"There is little success where there is little laughter."- Andrew Carnegie
How many times have you heard the saying, “laughter is the best medicine?” This is a metaphor used over and over again when describing the benefits of laughter. But guess what? It’s true—and science backs it up. In fact, research shows that laughter releases the brain chemical serotonin (a mood stabilizer often lacking in those of us who suffer from anxiety and depression) and endorphins (the feel-chemical in our brain that responds to pain and stress.) Laughter increases our heart rate, burns calories, improves our focus and reduces the negative effects that stress has on our body and mind.
I don’t remember when “joking around” became the norm for me. Believe it or not, I was an incredibly shy young girl. Raised with all brothers, I did have to develop different types of defense mechanisms and teasing and joking became one of them. There was something powerful about laughing my way out of situations that made me uncomfortable.
Laughing relieved my anxiety and stress and would put a protective barrier around my otherwise tender heart. Teased mercilessly by my older brother, I either needed to fight back with an arsenal of zingers or run to my room crying. I choose to fight. I could rouse my brother with the simplest form of reverse psychology. He would call me names and make fun of prepubescent boy like figure and I would simply agree. “You are absolutely right, my chest is as flat as an iron board.” His inability to make me cry would throw him into a fit of blind rage. Me? I would laugh uncontrollably until I got in trouble for “teasing” my four-year older brother!
There is just something bonding about laughing with others over a good joke, a funny movie or a corny pun. In fact nothing gets me giggling like a bad pun. You are either pun-loving or not, there is just no in between. It usually starts off innocently enough. For example, my daughter texted me the other day, “Mom, the cat peed in my room again!” I responded, “Well, you better clean it up before I get home or urine trouble!” I receive a text back, “You are lame, mom.” I respond, “Far pee it from me to disagree.” Now if that didn’t make you laugh, then you are missing a punny bone.
Laughter promotes togetherness and builds relationships. Laughter breaks down barriers, and like a smile, is universally understood across different cultures. Laughter can uplift an otherwise disengaged and unmotivated workforce. Laughter can reduce conflict, hostility and resentment among coworkers. Best of all? It’s positively contagious!
There is a stereotype about what a professional resembles. Rarely does funny, witty, silly or self-defecating make the list of admirable characteristics. Often time, when we think of “being professional,” we think of formal, proper and composed. In reality, a professional is competent, ethical, a great communicator, reliable, and—presents themselves in a tidy and well-groomed manner. Now where does it say you can’t be all of those things + funny?
Speaking of which. One time, my supervisor asked me to start my training presentation with a joke. So, I attached my paycheck to the first slide! No? Okay, how about this one. A ham sandwich walks into a bar and orders a beer. The bartender says, “Sorry, we don’t serve food here.” Still no? I guess I’m going to have to pull out the oldie but goodie, a knock knock joke! Knock Knock. Who’s there? A little old lady. A little old lady who? I had no idea you could yodel!
Regardless of your humor track, having a little fun and laughing in the workplace has its benefits. Research shows that a happy workforce is a more productive workforce. Sparing time each day to connect and be a little silly is known to increase focus and motivation. Laughing in a group encourages creativity and thinking outside the “formal” box. It can also built trust, comfort and comradery among teams.
Now that we know the many benefits, how can you implement more laughter in the workplace?
1. Allow it- I know that seems obvious, but some supervisors think if you are laughing you are not being productive. The opposite is true. An engaged and happy staff is more productive. Allot a reasonable amount of time to bond or schedule some time each week to do a fun activity, share an embarrassing (but hilarious) story, share or tell appropriate jokes, etc.
2. Loosen up- Leaders need to be approachable. Poking fun at your weaknesses or sharing a funny story about an experience can make you more relatable to staff and build trust with your team.
3. Create a Laughter Committee- If you have some office clowns, have them create a committee and come up with fun and creative ways to bring laughter and joy into the workplace. The best ideas come from those who like to laugh.
As fun as funny is, always be mindful of your audience. I've learned that not everyone thinks I'm as adorable as I think I am. Be sure to keep your jokes and humor appropriate for the workplace and always stay away from humor, teasing or joking that would be in violation of your organization's policies.
I will end this article with a couple of my favorite stories that are not flattering to me, but when I share them, continues to make me laugh and others laugh as well.
1. When I was 30-years old, I was walking by a restaurant and this young man said to his friend, “Ya, she’s hot for being two days past the expiration date.” At the time I was completely insulted. The 52-year old me only concentrates on the first part of his comment!
2. When my son was around Junior High age, he looked at me one day and said, “Mom, you are really starting to look like Grandma.” “Oh, ya, how so? I ask.” He responds, “You both have parentheses around your mouths.” He was referring to wrinkles!
Now, if you don't think THAT is funny...