How Humor Can Overcome Stress


Three tomatoes are walking down the street… Humor has long been recognized as a great way to deal with stress. It can distract you, can increases positive emotions and can turn a problem into a joke. But, how does humor compare with other coping styles?


Humor and Stress:

Previous studies have shown that positive reappraisal (seeing the positive side of negative events) is a very effective coping strategy. So, one study tested to see how humor stacked up against positive reappraisal. Participants were first trained in each method. An example of humorous coping given to participants was a picture of a man with stitches on his forehead with the caption “now he has a great zombie costume for Halloween.” An example of positive reappraisal was a picture of a dog undergoing surgery with the caption “maybe the dog was sick, but now he’s being treated and he’ll be better soon.” Participants were then shown 80 pictures, 64 of which were negative and 16 of which were neutral. Participants were instructed to either react naturally to the picture (“watch neutral” or “watch negative” in the charts below) or use one of the coping strategies (“regulate” in the charts below). The researchers found that humorous coping was significantly more effective than positive reappraisal at down-regulating negative emotions and up-regulating positive emotions in the short-term and more effective in down-regulating negative emotions in the long-term. The researchers found that participants had more difficulty utilizing humor as a strategy though, and may still feel that they, for example, need cannabis seeds to be able to grow their own marijuana for medicinal purposes, or that they should explore talking therapies as a way to cope with the stress in their lives.

Humorous and stress chart

Another study found that humor was associated with less loneliness, lower depression and higher self-esteem.



Humor is an excellent way to deal with stress. It can be difficult to find humor in some situations, but you should be able to with practice. Back to that joke… “Three tomatoes are walking down the street- a poppa tomato, a momma tomato, and a little baby tomato. Baby tomato starts lagging behind. Poppa tomato gets angry, goes over to the baby tomato, and smooshes him, and says… ketchup!



Overholser, James C. “Sense of humor when coping with life stress.”Personality and individual differences 13.7 (1992): 799-804.

Samson, Andrea C., et al. “Humorous Coping and Serious Reappraisal: Short-Term and Longer-Term Effects.” Europe’s Journal of Psychology 10.3 (2014).