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Using Humor to Deal With Setbacks

A new study finds that positive reframing — looking at a thing in a different light — and perhaps laughing about life’s daily small setbacks is an effective way to feel satisfied at the end of the day.

Researchers used a diary study to review the strategies people use to deal with the small setbacks and failures that we all experience on a daily basis.

In the study, 149 students completed daily diary reports for 3 to 14 days, reporting the most bothersome failure they experienced during the day, what strategies they used to cope with the failure, and how satisfied they felt at the end of the day.

Students used a variety of coping strategies including emotional or instrumental support; self-distraction; denial; religion; venting; substance use; self-blame; and behavioral disengagement.

Of these, using social support (both emotional and instrumental), denial, venting, behavioral disengagement, and self-blame coping had negative effects on satisfaction at the end of the day.

That is, the more students used these coping strategies in dealing with the day’s most bothersome failure, the less satisfied they felt at the end of the day.

In contrast, positive reframing (i.e., trying to see things in a more positive light, looking for something good in what happened), acceptance and humor coping had positive effects on satisfaction.

This strategy helped students deal with failures and feel satisfied at the end of the day.

Psychologists Drs. Joachim Stoeber and Dirk Janssen from the University of Kent have published their findings in the international journal Anxiety, Stress & Coping.

They believe the findings of this study will be of significant interest to clinicians, counselors and anyone working on stress research.

“The finding that positive reframing was helpful for students high in perfectionistic concerns is particularly important because it suggests that even people high in perfectionistic concerns, who have a tendency to be dissatisfied no matter what they achieve, are able to experience high levels of satisfaction if they use positive reframing coping when dealing with perceived failures,” says Stoeber.

He added that a helpful recommendation for anyone trying to cope would be to try to find positive aspects in the outcomes they regard as “failures;” and reframe these outcomes in a more positive way; for example, by focusing on what has been achieved, rather than on what has not been achieved.

“It’s no use ruminating about small failures and setbacks and drag yourself further down,” he said. “Instead it is more helpful to try to accept what happened, look for positive aspects and — if it is a small thing — have a laugh about it.”

Source: University of Kent

Using Humor to Deal With Setbacks

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Using Humor to Deal With Setbacks. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 15 Jul 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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