“… Then their assistant moved it out of the way.”

Before language, there was laughter.

Laughing was a way to bond with our tribe. It showed we weren’t aggressive, and others were welcome. Laughing along allowed us to fit in with the group. This was the human equivalent to primate grooming and tickling.

Research indicates we laugh an average of 17-20 times a day. 80% of our laughter comes from everyday comments in common situations. And it’s 30% easier to laugh in a group than on your own.

Beyond the social aspect, and a way to build camaraderie, it turns out that laughter has plenty of positive side effects at work.

Lowers Stress and Pain – The American Institute of Stress (!) reports that 40% of people believe their job is very or extremely stressful. In addition, job stress is more strongly correlated to health issues than family or financial problems.

Laughing reduces stress hormones, including cortisol, adrenaline and dopamine. It also increases production of another class of hormones, called endorphins. In addition to triggering an overall sense of well-being, these decrease physical pain and significantly raise your pain threshold. Laughter further relaxes you by decreasing your heart rate and blood pressure.

Supports Your Immune System – By laughing, you boost your antibody-producing cells, which enhance the effectiveness of T cells that destroy infections in your body. This gives you a stronger immune system and lowers the physical effects of stress.

Improves Problem Solving – It releases the neurotransmitter serotonin in your brain. This improves your focus, objectivity and overall brainpower. (Read how people who watched a comedy film before doing an experiment did better than those who didn’t.)

Brings People Together – Laughter releases oxytocin—“the empathy hormone”—which bonds people and groups. Laughing is contagious, so we often join others who are doing it: even when we don’t know the cause. Laughter is one of the few responses no one teaches us, so it transcends cultures and situations. It’s also hard to be angry or upset with someone while you’re laughing.

Gives You Energy – Laughing forces air out of our lungs, which leads us to take deep breaths. That increases the flow of oxygen into and around the body, like a humorous wake-up call.

Leading with a Laugh

As leaders, it’s important to know that a good laugh in stressful times can shift a negative mood. This can give people a new perspective: helping us see a difficult situation in a more realistic and less threatening light. It also can reduce our feeling of being overwhelmed.

Start paying more attention to what makes you—and the people around you—laugh. You don’t need to turn yourself into a comedian (please don’t try). But be open to laughing about yourself and situations that will be familiar to your people (funny kids and pet stories, for example).

Don’t bar laughter from the office. Be more willing to walk into it.

Ready to explore other strategies to bond and motivate your people? Let’s talk.