Imagine having just a single quality that can add years to your life. According to a behavioral psychologist and business consultant, this magical quality exists.
What’s that quality? Laughter.
With the global COVID-19 pandemic, now is especially a good time to laugh.
“When we laugh with someone — whether through a screen or 2m apart — we get this cocktail of hormones that strengthen our emotional bonds in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Studies show it makes us more resilient, creative, and resourceful,” business consultant Naomi Bagdonas told The Guardian.
Along with behavioral psychologist Jennifer Aaker, the two teach a class at Stanford Business School about the impact of humor and recently published “Humor, Seriously”, a national best-selling book that explains why humor is a “secret weapon” in business and in life.
Humor really is the best medicine
As part of their research, Aaker and Bagdonas found that in most countries around the world, we are not laughing enough. Their research studied 1.4 million people in more than 160 countries and discovered that laughter rates tend to plummet after age 23.
The Guardian said other research helps to support these findings. “It has been found that a four-year-old laughs 300 times a day; a 40-year-old 300 times every 10 weeks.”
Why? Perhaps because adults believe life is too serious to laugh at while a child’s inhibitions and relative inexperience enable him or her to find humor in almost anything.
In Humor, Seriously, the two women present a wide body of research that tells the story of how humor releases hormones that make us happy. Laughter helps us to relax and even increases blood flow throughout the body. The endorphins released during laughter promote a feeling of well-being and can even [temporarily] relieve pain.
How to use humor
The book includes insights from behavioral scientists, business leaders as well as popular comedians to paint a well-rounded picture of the inner workings of humor and how we can use humor to boost our happiness and maybe even extend our lives.
The book also attacks the notion that laughter is unprofessional in a business setting. Leaders should not fear laughter at work. In fact, the best business leaders embrace it.
“Fun is not a top-down thing. It is not a leader’s job to dictate the terms of the culture. It is a leader’s job to signal that humor and fun are welcome here,” Bagdonas told Inc. Leaders don’t necessarily need to be funny. However, they should promote a culture where humor is embraced. Humor helps lighten the atmosphere and promotes happiness and productivity.
“Studies reveal that humor makes us appear more competent and confident, strengthens relationships, unlocks creativity, and boosts our resilience during difficult times,” Aaker and Bagdonas wrote on their website. “98% prefer employees with a sense of humor, and 84 percent believe these employees do better work. But even for those who intuitively understand humor’s power, few know how to wield it with intention.”
The two women caution that humor should only be used within the context of the situation, and if you inadvertently put your foot in your mouth with a bad joke, promptly apologize. “Humor is one of the most context-dependent things in the world,” they told The Guardian.
Take care to examine the truth. “The closer the truth gets to the very real pain people are experiencing, the greater the risk of offending.”
But, laughter is a feeling worth fighting for.
“What I learned is finding ways to laugh through hardship reminds us that we’re in control of our heart and mind, whatever darkness lies behind the door. And that’s a triumph,” Bagdonas said.