Laughter: it is infectious, it is non-addictive and it is free
Since the beginning of time we have known that laughter is pleasant and natural. These days, however, we find the need to ask why. In the spirit of dissecting the obvious, science has come up with its own findings. A number of studies have shown that laughter affects stress hormones and growth hormones. It helps kill disease. It even helps to kill pain. What else comes with a guffaw?
Even though laughter reduces stress, it is not borne out of negative emotions, as is the case with crying or screaming. Laughter has its own ways. As we are presented with threat we respond with a fight or flight using the stress hormone cortisol. Laughter neutralises this mechanism when it is no longer needed. It communicates the relief of passing danger. Similar chemical adjustments occur with laughter and, seen in this light, it really is an integral part of our health.
Laughter connects us
The communication aspect of laughter is clear, and children know this more than anyone. Children laugh around 20 times more often than adults. As with young animals (yes, animals laugh as well), juvenile play frequently simulates threatening situations. Hide and seek, chasing, play fighting – all these games could become serious unless they are coupled with laughter.
The reassuring nature of laughter generates trust and common ground even with adults. Socially we laugh because it is a clear and non-committal way of saying “It’s okay”. It enhances social bonds and forms common ground, it even crosses language barriers. As reassuring as it is, it may be that laughter doubles as a weapon, a weapon to disarm. Laughter averts anger because you can’t be angry and laugh at the same time. This works when you are in superior as well as in an inferior position: laugh and keep the upper hand, laugh and get out of trouble.
The quest for laughter in the workplace is today taken seriously
Studies have found we laugh only about a third of what we used to 50 years ago. Stressful work requires help to ease the strains. Should the capacity of laughter be mentioned in your resume? Or at least be tested in job interviews?
Because we are not children that display disarming laughter and because we often allow our stress hormones to get stuck on a high level, laughter comes in handy as a natural therapy. In contrast with other responses to emotions, laughter is easily faked. But faking leads to the real thing and the healing effects still kick in.
Laughing group activity is a mushrooming trend. Since it started in India 10 years ago, 100’s of laughing groups have formed around the world. A laughing group is typically a low maintenance club that meets in a public place with no agenda other than to exercise some healthy laughter. After a session of 15-20 minutes it makes perfect sense for anyone who has attended. Do we have any takers for ‘laugh-os’ (instead of smoke-os) at the workplace?
Humour is one of laughter’s best friends. There are more ways than one to make us merry. Here are some tips for your regular workout:
The exhilaration of fear that has passed is the mind’s way of cutting down the stress. For example, amusement park rides are built around this effect.
Be childlike and play physically. Run, chase and engage in a sporting activity on a play level. In the end you laugh to signal that this is only a game and laughing comes easily with the out-of-breath experience.
Visit the past
Share funny memories, study your photo album and indulge in the funny side of the past. To be able to laugh at yourself helps your resilience. The conveying of anecdotes is a favourite source of laughter.
Study children at play
Observe their natural and genuine ways. Listen to their reasoning. Their comments and imagination are enough to start you off.
Go get a laugh
Yes, a laughing group is a recommended source and is not as silly as is sounds – guaranteed merriment. Keep an eye out for a laughing group near you.
Lead photo: Brooke Cagle, Unsplash. Body photo: Chris Slupski, Unsplash.
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