When was the last time you had a good laugh? I mean a great laugh when you laughed so hard that your face turned red and you had trouble catching your breath. I hope it wasn't too long ago because laughter and a sense of humor are really good for you.
No doubt you've heard the old phrase, "Laughter is the best medicine." Psychologist, Dr. Tim Sharp, says "there is no doubt that a sense of humor is a strength that correlates with health and happiness." I tend to agree. My wife agrees whole heartedly and tries to see that I have a healthy dose of laughter every day. She is amazingly creative and seems to know just what it takes to make me smile and laugh.
I'm sure I've brought an unnecessary amount of grief and irritation to people in my life but I know I've also provoked a lot of laughter. I love the spontaneous, improvisational kind of humor with friends when each of us are playing off of each other. Whenever that starts, I'm all in. I should probably apologize to a few people for bad timing, making them laugh just as they took a sip of their favorite beverage or some other inopportune moment.
But there are also a few times (ok, maybe many times) when the laughter I caused was entirely unintentional and at my own expense, like the time I took a group of children to summer camp a week early. (I'll probably regret telling you this.) I didn't think it was particularly funny, but I know plenty of people who are still laughing years later whenever they think of it. I suppose I should be glad just knowing that whether they're laughing with me or laughing at me, I've brought happiness to people.
Most of us enjoy humor without giving it much thought. We simply like being with people who have a good sense of humor. However, some people's interest in laughter has led them to probe a little deeper, trying to understand why we laugh and what makes something truly funny. Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman, founders of the VIA Institute on Character Strengths, wrote that "humor includes playful recognition and enjoyment of incongruity, a cheerful view of the light side of adversity, and the ability to make others smile and laugh." As I think of the people I know who have a good sense of humor, that definition seems spot on.
Philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Kant, Schopenhauer have also weighed in on the subject of humor. I've browsed some of what they wrote and, while they're certainly insightful, I'm pretty sure you wouldn't find them very funny. Sigmund Freud believed that laughter was a release mechanism for dealing with pent up nervous energy. Sounds very Freudian to me, but where's the fun in that?
While some people's interest in humor leads them to study its deeper meaning, looking for insight, others are looking for profit. Humor has become big business. We'll spend time and money to be entertained by people who can make us laugh.
But it's not only big business, humor is also good for business. Executive recruiter, Joe Kimmel (no relation to Jimmy), writes on his blog: "You may be surprised to learn that laughter plays a significant role in business. It may seem to go against the serious nature of enterprise, where the bottom line is sometimes all that matters." (click here to read his article)
I get to work with some very talented, intelligent, hardworking and very funny colleagues. I've often described them as people who take their work seriously without taking themselves seriously. The laughter among us is spontaneous, insightful, wry, sarcastic and yet respectful. It promotes creativity, creates bonds of friendship, and relieves stress so we can be more productive. It's often the very thing that keeps the hard work from becoming drudgery.
Returning to the article by Joe Kimmel, he continues by saying, "when people laugh at the same thing, it brings them closer together. It creates bonds stronger than many other team-building exercises. A team that laughs together grafts together. Besides, people tend to bond more effectively in a positive environment where interpersonal relationships are fun and appropriate."
Some of you who are reading this article have shared some truly funny moments with me. I can always use a good laugh so I'd love to hear from you. You might start by saying, "Remember the time when . . ..?" I can't wait to hear from you!
By the way, did you know that May 1st was International Laughter Day? I hope you didn't miss it.
Interested in knowing more about where humor ranks as one of your character strengths? Read more here.