I laugh a lot. I was unaware of how distinctive my laugh is until I was on a cruise with a bunch of friends. They informed me they could stand in the stairwell and listen for my laugh to locate what deck I was on. I would like to think it’s more musical than loud. But who am I fooling? Well, at least there are worse things to be known for than an affinity for laughter. If it’s true that laughter is jogging on the inside, I am staying quite fit.
When was the last time you laughed so hard you had trouble breathing? It’s possible that we all take ourselves too seriously. LOL is a common chat- speak abbreviation but what does it take for you to actually bust out in helpless, uncontainable laughter? There are numerous reasons why you might want to become intentional about laughing more.
Taking Laughter Seriously
Dr. Lee Berk, an associate professor at Loma Linda University in California has spent nearly three decades studying laughter’s effect on your brain and body. “Laughter appears to cause all the reciprocal, or opposite, effects of stress,” Berk explains. He says laughter shuts down the release of stress hormones like cortisol. It also triggers the production of feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine, which have all kinds of calming, anti-anxiety benefits. Berk has even shown that laughter causes a change in the way your brain’s many neurons communicate with one another. Specifically, laughter seems to induce “gamma” frequencies—the type of brain waves observed among experienced meditators. These gamma waves improve the “synchronization” of your neuronal activity, which bolsters recall and memory, Berk says.
The staff at Mayo clinic note both the short-term and long-term health benefits of laughter.
Short-term benefits of laughter include:
Enhanced intake of oxygen
Stimulates your heart lungs and muscles
Increases endorphin levels
Relieves your stress response
Long-term effects include:
Improved immune system function
Humor Can Improve Your Work Culture
There was a time – probably stemming from the industrial age – when laughter was considered inappropriate in the workplace. The opposite is actually true. Humorless work environments aren’t neutral– they can actually be pretty negative. A recent study of Gallup data for the U.S. found that we laugh significantly less on weekdays than we do on weekends. This is a good indication that we need to invite more laughter into the workplace.
“According to research from institutions as serious as Wharton, MIT, and London Business School, every chuckle or gufffaw brings with it a host of business benefits,” writes Alison Beard in the HBR article, “Leading with Humor.” “Laughter relieves stress and boredom, boosts engagement and well-being, and spurs not only creativity and collaboration but also analytic precision and productivity.”
Furthermore, laughter is a very effective emotional regulator in relationships. It helps people get along better.
How to Develop Your Sense of Humor
All of us can enjoy the benefits of more laughter in our lives. But what if you are in the doldrums or don’t consider yourself a witty person at all? Humor can be learned!
Laughter is behaviorally contagious – especially when you hear laughter from people you know. Robert Provine, a neuroscientist at the University of Maryland, says you’re 30 times more likely to laugh around other people than when you are by yourself. This is a prescription to invest in time with people who make you laugh.
Recognize it’s not a waste of time to watch movies or clips that make you laugh. Here are a few of my favorites if you need a little nudge in the right direction.
One last piece of advice. If you learn to laugh at yourself, you will always have a source of amusement. Run with it.