Some research indicates that the benefits of laughter go well beyond the ever-important fun factor. Laughter may be a blood-pressure reducer, an immune-system booster, a stress buster and a friend maker. But because we're serious adults with jobs (or without jobs) and responsibilities and bills and meetings, it's sometimes hard to remember to loosen up with a load of laughter now and then. We'll help.
1. Love Your Laugh
Worried that folks will think your laugh is loud, nasally or cackling? Consider this ancient sentiment: Haters gonna hate. Laugh off criticisms. "Your laugh is part of your identity and self-esteem, and it’s essential to who you are," says Steve Wilson, Columbus, Ohio-based psychologist and director of National Humor Month. "So to inhibit it or deny it puts you in jeopardy for health and happiness."
2. Embrace Positive Laughter
"[Humor] can be a tool that you use positively, but it can also be a weapon," says Karyn Buxman, motivational speaker and author of What’s So Funny About Heart Disease? Anyone who’s been the butt of a joke, a target of bullies or the recipient of ill-willed sarcasm knows that there’s a major difference between laughing with others and being laughed at. As the saying goes, "The richest laugh is at no one’s expense."
3. Don't Worry About Being Funny
"There’s a difference between being funny and having a sense of humor," Buxman says. No need to prepare an opening monologue or to invest in a 12-pack of clown noses. It’s OK if you’re not the next Louis CK. Relax, and focus on enjoying and sharing laughs, rather than creating them.
4. Hang Out With People Who Have A Sense Of Humor
Take note of who makes you laugh and smile, and spend time with them. Grab a cup of coffee with your jovial co-worker. Call up your goofy cousin. Social bonds and the benefits of laughter are well worth the effort.
5. Know Your Sense Of Humor
"Sense of humor is very personalized," says Buxman, who’s partial to the "Big Bang Theory." But you may laugh at "Girls," cat videos, Tyler Perry movies, David Sedaris books or improv shows. Instead of thinking, "Why does everyone think this is funny?” or “I don’t get it," figure out what kind of humor does make you howl and schedule time to enjoy it.
6. Look For Humor
"Every day, make a conscious effort to seek humor," Buxman says. Read the newspaper, and look for goofy headlines. Take a quick break at work to watch a funny video. Record a TV show that makes you laugh. "Start looking at the world through that lens of humor, and you’ll be amazed at what you find," Buxman says. Keep a journal of all these little things, she adds, so when you’re feeling blue, you have a pick-me-up guide.
7. Play Pretend
Katherine Puckett, national director of Mind-Body Medicine at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, leads Laughter Club (which is exactly what it sounds like) for patients, family and staff. Even when facing serious illness, she urges members to give themselves "permission to play," which will lighten the mood and, hopefully, cue the laughs. For example, sometimes Laughter Club participants will have a fake snowball fight, in which they throw, duck from and get hit by fake snowballs.
8. Fake It
At Laughter Club, there are no jokes or humor. The focus is on the physical act of laughing – the hee-hees in the head, the ha-has in the heart and the ho-hos in (you guessed it) the belly. Replace your vocabulary with hee-hees, ha-has and ho-hos while singing the birthday song. While the exercise may feel awkward at first, Laughter Club participants typically lose their inhibitions and wind up giggling away.
9. Adjust Your Environment
Bring some spirit to the office, so you’ll be in a sunnier mindset that’s more receptive of humor. Keep toys or family photos at your desk. If you spend lots of time in your car, tuck feel-good items in your glove compartment. If you have a smartphone, load it with photos and games that make you happy so you can access them anywhere.
10. Don't Force The Laugh
"Laughter should always be invited and never demanded," Wilson says. Similarly, Puckett never waltzes into the hospital room of a cancer patient and tells a joke; Laughter Club is voluntary. If your co-worker seems bummed, or your mom’s facing illness, don’t assume they want to laugh. Start with a smile, and go from there.