Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Rod A. Martin


In positive psychology, humor has been identified as one of twenty-four character strengths considered ubiquitously important for human flourishing. Unlike the other strengths, humor was a late addition to this classification system and its status as a strength continues to be somewhat controversial. Therefore the purpose of this thesis was to explore how humor fits within positive psychology. Four studies were conducted to achieve this goal. Study 1 involved a cross-sectional design and compared the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths - Humor Scale (the humor measure used in positive psychology, which assumes that humor is a unitary and positive construct) with the Humor Styles Questionnaire (HSQ; a widely used multidimensional measure of humor) that assesses both adaptive and maladaptive styles of humor in their ability to predict well-being. Additionally, this study and Study 2 explored the ability of humor to predict well-being over and above the effects of gratitude, another more well-studied character strength. The results indicated that the HSQ was a better predictor of happiness, resilience, and morality than was the positive psychology humor scale and that humor added further variance to the prediction of well-being beyond the effects accounted for by gratitude. Study 3 extended these findings by using a longitudinal daily diary methodology to explore the relationships between daily humor styles, gratitude, and well-being. Hierarchical linear modeling analyses revealed interesting differences in associations between positive and negative humor styles and well-being at the within-person and between-person levels and in interactions between these levels. For example, at the between-person level, self-defeating humor was correlated with all four outcome measures whereas at the within-person level, this style was unrelated to satisfaction with life, positive mood, and altruism. The cross-level interactions indicate that when this style is used infrequently, it does not appear to be detrimental with respect to well-being. However, when used habitually, it seems to be particularly associated with negative outcomes. Finally, Study 4 involved a longitudinal experimental manipulation to test two new positive psychology humor exercises designed to improve well-being. The first exercise was a more traditional humor exercise that did not require participants to distinguish among humor types whereas the second exercise taught participants to distinguish between adaptive and maladaptive humor (with the expectation that reduced maladaptive humor use would follow). While results indicated that there were no differences among interventions (traditional humor, humor styles, and a well-studied gratitude exercise) with respect to changes in well-being, all three interventions produced significant improvements in positive mood compared to a control group. Possible explanations for these findings and implications for future research are discussed.