What is your Humor Index?
by Jep Hostetler
Recently I received an article that was published originally
in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and reprinted in the Colorado
Springs Gazette, January 25, 1998. The author, Shella Taylor
Wells tells of her encounter with 35 dreary people, in a dreary
town in New Mexico. The byline read, "Don't substitute prudence
for fun while on vacation." She watched as these dreary
people shuffled into the café, ate their sandwiches and
sipped their vegetable-noodle soup, and she says, "I never
saw a more joyless bunch of travelers." Then she noticed
the logo on their bus, "Prudent Tours." Turns
out that Prudent Tours is a Mennonite operation. What does this
say about Mennonites in general, regarding their sense of joy
or humor? Does it say anything at all or was this just a very
difficult day and the folks were expecting steaks and received
soup and sandwiches instead?
Do you have a sense of humor? If I were to meet you face to
face and ask you this question, how would you respond? It is
an interesting question because the answer depends on one's understanding
of what it means to have a "sense of humor". If you
grew up in an environment where laughter, joy, and celebration
was a part of your daily routine, your answer would no doubt
be different from a family where difficult times, pessimism and
a sense of defeat persisted through childhood.
Two main factors contribute to your sense of humor. First,
genetics. Yes. A recent study by a Harvard professor suggests
that light-hearted folks are light-hearted by birth. About 50
percent of their attitude is due to genetic predisposition. Dour
or sour persons, on the other hand, are sour for the same reason;
they have a genetic predisposition. Thus, if you give
light-hearted folks difficult times and sorrowful situations,
within about six months to a year they will be back to their
light-hearted selves. On the other hand, give dour folks large
amounts of money, vacations, health, and friends and within six
months to a year they will be sour all over again. Second, nurture.
A sense of humor can be developed, encouraged, and strengthened
over time. When a family laughs easily, shares emotions, and
has a great time celebrating, it is easier to learn how to be
light-hearted. So the combination of genetics and environment,
the old nature vs nurture, contributes to your humor quotient.
What is your humor index score? Why not take the following
survey and obtain a small indication regarding how much permission
you had, as a developing youngster, to participate in humor events.
Hostetler Humor Index - 1999 - Part I
(Not to be used for other than personal use without
ANSWER THE QUESTIONS ACCORDING TO THE FOLLOWING CRITERIA:
1 for HARDLY EVER or NEVER; 3 for SOMETIMES; 5 for VERY OFTEN
During my childhood and adolescent years:
1. _____ I had permission to laugh out loud.
2. _____ I can remember specific incidences when I laughed out
3. _____ My mother, or adult female caretaker, laughed out loud.
4. _____ My father, or adult male caretaker, laughed out loud.
5. _____ Our household had a sense of humor, either noisy or
6. _____ There was a sense of optimism in our family or household.
7. _____ We celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, or other significant
8. _____ I enjoyed harmless practical jokes.
9. _____ We had a pet in our home.
10. _____ We sang, danced or played together, either as a partial
or whole family.
11. _____ Mealtime was a fun time at our house.
12. _____ We ate ice cream.
_____ Total this section
If you scored 12 to 24, you probably had little permission
to exhibit your light-hearted side. If you scored 25 to 36, you
most likely had permission to join in mirth at least once in
a while. If you scored 37 to 48, you had a fairly light-hearted
childhood. If you scored 49 to 60, you definitely had a lot of
permission to participate in humor events.
Do not take your score too seriously. This is not a scientific
instrument. It is simply an indication of what you experienced
during your growing up years in terms of your humor identity.
Humor includes a wide range of activities from laughter to
celebration. In following columns I will be looking at your index
as it relates to your current sense of humor and how you maintain
light-heartedness. Also, I will be discussing the difference
between humor and joy.
Send me your Mennonite humor. I'd love to hear from you. Send
it via e-mail to: Hostetler.email@example.com
--Jep Hostetler, Ph.D., Columbus, Ohio, is a humor consultant.
He has taught in the Ohio State University Medical School and
is currently executive secretary of the Mennonite Medial Association.
Wilmer Swope, Leetonia, Ohio, wrote in response to Jep's
October 1998 column:
"My double Brenneman cousin, Charles A. Brenneman of Elida,
Ohio, a descendant of Bishop Brenneman, told me of a time when
John M. Brenneman did laugh: 'On his farm (or a nearby farm)
Brenneman observed a sheep climbing up an outside straw stack.
Halfway up, the sheep tumbled off the stack. But the sheep wouldn't
give up; it kept trying to climb to the top, and kept tumbling
"My thoughts about Brenneman's aversion to laughing are
that there was something about human jokes and antics which must
have been related to pride in Brenneman's spiritual thinking.
Human efforts at levity would certainly not have been in his
understanding of humility."
Mennonite Historical Bulletin, April 1999