Doctor’s Orders

I was causing a ruckus with a controversial proposal in a leadership team meeting a few years ago. Tensions were high. Faces were red. Veins were bulging. It was beginning to break into a full-on yelI. I caught the general counsel’s eyes — he’d been staying out of it — and said, dryly, “This is going well, don’t you think?” After an awkward pause, everyone laughed. I’m not going to tell you the rest of the meeting went my way. I will say it helped turn down the heat measurably.

It’s said that babies and little kids laugh 300-400 times a day to an adult’s 17 times. While it’s an urban myth (babies and little kids would have to be laughing every 2ish-4ish minutes), the sentiment rings true. Humor and laughter boost our health, relationships, careers, and workplaces. And if that’s not enough, laughter’s quite the calorie burner.

I’d say we could all use more of this natural wonder in our lives these days.

When humor goes, there goes civilization
Erma Bombeck

Laugh for your life

Health benefits from laughter are summarized in Mayo Clinic’s Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke. Some snippets:

Short-term benefits

Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.

A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.

I laugh at least once every day, otherwise I cannot do this job
Angela Merkel

Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.

Long-term effects

Laughter may:

Improve your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. By contrast, positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more serious illnesses.

Relieve pain. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.

Increase personal satisfaction. Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations and helps you connect with other people.

Improve your mood. Laughter can help lessen your depression and anxiety and may help you feel happier.

Other sources cite anti-inflammatory effects of laughter that protect blood vessels and heart muscles from the damaging effects of cardiovascular disease.

Laughter is the shortest distance between two people
Victor Borge

Laugh for your career

10 Reasons Why Humor is a Key to Success at Work draws on work by Laura Vanderkam, Michael Kerr, and Lynn Taylor, and cites several sources providing evidence of humor as an important element in success. Some highlights:

It’s humanizing, it makes you more approachable, and puts others at ease. It helps build trust. “You can build trust with the effective use of humor because humor often reveals the authentic person lurking under the professional mask,” Kerr says.

Ha + ha = aha! “Humor is a key ingredient in creative thinking,” Kerr says. “It helps people play with ideas, lower their internal critic, and see things in new ways.”

It can increase productivity. "Humor creates an upbeat atmosphere that encourages interaction, brainstorming of new ideas, and a feeling that there are few risks in thinking outside the box. All that leads to greater productivity," Taylor explains. "It also stands to reason that if you're in a more jovial atmosphere, you'll have more passion for what you do. Your work ethic will increase, and your enthusiasm will likely be contagious.”

“Over 90% of executives believe a sense of humor is important to advancement. . . . A Bell Leadership Institute study found that the two most desirable traits in leaders were a strong work ethic and good sense of humor.”

I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh
Maya Angelou

Humor challenged?

You might be a natural, or you may feel humor-challenged. Humor can be learned and developed no matter where you are on the spectrum. There are a bunch of resources a google search away. One newer one, Humor that Works, looks pretty good. Most of these resources offer consistent advice:


Notice the humor in everyday life. There’s plenty of it.

The Mayo Clinic tells us “Laugh and the world laughs with you.” Find a way to laugh about your own situations and watch your stress begin to fade away. Even if it feels forced at first, practice laughing. It does your body good.

Even more elemental, just smile. A smile can transform a moment — our natural feel-good chemicals, dopamine, endorphins and serotonin, are all released. It’s the first nudge to a laugh.

Find some comedy you enjoy and study it. Watch other people who are good at it. What do they do?

If you can brave it, do some improv. Find a class!

Notice, practice, reflect, notice practice, reflect...

From there to here and here to there, funny things are everywhere
Dr. Seuss


Bad humor is better than no humor. Inappropriate humor is worse than no humor. If you wonder if it’s inappropriate, it probably is. “If it’s not fun for everyone, it’s not fun,” says Judge John Hodgman.

Stay away from subjects that could offend or upset anyone.

Don’t target or use humor at others’ expense.

Recent events in the world, an organization, or a person’s life might render some humor hurtful or cause harm. Be sensitive to this.

If your attempt at humor doesn’t land, don’t respond with “lighten up” or “get a sense of humor.” Own it and apologize.

Self-humor taken too far can come off as self-defeating and cause discomfort for others.

Too much humor gets old. Like with everything, practice moderation.

You cannot hope to understand the most serious things in life unless you understand the most humorous.
Winston Churchill

Humanity has unquestionably one really effective weapon — laughter . . . Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.
Mark Twain

Sunday Morning Reflection

Find the humor. Smile. Laugh. Laugh some more. Doctor’s orders.

Sunday Morning: 131