Use Laughter to Lighten the Load, Atmosphere, Stress

is the shortest
distance between
two people.

Gail HandGail Hand

If you know what people on your team are laughing at, you know a lot about what is going on,” said Gail Hand, a motivational humorist, author and certified “laugh leader” with the World Laughter Tour and Laugh Yoga International.

“Laughing together implies shared values and experiences,” she explained. “If you shape that laughter so that it connects people to each other, you can build a loyal, creative team.”

During the Women’s Leadership Institute held in Florida in December, Hand facilitated an interactive training session about the power of laughter at work noting that it can produce “a stronger and more change-resilient woman in higher education.” She began with the welcome, “Alohahaha.”

No stranger to corporate life and its foibles, Hand earned degrees in marketing, buying and merchandising from the Fashion Institutes in San Francisco and New York City. Then she spent 20 years in corporate sales and management working for giants such as American Express, Southwestern Bell and Macy’s.

Now she leads a national women’s speakers’ bureau from Portland OR with her two dogs, who blog about her.

Laughter as medicine

The sound of laughter is so familiar and universal that it’s recognizable played backward. And it sounds the same no matter where you are in the world.

Laughter is health inducing. Happy thoughts lead to happy brain chemistry. “The brain goes where your thoughts flow,” said Hand. Laughing releases endorphins in the brain, reducing pain and improving mood.

The power of laughter to heal was shown in a dramatic experiment during the 1960s. Suffering from a degenerative form of arthritis called ankylosing spondylitis, Dr. Norman Cousins, editor of the Saturday Review and an adjunct professor of medical humanities at UCLA, spent hours watching Marx Brothers’ movies and laughing. That regimen, along with large doses of Vitamin C, allowed his joints to regenerate, allowing him to return to work and live several more decades.

Hand is also a walking poster child for the power of laughter. She’s faced the deaths of six people close to her, moved into a neighborhood that included an ex-con and another neighbor who shot herself. Despite this traumatic external environment, Hand’s internal environment is fi ne. “Tragedy plus time equals comedy,” she quipped.

Most adults have forgotten how to laugh. Children laugh 200 to 400 times a day. But when they grow up, that number declines to 12 to 15 times a day.

Speaker, life coach and humorist Michael Pritchard noted, “We don’t stop laughing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop laughing.” When we’re stressed, the first thing that disappears is laughter.

For a boost, try creating “circle humor” in your department or classroom. Circle humor is used between individuals experiencing similar situations. You’ll find this type of humor among cancer survivors, people on the battlefield, teams and family members.

Unless you’re a brain surgeon or rocket scientist, making a mistake generally doesn’t signify the end of either your world or the real one. Once mistakes happen, you can’t turn back the clock and undo them.

So celebrate them and use them as a learning tool. We learn more from our failures than our successes. Often the solution that results from the mistake can overcome a longstanding hurdle or move a project forward.

One engineer at a large firm made a $1 million mistake, so he submitted his resignation letter. His boss told him, “You’re not going anywhere. I have a $1 million investment in you.”

Imagine if your boss reacted to your mistake by saying, “You had a great idea. You made a mistake, admitted it and fixed it. If you do it again, we’ll talk.” By adopting that perspective, you’ll reduce the stress on yourself and others.

Effects of laughter

Studies have found that laughter produces mental, physical, emotional and spiritual benefits. Mentally, we can outsmart ourselves with laughter.

Laughter has been shown to increase memory retention and creativity during problem solving. And it’s a great supplemental treatment for depression.

Physically, laughter has been shown to boost the immune system and strengthen the body’s defenses to fight disease. It works the abdominal and thoracic muscles.

Laughing for 20 seconds is equal to three minutes on a rowing machine or two minutes on a stationary bike. Drop your health club membership, pocket the money and start a rigorous laughter workout. Your new health plan is cheaper and includes coffee and Danish.

