Thriving Together Series: Humor, Laughter, and Well-Being

Humor and Laughter Thriving Together

by Milagros (Millie) Rivera, Ph.D., CWB Senior Scholar, Director of Faculty Diversity, Inclusion and Well-Being, Office of Faculty Affairs and Development

This edition of the Thriving Together Well-Being Weekly was written by Milagros (Millie) Rivera, Ph.D., Director of Faculty Diversity, Inclusion and Well-Being, Office of Faculty Affairs and Development, and CWB Senior Scholar.

“Laughter lets me relax. It’s the equivalent of taking a deep breath, letting it out and saying, ‘This, too, will pass’.” – Odette Pollar

Enjoying humor and laughter can make a seriously positive impact on our well-being. Researchers say that when we laugh, our brains release hormones that make us feel happier and less stressed.[1] Laughter literally changes the chemistry of our brains, making us more creative and resourceful.[2] Researchers have also found that laughter and humor foster a sense of connection with our loved ones and even the members of our work teams.[3]

Many of us have had precious little to laugh about during the past year. Yet laughter is exactly what we need to counter the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on our emotional and physical well-being.

Several researchers point to humor as important to well-being at work. When we laugh with our team, our brains’ release of dopamine, a feel-good hormone, leads us to trust each other and even like each other more.[4] Scholars who promote humor at work say that leaders with a sense of humor are seen as 27 percent more motivating and admired and their employees are 15 percent more engaged.[5] In a survey of executive leaders, 98 percent reported preferring employees with a sense of humor and 84 percent believed that employees with a sense of humor do better work.[6] More impressive, teams in organizations where humor and levity are the norm are more than twice as likely to solve challenges creatively.[7]

Most of us view our workplace as a serious place, but researchers say that introducing some humor and laughter into our work life can contribute not only to greater well-being but also to greater productivity. Humor also creates an atmosphere of levity that can reduce stress. Moreover, research suggests that people who engage in conversational humor with colleagues feel happier and have higher job satisfaction. As one researcher puts it, “Shared laughter becomes a collective experience, one of coordinated action, cooperative physiology, and the establishing of common ground.”[8]

Laughter also has physical benefits. It enhances our intake of oxygen-rich air and stimulates our heart, lungs and muscles. Moreover, our brain’s release of endorphins when we laugh supports a healthier immune system.[9] In addition, humor is great for our social relationships and for learning. People list having a sense of humor as one of the most important traits in a mate. In classrooms, a humorous teacher makes learning more enjoyable and increases a student’s motivation to learn; and studies have found that people remember things better when they are presented in a humorous way.[10]

Laughter Practice

Find a funny book, video or program and allow yourself to laugh with abandon. View, for example, Buzz and the Dandelions. It is doubtful anyone can view Buzz’s video without laughing and experiencing a sense of joy.

Consider making laugher a daily practice. Review LOL: 11 ways to laugh your way to a healthier, less stress-out life or practice Laughter Yoga.

No matter how busy you are, consider pausing briefly and celebrating life with humor and a hearty laugh. Yes, there is great suffering and turmoil in our world, but pausing for a moment and gifting yourself a good laugh may help you feel physically and emotionally invigorated and may encourage you to embrace life with more zest.

References

[1] Javetski, B. (2021 April 15). Laugh More, Lead Better (video). McKinsey & Company.

[2] Javetski, 2021.

[3] Lindsey, J. (2019 October 15). How a Little Humor can Improve your Work LifeThe Greater Good Magazine.

[4]  Javetski, 2021.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Aaker, J. & N. Bagdonas. (2021). Humor, Seriously: Why Humor is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life. Currency Press.

[7] Javetski, 2021.

[8] Lindsey, 2019.

[9] Mayo Clinic Staff. (ND). Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke. Mayo Clinic (Healthy Lifestyle/Stress Management).

[10] Suttie, J. (2014 May 28). Why do we Laugh? Greater Good Magazine.

Additional Resources: Books

Aaker, J. & N. Bagdonas. (2021). Humor, Seriously: Why Humor is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life. Currency Press.

Goodheart, A. 1994. Laughter therapy. Santa Barbara: Less Stress Press.

Klein, A. 1989. The Healing Power of Humor. Tarcher/Putman Press.

Weems, C. (2014). Ha!: The Science of When we Laugh and Why. Basic Books Press.

Write one of these Thriving Together Series features! We’re looking for contributions on all topics related to well-being. Contact us at cwb@gmu.edu for guidelines. Thank you for helping our Mason community thrive together online!