“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” – Victor Borge (Popular Danish comedian, conductor and pianist in the mid/late 20th Century)
What are you like when you laugh?
Do you snort? Do you squeal? Do your shoulders shake? Does your face go red, your nose or eyes run? Do you rock from side to side, or backwards and forwards? We are at our most authentic and exposed when we laugh.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that laughing is so good for us. Laughter is a great physical workout, stretching lungs, abdominal muscles and ribcage, even your whole body (depending on how lively your laughter).
Mentally, it gives us a boost of energy and a chance to switch off – it’s almost impossible to think of anything else while you’re laughing. Emotionally, the surge of happy hormones (such as dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin) and release of stress set you up with a good mood and reduced tension for the rest of the day.
And there are less well known, but no less valuable, social benefits of laughter.
Laughter as a way to change relationships
Laughter expert Robert Provine (Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County) has found that laughter is mainly a social behaviour that helps to build and maintain social bonds. In other words, laughter is a powerful force for change in our relationships.
Provine’s research reveals we’re 30 times more likely to laugh when we’re with someone else than when we’re on our own.
When we laugh together we show people that we like them, agree with them, understand them, and are part of the same group. Making time to relax and laugh with friends is a sure-fire way to reinforce friendships.
Psychiatrist Joseph Richman, professor emeritus at Albert Einstein Medical Center in the Bronx, New York, says it’s more than just feeling part of a gang. The stronger connections we create when we share a difficult experience or problem in an amusing way can help overcome feelings of alienation that could contribute to depression.
Laughing together can make it easier to communicate and work together, even when people come from different cultural backgrounds.
The result? If things get tricky or tense, laughter can lower a competitive drive, and make it more likely to work together as a team.
With an audience
It’s an old trick, but it works for a reason. Using humour to break the ice with an audience helps them to like you and empathise with you.
You share a little vulnerability and get them on your side, as well as releasing any tension or nervousness in the room by giving everyone permission to laugh out loud. Now you can get on with the show, knowing you’ll get a warm reception.
Build stronger relationships through humour
We laugh most when we’re talking to others, and in those conversations we are rarely laughing at actual jokes. It turns out that only 10 or 20 per cent of laughing is in response to humour.
Laughter is more likely to come about when people who know or like each other, or want to connect, are talking. So smile. Be ready to laugh. See the funny side of things.
You’ll find yourself giggling, chuckling or falling about more often than you might expect, while building new and stronger relationships.
Try these to bring more laughter into your life
Laughter Yoga is based on the idea that you can make yourself laugh and reap the rewards. Developed in India in 1995 by Mumbai doctor Madan Kataria while he was researching the effect of laughter on health, it has now spread and there are thousands of laughter yoga clubs worldwide.
UK agency Laughology (www.laughology.co.uk) works to bring play and laughter into the workplace. They suggest, “Think of positive banter as verbal tickling. This helps to keep our relationships fresh, sparky and re-energised and foster an environment that enjoys laughter” and “If you see something that makes you laugh, make a note and, more importantly, tell someone, pass it on and laugh until it hurts!”
The US-based Laughter Online University (www.laughteronlineuniversity.com) is a resource for people who seek the physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual benefits of laughter, and – more importantly – people who want to have fun making a difference in social and business settings.