Laughter is also known to lower blood pressure, condition the heart muscle, exercise the lungs and diaphragm and reduce the level of cortisol, a hormone produced during stress.

For that mid-afternoon slump, instead of grabbing a candy bar or another cup of coffee, try a deep belly laugh. Laughter can raise your energy level, possibly by increasing the amount of oxygen your body takes in.

Emotionally, laughter brightens up a room. Next time someone cuts you off, just smile and wave and watch your emotional state soar as you keep the other driver guessing.

Laughter helps us bond with each other. “Laugh and the world laughs with you,” noted poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox.

Humor at work

All work and no play make Jill a dull girl, so celebrate your accomplishments. Ford Motor Company plasters a car on the outside of the assembly building when a new model comes out. What would you want to show off to the world?

Do you regularly celebrate milestone events? How about ordinary days?

Self-deprecating humor is the highest form of humor. But watch out for inappropriate types. Humor that’s sexist, political or racist is not welcome in the workplace. If you make fun of someone, it should be only yourself.

Constructive humor builds team spirit and raises self-esteem. It’s supportive, includes people, reduces tension and improves creativity.

To avoid accidentally stepping on toes, spend some time with your colleagues and learn what triggers their hot buttons. Identify the topics that you can laugh with them about. The best type of humor is personalized.

Destructive humor creates barriers and defensiveness. It’s belittling, focuses on the negative and closes off creative thought. It lowers self-esteem and creates tension, perpetuating a stereotype and provoking laughter at someone. “It’s important to speak up when others do this,” said Hand.

Spiritually, laughter feeds the soul. Reframing a challenge can bring a dose of humor. A problem client becomes “karmically” challenged.

Tools to boost morale

Times are tough and could get worse. Bolster morale in the workplace or classroom with these tools:

Acknowledgment. Acknowledge each other on a regular basis. Doing so changes people’s attitudes. “A kind word goes unspoken, but never unheard,” she said.

Flexibility. Cross your arms and look around. Do you really want to work with these people? For better or worse, body language frames thoughts.

Think of a time when you felt that you were flexible. You’ll discover that you looked at things differently. Employ a “Q-TIP” – “Quit Taking It Personally” to alleviate stress.

Mentally schedule a dream day. Imagine that all your problem calls are solved, your president supports your decisions, a building is erected in your honor and the computer virus did not destroy your data. And to make things even better, everyone receives a daily massage.

Gratitude. Before you fall asleep each night, think about the things you’re grateful for. Keep a gratitude journal.

Kindness. What can you do to spread joy? Perhaps you can take someone to lunch or carpool with someone you don’t know. What you put out comes back to you tenfold.

Forgiveness. Anger hurts only the angry person. Close your eyes and picture the person who angered you. Then picture them in a good light. Send them good energy.

Balance. “Laughter and humor can make the unbearable bearable,” said Hand.

Positive attitude: Negativity is a choice. Choose differently.

Here are seven good reasons to take a laugh break:

• Reduce your pill bill. You might be able to toss away, lower the dosage or prevent yourself from having to take antidepressants.

• Have a healthy glow. Belly laughter gets the blood circulating throughout the body.

• People want to smile, and you can help.

• Become lighter on your feet.

• Lighten the lives of others around you.

• Make work time more enjoyable.

• Become sexier with laughter. On both and eHarmony, a sense of humor is the top romantically attractive trait. Comedian Victor Borge once quipped, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”

Start a laughter club on your campus. It’s free, fun and requires only space. Alohahaha.

Contact Gail Hand
or 503-284-2342

You might want to inquire these programs:

* How to handle difficult clients, vendors and coworkers in a rebounding economy
* 21 Secrets to Celebrating Generational Diversity on Campus

Visit her Web site:  

Santovec, Mary Lou. (2011, April). Use Laughter to Lighten the Load, Atmosphere, Stress. Women in Higher Education, 20(4), 22-23.


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