Ever heard that laughter is the best medicine? Now science backs it up.
Researchers at the University of Warwick in the UK have found that both laughter and humor are important tools that can impact wellbeing, particularly in the workplace and in health related settings.
“Humour and laughter are very versatile strategies, and people use them a lot at work. They use them to do teamwork, create a sense of belonging, express their appreciation for others and their in-group, but also to alleviate stress and tension, get things done, communicate a difficult message, diffuse conflict etc. Once we looked closer at the hours and hours of naturally occurring workplace interactions we had recorded, we found humour and laughter everywhere – sometimes it was just a short comment or a little laugh that made all the difference,” Dr Stephanie Schnurr, author of the study and a professor in Applied Linguistics at the University of Warwick told Theravive.
Schnurr’s research found that laughter and humor can lessen feelings of isolation, help with worries and help a person feel a sense of control over their emotional and mental state. But they stumbled upon the findings almost by accident.
“We conducted several studies on language in the workplace where we focused on different aspects of professional communication, such as how people do leadership, how they make decisions, how they solve disagreements etc. None of these studies was explicitly aimed at investigating humour and laughter. This was something that organically emerged when we started analysing the data. So we looked in the ways people used humour and laughter more systematically and found the many functions these strategies can perform – especially in a workplace context,” Schnurr said.
“Both humour and laughter help people deal with new and uncomfortable situations. They are coping mechanisms that create a better – more friendly – reality. Used in situations of disagreement and conflict, for example, they can help soften the negative impact on people, relieving them from stress and anxiety, and enabling everyone involved to take a step back and look at the issue with fresh eyes. They help remind people to not take things too seriously, and they bring them together (for example by laughing together).”
She argues that both humor and laughter can help people express how they are feeling, show appreciation for others and create a more positive environment. People may also use humor as a way to find comfort when facing adversity.
Humor and laughter can assist in forming happy relationships and coping with situations that may seem overwhelming. As well as this, both laughter and humor help with talking about topics that may be considered taboo, including financial problems, social or economic issues and even death.
Schnurr and her fellow researchers identified several ways laughter and humor can benefit wellbeing.
Changing perspectives is one way humor and laughter can be beneficial. She argues that humor can help change or even challenge the way a person may think about issues. It may help a person see things in a different way. Humor might be used this way in a medical context to help change a person’s view about unhealthy lifestyle choices, or lack of adherence to a treatment plan.
The researchers also identified humor and laughter as a kind of natural stress release valve. They argue that humor, especially when used alongside other strategies like sarcasm and even irony, can enable people to relieve their tension and stress in the everyday challenges they face. Humor allows people a temporary detachment from their everyday reality.
“It often gives us a mental break and thus prevents us from being deadlocked and stuck in difficult and uncomfortable situations. Humour is also a great way to express likeness and appreciation of others. And laughing together is a great way of bringing people together,” Schnurr said.
“The take home message is to embrace humour and laughter and to make an effort to introduce it more systematically into the workplace.”