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Can Humor Protect You from Depression?

Finding something funny in a negative situation helps fight sadness.


“Look on the bright side” is one of those phrases that tends to be aggravating when we are struggling with stress. There’s something…less than helpful about the suggestion that there’s a positive aspect to absolutely everything in life. 

But new research shows the ability to look at a challenge through the lens of humor is a beneficial coping strategy that may even be helpful in preventing depression-prone people from having a relapse.

In a study published by Polish researchers earlier this year, participants in remission from a major depressive disorder were shown photographs that depicted a negative situation. They were then asked to describe the photograph in either a humorous way, a positive way or a straightforward, factual way.

Those who used humor to describe the photo reported fewer negative emotions and more positive emotions than the other two groups of participants.

So there appears to be no downside to looking at a stressor in your life with humor and lightness. Maybe the song on the supermarket radio is hilariously incongruous with your search for the best head of broccoli. Or perhaps something you were texting made an autocorrect error that prompted a genuine LOL. 

The researchers’ conclusion is that for those at higher risk of depressive episodes, humor can indeed cultivate resilience and an ability to regulate emotions around a negative experience. Comedy can be a stop sign for emotions that otherwise could quickly spiral from “bummed” to “depressed.” And humor has the added benefit of making others around you smile.

So next time you feel stress building and negativity intruding into your thoughts, ask yourself, “What’s so funny about this, anyway?”

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