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“I never would have made it if I could not have laughed. It lifted me momentarily out of this horrible situation, just enough to make it livable.” ~ Viktor Frankl
Did you know that laughter is something we humans tend to do mostly when we are with other people? Laughter is something that fills a social need for us all, it allows us to initiate or deepen connections with others; with those we love or with new acquaintances. Its role in providing opportunities to build interpersonal relationships points to its importance in our working lives.
When was the last time you laughed at work? Ever worked someplace where laughter (from discreet chuckles to full-on belly laughs) was absent? Workplaces without laughter can be soul sucking. As it turns out laughter and a sense of humour is available to all of us in many circumstances, from a dark “gallows humour” to silly slapstick, we beautiful human beings need to laugh. There is a reason for this, medical research has proven laughter’s ability to reduce stress; after a good hearty laugh you may experience up to 45 minutes of reduced stress (not to mention the bonding that happens after a shared experience that includes laughing together). Laughter is infectious and one of the best ways to build shared meaning between people who may otherwise not have much in common. Once you’ve shared a good laugh with someone your perspective of him or her changes, often for the better (as does theirs of you).
They key here is laughing together. Laughter can be a double-edged sword, do it at the wrong time and you can hurt someone’s feelings or be the only one who is seeing the humour in a humourless situation at work. Humour also follows cultural lines, meaning that what someone finds funny may come from their upbringing. A distinct taste for the tasteless is what makes some people laugh, whereas for others that type of humour is awkward and distressing. As with all things in the workplace leaving room for differences and diversity (in this case in what people find humourous) will ensure inclusivity, but when in doubt keep the humourous comment or joke to yourself (share it with loved ones later).
We also may use humour as a defense mechanism to alleviate ineptness and stress during more intense interpersonal interactions, which can mask or divert a serious conversation that should take place. As with all things, moderation is key, see whether or not you use humour to deflect heavy or more emotionally laden conversations and how well that is serving you in your work. Know that laughter has it’s place at work, one of the things that makes starting a new job stressful is you have no base-line for what may be found funny at work, and no idea if you’ll get a laugh (or if someone will make you laugh). Often once the first good chuckle is had at a new place of employment you can relax a bit and find more enjoyment in the experience. Laughter and humour have their place, and it is important to smile, chuckle and even burst out laughing at least once or twice in your day at work fostering shared meaning and a feeling of belonging (for yourself and others).
Don’t over-look the importance of laughter as a shared experience at work, and if you are not enjoying your current place of employment, check to see when it was you last laughed. It may be you need a good chuckle to release tension, letting you to relax.