Everybody loves a good joke and a good laugh. We want to hang out with people who are reservoirs of witty one-liners and catchy punchlines. The reason is simple: these people bring joy into our lives. There’s ample research to show that humor—and the resulting laughter—is beneficial for our health and mental wellbeing.
A study published in Advances In Mind-Body Medicine last year showed that older adults who were exposed to funny videos performed better than the control group—that did not watch any videos and sat calmly instead—on tasks that tested short-term memory and recall. Moreover, a study published in February 2014 in Personality and Individual Differences found that laughter helps people bond and fosters intimacy. Different studies by the University of Maryland researchers have shown that laughter is great medicine for the heart.
“There is extensive research that shows chronic distressing emotions (anxiety, depression, and anger) are linked to a variety of diseases and ill-health (including gastrointestinal problems and heart disease),” says Dr Steven Sultanoff, clinical psychologist and past president of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor. “Humor’s ability to reduce emotional distress makes it extremely likely that a chronic experience of humor and more broadly a sense of humor would have dramatic health impacts.”
Even though most of us are aware of the health benefits of humor and laughter, we sometimes get stuck in the daily grind and forget to find time to participate in banter.
A sense of humor, or the ability to create laughter, isn’t a gift given only to people like Jerry Seinfeld or Amy Schumer. “The potential to develop a sense of humor is genetically encoded in all of us,” says Sultanoff. “It is likely stronger in some than others, but the bottom line is that most of humor appreciation and sense of humor is environmentally developed, which means we all have the capacity to increase our sense of humor.”
Here are a few practical suggestions to hone your sense of humor and create more laughter in your life:
1. Laugh at yourself: Tripped at the nightclub in front of attractive people last night? Laugh it off. “What seems important at the moment may be of minimal long-term significance,” says San Diego-based psychiatrist David Reiss. “If something happens that triggers discomfort or embarrassment, take a second to think about how you might describe the incident to a friend in the future.” If it’s something you can laugh about then, then there’s no harm in making light of the situation.
2. Play a humor game: For most comedians, finding irony and humor in a situation comes naturally. But you can master this art, too. Play what Chicago-based life coach Sara Soulman calls the humor game. “If you’re playing on your commute to work, count how many things you notice that you find humorous,” says Soulman. “Maybe you’ll see a funny sign or bumper sticker.” Perhaps you noticed someone had grotesque make-up on or was wearing funny Jodhpurs. “When you notice something funny, allow yourself to smile and laugh.”
3. Get online: The Internet is a cauldron of humorous material. Cat videos, anyone? “Watch or listen to something funny,” says San Jose-based psychotherapist Sharon Martin. “Find something you like whether it’s The Three Stooges or a video of dancing pigs or laughing babies.” Since laughter is the best medicine, you’re really not wasting your time.
4. Be around funny people: This is a no-brainer, but have you really tried it? “Surround yourself with people who have a great infectious laugh,” says San Diego-based psychotherapist Robert Duff. “If you don’t know anyone off the top of your head that you could spend time with, go to a place with lots of people who will be laughing: public comedy shows, game-show tapings, or funny movies are all places where you can get lost in the crowd and laugh your butt off.”
5. Try “serious” humor: Humor can help you cope with some of life’s tragedies. “At funerals humor is quite common and in some cultures even expected,” Sultanoff says. Obviously, humor at the moment of the tragedy would be hurtful and insulting. However, when people are ready to move on, it can be therapeutic. “After 911 the late night talk show hosts shut down their humor for about two weeks,” says Sultanoff. “Then as we all began to achieve some distance they reintroduced their humor. It was definitely part of the nation’s healing.”
6. Take things to extremes: Get creative with figures. Comedian Jan McInnis says, “You’ll notice that when comedians make jokes, we don’t say someone is 100 years old, we say they are 1,000 years old, or they don’t weigh 200 pounds, they weigh 10,000 pounds.” Exaggeration makes things funnier. Gained a couple of pounds during your India trip? How about making a big deal: “Oh my god, I have come back an elephant from India!”
So, don’t always take life seriously. Go out and create some original humor and get people laughing—yourself included. As the comedian Milton Berle once said, “Laughter is an instant vacation.”