive humor that lifts everybody up. 

[29:37] Damianne: And also something specific that we do at work sometimes in our check-ins is to have people share their favorite gif, for example. That can be quite a fun activity, seeing what people enjoy or what people are enjoying.

[29:51] Karyn: You know, get some buy-in from your team. One of the team meetings that I am partaking in, I’m doing some research with U C S D, and it can be a pretty serious group. But at the beginning of every meeting, each person takes a turn. They bring some humor to share and sometimes, you know, they’ll share a video. Sometimes they’ll share a cartoon, sometimes they’ll share a funny story. Everybody has a different approach, but it’s fun that we all get to participate and bring our own style to the group, and it really has helped the group to bond.

[30:29] Damianne: I will share Is there anywhere else that you would like people to connect with you or follow you?

[30:36] Karyn: yeah, connect with me on LinkedIn. I love, love, love LinkedIn. I think that’s how you and I met. 

[30:42] Damianne: It is

[30:43] Karyn: Yay. I love connecting people. I’m a connector and so, you know, if we’re connected on LinkedIn and there’s somebody else you’d like to meet, let me know cuz I think the world is a better place when we’re more connected.

[30:55] Damianne: wonderful. I feel like I need to tell you a joke to end. Too much pressure, but it was really nice chatting with you, Karyn, and thank you very much for making time.

[31:07] Karyn: You bet. You bet. It’s my pleasure. Thank you 

[31:09] Damianne: I saw a lovely video of you and your husband, and you mentioned also that you are working together on a book because he wrote the book.

[31:19] Karyn: 1,001 ways to be romantic.

[31:22] Damianne: Right. So Greg Godek, is that how you say it? A Thousand and One Ways to Be Romantic and you’re writing a book called Nonsense Makes the Heart Grow fonder.

So that sounds like

[31:35] Karyn: Yeah.

And for those who are interested, for humor in the workplace, I have a book on Amazon called Lead with Levity, and it’s a very easy, simple to read book.

Uh, nice. Yeah. Quick read. It’s a lot of what we talked about today. 


People see humor as an important leadership trait.

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