In today’s fast-paced and stressful world, resilience—the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficulties – is an invaluable human skill.
Thankfully, healthy resilience is not just about building mental toughness and grit. Making room for more laughter in daily life may be one of the greatest untapped secrets to building resilience at any age.
In his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor emphasizes the importance of incorporating laughter and humor into everyday life, because “playful, positive experiences help us be more resilient in the face of challenges.”
According to Achor, laughter and play have been found to help reduce stress, improve mood, and foster creativity, all of which contribute to greater resilience.
Here are five simple ways experts suggest people can cultivate humor when things are stressful:
1. Spend time with positive people. Feeling free to laugh in stressful situations largely depends upon the people with us in the situation. Angry, sarcastic, or critical people do not cultivate healthy humor or resilience.
“When we’re stressed, we often lose our sense of humor, which is exactly when we need it the most. Cultivate your sense of humor by surrounding yourself with positive people, finding humor in everyday situations, and not taking yourself too seriously.” (Shawn Achor, NY Times bestselling author, The Happiness Advantage).
2. Get out there and play. As counterintuitive as it may seem, playful building, exploring, and creating can be a deeply healing experience, especially when facing deep loss or pressure.
“My work – everyone’s work – puts us under so much pressure. You forget to make time to play. Getting involved…[and fueling] my playful spirit…helps me to come back and radiate at work.” (John Cohn, IBM Fellow at MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, John Cohn: mad scientist and dedicated maker).
3. Reframe the challenge into a game. “You probably can’t reject everything that causes you stress. You are an adult and there are certain things you have to do. That’s when you can try to reframe them. This might mean you turn them into a game, make them more fun, or put a positive spin on them, if a positive spin exists at all. If there’s a way to gamify or gain some perspective on what’s stressing you out, do it.” (Clay Drinko, Ph.D., Educator and Author, How to Use Humor to Manage Stress).
4. Search for humor. Humor has a way of breaking the daunting power of intensely difficult situations. Look for that connection between laughter and resilience.
“Laughter is a natural stress reliever. When we laugh, we release endorphins, which are natural painkillers that also help us feel more relaxed. Cultivate your sense of humor by looking for the funny side of things, even in difficult situations.” (Peter Gray, Ph.D., Research Professor at Boston College, Free to Learn).
5. Learn to laugh at yourself – adaptively and affirmingly. This is the opposite of self-mockery for the approval of others. “People who engage in [positive, and self-enhancing] humor can cheer themselves up by thinking about positive or funny events [and] experiences.” (Julie Aitken Schermer, Ph.D., Professor at The University of Western Ontario, What Your Sense of Humor Says About Your Mental Health).
The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth (TLC) is a social enterprise company serving the Greater Philadelphia Area. Among its five divisions, TLC offers School-based Staffing Solutions, Mobile Coaching and Counseling, and Heather’s Hope: A Center for Victims of Crime. These major programs are united under TLC’s mission to promote positive choices and cultivate meaningful connections through education, counseling, coaching, and consulting.
About the Author
MaryJo Burchard (Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership) is co-founder and principal of Concord Solutions, a Virginia-based consultancy firm focused on helping leaders and organizations thrive while facing major disruption. Concord Solutions offers consulting, coaching, training, research, and keynote speaking surrounding trauma-informed leadership and assessing and building change readiness, trust, and belonging.