Humor, Anger and Incivility


Techniques for using laughter for emotional transformation.


Photo: The Chopra Center

Feeling swamped, burned out and frustrated at work? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In this fast paced society, overworking is common and even socially acceptable. Today, job expectations involve long hours slaving over a full plate of responsibilities that only seem to move from excessive to moderately tolerable. If you’re not stressed out then you must not be working hard enough, right? Wrong. At some point, this view became acceptable as genuine dedication was replaced with corporate hustling. But at what cost?

Burned out employees are more likely to experience emotions that can negatively impact work performance and overall well-being. This includes feelings of stress, frustration, disappointment, annoyance and resentment. If left unchecked, these emotions can easily spiral into anger with disastrous consequences. When acting from a place of rage, the outcomes can be devastating.


Humor provides an outlet for better health in a stressful work environment. When demands are high, people are more likely to be on edge. For those with a low tolerance for stress, this may lead to a reduction in creativity and innovation. In the worst cases, interpersonal conflicts arise, collaborative efforts demise, and frustration and anger ensues.

There are many ways in which humor serves as an effective tool for stress reduction and anger management. On a physical level, it minimizes the effect of cortisol, which is the “fight-or-flight” hormone released during highly stressful situations. Additionally, humor relaxes the body and releases more of those “feel good” hormones. Beyond that, humor also benefits mental health by promoting community bonding, solidarity and even creativity.


Laughter can effectively defuse rage by using opposite emotional states. On one end, anger is a rigid and serious emotion that occurs when expectations are not met. In contrast, humor is a flexible emotion that requires out of the box thinking. Therefore, in order to transform anger into humor, you must remember to not take life too seriously. This can be done through visualizations or drawings. For example, if you think of a colleague as a “dirt bag”, try to imagine an actual bag of dirt sitting on a desk, attending meetings and making calls. While it may appear “silly”, using humor in this manner can help to reduce tension and allow you to later address problems more constructively.

Next time rage is on the rise, take a step back and try to examine the situation in a lighthearted manner.

When events are taken lightly, humor has the opportunity to seep into the lives of even the most stressed out individuals. For example, in a 2017 study presented in the Journal of Managerial Psychology, researchers found that business executives, lawyers and doctors admitted to swearing in the workplace. While profanity is generally unacceptable in this environment, positive outcomes were still reported at the individual, interpersonal and group levels. As a result of not taking swearing too seriously, professionals and their colleagues were able to react to profanity with humor rather than anger. Numerous positive results were reported, including stress-relief, as well as enriched communication and social interactions. Overall, this study illustrates the benefits of experiencing life from a lighter and more humorous state of being. While I am not condoning profanity at work, I am endorsing life with more laughter.


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