Re-discover Happiness with Laughter and Humor
I used to lead a laughter group a few times a year for clients at a psychotherapy clinic. The group was interactive and educational. The purpose was to highlight the therapeutic benefits of laughter. Participants were encouraged to bring jokes, funny stories, and come dressed in costume. There was one main rule: You have to laugh. Laughter was not an option, it was a requirement!
This rule helped participants to feel relaxed and comfortable. It released the social pressure of worrying whether someone would laugh at their jokes and funny stories. Participants took more risks than they typically did. They arrived in unique costumes, brought in their favorite jokes, and one time a man brought in a guitar and sang some funny songs.
We also spent some time discussing the biopsychosocial- piritual benefits of humor. This means that laughter and humor affects us in a holistic way, not just the obvious social benefits. Laughter brings benefits to our immune system, cardiovascular system, respiratory system, and musculature system. To show this, I tested participants’ blood pressure before and after the group.
What Did I Observe?
- Many participants had drops in blood pressure from baseline levels.
- Even the most depressed individuals elevated their zest and enthusiasm.
- Everyone was able to tap into and express their humor strength, whether it was natural for them or not.
- Many people tapped into their creativity strength, finding original ways to express their sense of humor.
- Curiosity was commonplace, e.g., many participants had heard positive things about previous humor groups at the clinic and were “itching with interest” to take part.
- Bravery was present – in the depressed individuals who emerged from their “shell,” in anxious participants who moved out of their comfort zones, and in stressed-out clients who found a new way to relax.
- Social engagement – participants connected with one another and deepened relationships with those they’d not previously connected with.
- The one drawback? Participants’ cheeks felt sore from the extensive use of various muscles in their face that they’d not been using due to minimal laughter in their daily life.
Humor, a Strength That You Have
Humor is a strength of character. It is a capacity in each person that can be developed. This comes as a surprise to some people. When people think of virtue and character strength, humor is far from the first thing to come to mind. Instead, individuals think of classic virtues like wisdom and courage, or of heart-oriented strengths like love and gratitude. But humor?
Well, yes, actually. Humor was called out by scientists as one of 24 character strengths found across cultures and nations, found even on some of the most remote areas of the planet. Interestingly, humor is one of the strengths most connected with happiness and pleasure.
A new study this year found that targeting a particular group of character strengths (one of which was humor) boosted happiness higher than focusing on other character strengths (and compared to a placebo group).
Don’t Think You’re Funny? Think Again.
Here are some tips to boost humor:
- The core of humor is playfulness. For those who feel they have lost their sense of humor upon entering the serious world of adulthood, the rediscovery of a playful attitude is a key element for change. Researchers have noted several dimensions to playfulness. How might you express any of these parts of yourself more?
- Spontaneous: Are you ever impulsive, adventurous, carefree, or free-spirited?
- Expressive: Are you ever animated and emotional, bouncy and open, or feel as if you are manifesting joy?
- Creative: Are you ever actively imaginative and original?
- Fun: Are you ever excitable and playful (the opposite of dull)?
- Silly: Are you ever childlike and whimsical?
- Use humor in a new way. For examples, go here.
- Join a laughter club or laughter yoga group in your area. These groups integrate group laughing, breathing exercises, and body movements. They are a wonderful way to tap into the contagious effects of laughter. They are also addicting and fun!
- Be careful to not overuse your humor. When we overplay our strengths, it can impact our relationships. People telling a joke or funny story should always first consider the situation they are in and the sensitivities of the people around them.
We are coming toward the end of April which is National Humor Month in the U.S., but don’t let that stop you from finding new ways to tap into your humor strength. It just might give you the happiness boost you need. May the laughter begin!
If you’re interested in “laughter clubs,” check out the movie The Laughing Club of India, made in India where laughing clubs were founded.
If you’re interested in the portrayal of the humor strength in movies (e.g., Patch Adams), see the book Positive Psychology at the Movies.
To measure your character strengths and discover your signature strengths, go to www.viame.org
To apply character strengths in your practice and life, go to www.viapros.org
Berk, L. S., Felten, D. L., Tan, S. A., Bittman, B. B., & Westengard, J. (2001) Modulation of neuroimmune parameters during the eustress of humor-associated mirthful laughter. Alternative Therapies, 7(2), 62–76.
Biswas-Diener, R. (2006). From the equator to the North Pole: A study of character strengths. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 293-310.
Glynn, M. A., & Webster, J. (1992). The Adult Playfulness Scale: An initial assessment. Psychological Reports, 71, 83-103.
Lefcourt, H. M. (2002). Humor. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.). Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 619–631). New York: Oxford University Press.
McGhee, P. (1999). Health, healing, and the amuse system: Humor as survival training. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Peterson, C., Ruch, W., Beermann, U., Park, N., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2007). Strengths of character, orientation to happiness, and life satisfaction. Journal of Positive Psychology, 2(3), 149-156.
Proyer, R. T., & Ruch, W. (2011). The virtuousness of adult playfulness: The relation of playfulness with strengths of character. Psychology of Well-Being: Theory, Research and Practice, 1(4).
Proyer, R. T., Ruch, W., & Buschor, C. (2012). Testing strengths-based interventions: A preliminary study on the effectiveness of a program targeting curiosity, gratitude, hope, humor, and zest for enhancing life satisfaction. Journal of Happiness Studies.
Ruch, W., Rodden, F. A., & Proyer, R. T. (2011). Humor and other positive interventions in medical and therapeutic settings. In B. Kirkcaldy (Ed.), The art and science of health care: Psychology and human factors for practitioners (pp. 277-294). Gottingen, Germany: Hogrefe.
Niemiec, R. (2012). Re-discover Happiness with Laughter and Humor. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 25, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/character-strengths/2012/04/re-discover-happiness-with-laughter-and-humor/