Proof that wit makes you happy

Or, the case against turmeric lattes

If you’re reading (or writing) this, you’re already witty and wouldn’t mind becoming more so. Why? What advantages does wit bring? This seems like an open-ended question, along the lines of “Have you ever really looked at your hand?” It shouldn’t be. 

As someone who’s made a hobby out of researching wit, here’s my answer: Wit is surprising creativity. It’s good sense that sparkles. It’s the magpie mind at work. When you’ve amassed a nest’s worth of shiny bits of knowledge, wit is how you assemble them on the fly. It entertains, it engages, it delights.

But is it good for you? Does it lower blood pressure? Raise cardiovascular health? Improve liver function? Would you be better off reading a weekly newsletter on turmeric? Would I be better off writing one? What even is turmeric?

Happily, there is some evidence that cultivating a sense of wit is good for your subjective well-being. An Austrian psychologist named Willibald Ruch went deep on this topic in a study published last year, starting with a grouping of eight Comic Style Markers: fun, humour, nonsense, wit, irony, satire, sarcasm, and cynicism. He devised a series of tests to group and associate each of these styles, integrating various personality models and statistical regressions. Like any good magpie, I went right for the shiny bits. Here they are:

  • All of the “light” styles — humour, fun, and wit — were associated with positive affect, extroversion, general life satisfaction, and satisfaction with oneself.

  • Sarcasm and cynicism, unsurprisingly, are not linked to happiness.

  • Older individuals tended to score higher in humour, nonsense, and wit but lower in irony, sarcasm, cynicism, and fun.

  • Wit had the highest correlation to openness to experience.

  • Wit, alone among the styles, is associated with high cognitive ability and levels of education.

So here’s my admittedly biased summation: If you’re witty, you’re more likely to be happy, open to the world, and eager to learn. And because wit increases with both age and education, getting older and wiser should only make you wittier.

The juxtaposition of lifelong learning and social openness reminded me of this line from Ian McEwan’s new novel Machines Like Me:

“An old friend of mine, a journalist, once said that paradise on earth was to work all day alone in anticipation of an evening in interesting company.”

In other news, a disturbing new study has found that “some turmeric, wellness potion of the moment, may owe its yellow colour to lead contamination.”  So if you are ever facing a choice between wit and turmeric, please pick wit.


Quick quips; lightning

“The man who sees the consistency in things is a wit; the man who sees the inconsistency in things is a humorist.” — G.K. Chesterton

Cut to a wall full of thumbtacks connected by red string. Don’t you see, Chesterton? It’s all connected!

Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas which before their union were not perceived to have any relation.”— Mark Twain

This is about the best definition going, as it also tells you what not to do — because linking two related ideas is like marrying your sister.

As I looked out into the night sky, across all those infinite stars, it made me realize how unimportant they are.” — Peter Cook

In the end, it doesn’t matter — but it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t matter.


Kudos for reading the 15th issue of Get Wit Quick, the weekly collection of magpie metaphors. When viewed in the right light, my book Elements of Wit: Mastering The Art of Being Interesting is relatively shiny. Turmeric is actually fine if unleaded, but not in a latte. Forward this newsletter, friend! And tap the heart below!