We live in serious times. If you’re like many people, though, it’s hard to find a place for humor in your workday. Although it’s the holiday season, usually a time of joy, many people have trouble letting go, clicking their heels and enjoying this time of year. Could you be one of the legions who wants to participate in the fun and celebrations but can’t muster the mojo?
Science shows that dwelling on worry, disappointment and loss only increases unpleasant feelings. What you focus on expands; paying attention to what’s missing only keeps you stuck in a place of lack. Misery loves company. If you’re like most people after a hard day’s work, you focus on the hardships instead of turning the channel and focusing on something that tickles your funny bone. You become the recipient of your own frustration and rage or joy and elation. The medicinal benefits of laughter have been under reported and underrated, despite the fact that you’ve probably heard the old saying that humor is good medicine.
A Personal Testimonial
During a camping weekend, some friends and I stopped at a Dairy Queen, sat around eating ice cream and exchanging stories. One person told a tale so funny that the group broke into uncontrollable laughter. The snickering and chuckling continued for well over five minutes. As hard as we tried, we couldn’t stop giggling. After 10 minutes, we were no longer laughing at the joke but at the fact that we couldn’t stop laughing. Tears streamed down our faces. Our sides hurt. Our laughter was so contagious other patrons started laughing along with us, even though they didn’t know why. Employees peered from the back to see what the ruckus was about. They, too, bent double laughing. By the time we left, the entire establishment was rollicking with sidesplitting laughter. As we drove away, we left a small army of people holding their chests and wiping away tears. The laughter made us feel more connected to life than ever before—a feeling I will always cherish. In that moment, our laughter shook off all job concerns, all personal worries and everything that troubled our minds and hearts—everything that kept us from fully living in the present moment. And it can do the same for you.
The Science Behind Laughter
You know you feel better within seconds after a hearty laugh. Why? Because laughter reverses hormonal changes brought on by cortisol and other stress-related chemicals. It activates the secretion of endorphins, serotonin and dopamine—the body’s natural painkillers—and you feel better in minutes. Scientists say that laughter gives your body some of the same benefits as moderate physical exercise. Studies show that laughing—even fake laughing—for just one minute a day dampens stress, eases pain, lowers blood pressure, stokes your immune system and brightens your mental outlook. The same is true with smiling. Facial expression influences your emotions by triggering specific neurotransmitters, the brain’s chemical messengers. When you frown, you feel bad not just because it reflects how you feel, but the facial expression contributes to how you feel. In the same way, a smile makes you feel happier. Pasting a smile on your face—even if you’re not feeling it at first—raises your mood and reduces stress. Studies show that when people’s ability to frown is compromised by cosmetic Botox injections, they’re happier than people who can frown.
Too many of us take career challenges with grim, crippling seriousness and humorless determination thinking our jobs have to be all work and no play, which can straitjacket us. If you’re like many wage earners, you believe you must toil and sweat before earning the right to have fun. You might even feel guilty laughing and smiling if you feel like you haven’t earned it, met a deadline or completed that email. This crippling approach doesn’t prepare you for career advancement or make your work anymore satisfying or effective. Truth be told, a work force that employs humor, amusement and lightheartedness contributes more to your success. Laughter counteracts the negative self-talk that many people eviscerate themselves with: the “musterbation” (I must, I have to) and the “shouldy thinking” (I should, I ought), and the put-downs (“You’re stupid to think you could land that account”; “Your job interview sucked”) that make you feel bad about yourself.
What about you? Have you forgotten how to have fun? When was the last time you had a good belly laugh? Capitalizing on laughter’s natural benefits, laughter yoga is built around forced laughter until it feels real. The science of this yoga is that even if you start with pretend chuckling, your body can’t tell the difference, and momentarily the laughter erases all your worries and relieves your mind of stress. Laughter is a free-form enterprise and simple to do. It helps when you do this exercise with another person because laughter is contagious. Here’s how it works:
- In a standing position, look upward and hold your arms wide apart above your head.
- Start with forced laughing, engaging your shoulders, arms, face and belly until the laughter starts to feel real.
- Continue for as long as you can, letting it rip: Ahhh-hahaha-whoohoohoo-ha-heeheehee!
- After a few minutes of hearty belly laughing, see if you don’t notice an instant lift from the exercise. You might feel silly, but don’t let your mind keep you from feeling good. Do it anyway. The payoff is worth it.
A Parting Word On “Laughter-Cise”
Workplace wellness and burnout prevention is a laughing matter. Almost anything can be taken as an opportunity to lighten up after you’ve had a challenging day or rough week. Next time you can’t get to the gym, try “laughter-cise.” The potential for looking at the humorous side of life is all around you. When was the last time you cackled at yourself for a series of incredulous mistakes you made one after another or something silly you have a habit of doing? Learn to laugh at yourself, tell a joke, try to remember funny experiences you’ve had, watch a comedy movie, check out a stand-up comic, go to a comedy zone near year. Or practice laughter yoga: Ha ha ha-Ho ho ho- He he he! Your Rx for a happy holiday and a longer career trajectory is one or more big belly laughs per day.