Laughter and Work Actually Do Mix

What’s so funny about work? Well, depending on where you’re sitting and your position in the organizational hierarchy, just about everything! Come on, now, you have to admit it: Who doesn’t laugh at work? And if they don’t, what do you honestly think about them?  We all know that person – stiff, always serious, never smiling or seeming to enjoy work or their life . . . a sad stereotype. But whatever their reasons for being who and how they are, the uber serious aren’t just missing out, they are likely not as healthy as those who laugh and find humor in the people and things around them.

That’s not to say the workplace shouldn’t be a serious place. Work is important, as is making deadlines, ensuring service and decorum, maintaining quality and increasing productivity. But humans are social beings, and laughter helps relieve stress, strengthens teams and binds us to common goals.

When you watch people sitting together at lunch or talking at breaks or at gatherings you can see them change physically and relax. Whether enjoying a joke, story or anecdote, or just reflecting on something that has happened or been observed, laughter is good for our mental and physical health and should be encouraged, as appropriate to time and place. But as we can’t legislate happiness, sadness or frustration, we also can’t control people wanting to laugh . . . nor should we. Instead, as employers, we can encourage and support opportunities for relaxing and enhancing teamwork.

People have the remarkable ability to find the humor in almost every situation. It’s an important coping mechanism, and a way to release tension and search, consciously or subconsciously, for empathy. And that is very, very healthy.

Next month (April) is both National Humor Month and Stress Awareness Month. While many health-related awareness designations have little relevance to one another, this combination is an exception. Humor plays an important role in reducing stress, and laughter, whether loud and boisterous, or soft and silent, drives biological reactions that reduce pain, strengthen our immune systems, increase productivity and improve our relationships with our fellow workers, friends, families, and even with total strangers.

Striving to see humor in life and attempting to laugh at situations rather than complain helps improve our disposition and the disposition of those around us. Our ability to laugh at ourselves and situations helps reduce stress and makes life more enjoyable. Humor also helps us connect with others. People naturally respond to the smiles and good cheer of those around them.

The chemical reaction linked to humor and laughter involves endorphins, pain-relieving chemicals usually caused by physical activity or touch. Our bodies create endorphins in response to exercise, excitement, pain, spicy food, and love, among other things. In addition to giving us a “buzz,” bursts of energy and a general good feeling, endorphins raise our ability to ignore pain. In fact, researchers believe that the long series of exhalations that accompany true laughter cause physical exhaustion of the abdominal muscles and, in turn, trigger endorphin release.

Consider these facts about the positive health effects of humor:

  • People with a developed sense of humor typically have a stronger immune system.
  • People who laugh heartily on a regular basis have lower-standing blood pressure than the average person. When people have a good laugh, initially the blood pressure increases but then decreases to levels below normal. Breathing then becomes deeper, which sends oxygen-enriched blood and nutrients throughout the body.
  • Laughter can be a great workout for your diaphragm, abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg, and back muscles. It massages abdominal organs, tones intestinal functioning, and strengthens the muscles that hold the abdominal organs in place. It is estimated that hearty laughter can burn calories equivalent to several minutes on the rowing machine or the exercise bike.
  • Laughter stimulates both sides of the brain to enhance learning. It eases muscle tension and psychological stress, which keeps the brain alert and allows people to retain more information. Laughing also elevates moods.

Organizations can support this spontaneous health benefit by encouraging people to dine together in and out of the office or workplace, and by creating common areas where people may congregate before, after or even during work hours. Pictures and posters that elicit humorous comments, sharing of humor online and through organizational websites and emails, as well as through speeches, meetings and presentations, shows employees that everyone – even the boss – has a good sense of humor and realizes that while we’re all working hard, we need to acknowledge our social side and not take ourselves too seriously.

The sound of laughter is far more contagious than any cough, sniffle, or sneeze. Humor and laughter have many benefits, and they don’t cost a penny. So, laugh at yourself and laugh with others — you’ll be improving your health and the health of those around you with every chuckle and smile!


If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!