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The psychological benefits of humor and laughter

Have the events of 2020 put you in a negative funk of doom and despair? Has your demeanor taken a downward plunge? If so, I hope this article can be your hokey pokey and help you turn yourself around.

The funny brain

 “I told my girlfriend she drew her eyebrows too high. She seemed surprised.”

Most of the insights I cover in this blog explore the hidden influences that have a negative effect on our decisions and behavior. Today we’ll look at one of the beneficial aspects of our subconscious – our sense of humor.

Actually, processing humor involves our brain at both the conscious and unconscious levels. When we hear a joke or a funny bit from a comedian our conscious brain has to “get it.” Then our unconscious brain triggers our response – perhaps a smile, a giggle, or a belly laugh. Sometimes the unconscious brain laughs without our consent – like when we see a surprising visual image.

Positively hilarious

“People who use selfie sticks really need to have a good, long look at themselves.” -Abi Roberts

As a decision performance specialist, I was happy to discover that humor has positive effects on decision making. Studies show that humor increases our ability to find creative solutions and it makes us more forgiving in judging fairness.

But those are not the most important benefits. Laughter brings people together. It is a shared bond. Have you noticed how much more common it is to laugh with other people than alone? Also, a good sense of humor makes you more attractive to other people, and laughing with others gives us a feeling of acceptance.

Magical benefits

When I worked as a professional magician, I constantly looked for ways to get laughs. The magical effects would get great responses but it was the laughter that I really wanted to evoke. Virtually every popular magician injects humor into their acts. Audiences love to be amazed, but we love to laugh even more.

Biologically it makes sense that we love to laugh because laughter has physical benefits. It decreases stress hormones and releases endorphins – brain chemicals that make us feel good and give us a sense of well-being. Laughter has also been shown to increase our tolerance for pain.

COVID-19 is no laughing matter, of course, but since laughter increases immune cells and antibodies that fight infection, making sure we laugh every day may just provide some additional natural protection. But be careful around others! Laughter can be a super spreader because there is more force behind your exhalations.

“I’m against picketing but I don’t know how to show it.”

– Mitch Hedberg

Here are some tips for getting your minimum daily requirement of funny:

- Reduce the amount of time you spend consuming news (which tends to be soul sucking and happiness draining) and spend that time with something funny. Such as? Websites, videos, TV shows, stand-up comedian clips, cartoons, comics, movies.

- Who makes you laugh? Spend more time with the funny people in your life. Chances are you make them laugh as well.

- Write down funny moments. Many parents keep journals the funny stuff their kids do and say, but also write down anything that makes you laugh. Record hilarious jokes when you hear them so you can remember them later and get more mileage out of them.

- Practice being funny. Look for the humor in everyday life. Notice anything out of the ordinary. Point it out to yourself or others. Pets and small children can be especially funny.

If I have learned anything from exploring human behavior it’s that we humans are frequently irrational and silly. Sometimes that is the best part! We can improve ourselves but let’s not forget to laugh at ourselves along the way.

Laugh well and be well!

- Steve

Want to learn more about improving your thinking and decision making?

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