We all love to be entertained. We pay to go see stand up comedy shows and funny movies. We seek out certain TV shows and get trapped in the rabbithole of hilarious memes and viral videos. But did you know, seeking out humor is actually good for our well-being? There is research that shows people who incorporate more humor into their lives are on average happier and healthier individuals. Humor is an incredibly important ingredient in our everyday lives. It affects our mental and physical health, as well as the health of our social lives, our work, and society as a whole.
You’ve heard the phrase, “Laughter is the best medicine”, right? Humor has the ability to affect our physical health. According to the American Psychology Association, laughter decreases stress hormones such as serum cortisol, dopac and epinephrine. There’s a reason we feel this surge of happiness when we are cracking up with our friends and family. Humor also helps people deal with pain and physical adversity. Laughter has been shown to help reduce muscle tension, stimulate the cardiovascular system, dilate the blood vessels (increasing oxygen to the lungs), and reduce blood pressure and heart rate. There has also been research that shows improvement in t-cells and natural killer cells in the immune system. There is no wonder that Hollywood made a film about this phenomenon called Patch Adams. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you do!
The physiological effects of laughter have a direct correlation to our emotional and mental states. Research shows that humor creates feelings of well-being, empowerment and control. It relieves anxiety, distress and depression. Humor can even help people grieve. In Psychology Today, “Dacher Keltner and colleagues found that people who spontaneously experienced amusement and laughter when discussing a deceased spouse showed better emotional adjustment in the years following the spouse's death”. Humor will help you maintain a positive attitude which will give you hope and energy to invigorate your everyday life. Thus rendering the world a much more pleasant place no matter the challenges that arise.
Humor is especially significant in new and challenging social situations. We’ve all been at a networking event and accidentally called someone the wrong name. (Ok, maybe we all haven’t, but many of us have, and, seriously, it’s nothing personal). Uncomfortable situations like this can be made better when you joke about it. It helps people put their guard down and remember that life is full of silly accidents, you’ve just gotta roll with it and move forward.
Humor is also incredibly valuable in the workplace. Let’s face it, no matter how laid back you and your coworkers are, there will always be days that are more stressful than others. But then there’s that coworker—or if you’re really lucky, that boss—who helps ease the tension with a little comedic relief about the predicament. When joking appropriately and in relevance to the situation, humor is a great way to move past a difficult scenario. If you are in charge of a team at work, remember that humor is a lot like any other emotion, it’s contagious. So spread the laughter. Your teammates will appreciate it, and so will your business!
Humor is also a very significant part of dating. Having a “good sense of humor” is a common trait that people seek out when describing their ideal partner. Since humor helps build higher self-esteem, it’s easy to spot those people in the room who have this magnetic and confident energy. These people incorporate humor into their social interactions. It makes those around them feel good, and is an attribute that attracts others to them. To be clear, not all humor is beneficial. Professor Rod Martin spent three decades researching laughter and humor and he makes a clear distinction on healthy vs non-healthy humor. If humor is used to put others down just to inflate your own self-worth, you will not gain the positive benefits of humor. Additionally, there are many comedians who have made their life’s work off of being funny, however, they can be deeply depressed individuals who do not incorporate humor in ways that will help their own personal suffering.
Humor is also an under-used technique in the classroom/lecture hall. That’s right, laughing actually leads to learning. According to the American Psychology Association, “Sam Houston State University psychologist Randy Garner, PhD, found that students were more likely to recall a statistics lecture when it was interjected with jokes about relevant topics”. Joking in a classroom environment helps relieve fear and reduces anxiety in the students. At John Hopkins University, Professor Ron Berk applies this technique to his biostatistics class. “The key to his teaching style, he says, is using humor to enhance otherwise dull statistical methodology by tapping into students' multiple intelligences and learning styles in a way that forces them to think in divergent and real-life ways.” Again, this joking must not be overdone. You can’t be cracking irrelevant and distracting jokes, as that will steer the student away from the topic altogether. But a good balance of fun and real information can be the difference between a pass and a fail.
In our everyday lives it’s one hurdle after another. A never-ending road through the mountains of life. Some days we feel great, others we feel terrible. But if we can find a way to see the humor in things, we can make each day a little more positive. If we can find a way to laugh about the pain and absurdity of this life, then we can struggle a little less and live a little more.