Here are 11 ways to laugh your way to a healthier, less stressed-out life.
Laughter is very serious business. Just ask John Cleese, who sings the praises of spontaneous laughter—“he who laughs most, learns best”—and believes “true laughter… destroys any kind of system of dividing people.” The Mayo Clinic is also big on laughing, since it not only “lightens your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body, stimulating organs and circulation and relaxing muscles.” Here are some ways to stimulate your laugh muscle.
1. Fake it ’til you make it
Having one of those days that makes you want to gouge your eyes out? Try faking a laugh. You’ll be surprised how quickly it can turn into the real thing. If you do it with someone else, it will be infectious.
2. Join (or start) a laughter yoga club
Yes, laughter yoga is a thing. No, there are no downward dogs or chaturangas here—but there are quality chuckles and good times to be had. The practice, conceived in the ‘90s in a public park in Mumbai, India, involves gathering in a group, getting silly, and faking laughter while making eye contact with others until you start genuinely laughing. Look for a laughter yoga club in your city at laughteryoga.org.
3. Have a friends night
If anyone or anything is sure to make you laugh, it’s the people who know you best. Gather your funniest friends for a dinner out, a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine—spending time with those who put you at ease is a great way to get loose and a little silly.
4. The Internet can be your friend
There are a lot of funny people writing and sharing funny things and a lot of people doing funny things—everywhere, all the time. And most of them can be found online. Don’t go down the rabbit hole for five hours, but a trip to The Onion (a recent headline: “Courageous Man Overcomes Woman’s Body Language to Continue Hitting on Her”), the Borowitz Report (“Forgotten Man Seeks Attention”), or Key & Peele for a good laugh now and then is a pretty great thing. If it’s satire, it keeps us laughing and honest—a two-for-one bargain.
5. Love your laugh
Isn’t it just so weird and funny that everyone’s laugh is a little different, like snowflakes? Don’t like yours? Get over it. That sound ought to be music to your ears.
6. Laugh at yourself
If you make a gaff at work, don’t beat yourself up about it—instead, take a moment to laugh at yourself. When someone else screws up publicly, help to lighten everyone’s load by having a laugh about it (and don’t worry that the mistake will not be taken seriously; they usually are; the laughter just cuts excess tension).
7. Make a laugh-list
Start building a list of go-tos for getting your giggle on, so when you need some relief, you don’t have to look too hard to find it. Browse YouTube, ask your friends for their favorite standup bits, dig out your dusty old Seinfeld box set, or take to Netflix, where you can find an impressive array of full-length comedy specials.
8. Keep it nice
Don’t laugh at others’ expense. It’s the stuff of misbehaving children, and you’ll feel bad later. On the other hand, try not to beat yourself up if you do laugh at something that’s a little inappropriate. Humans do do that. (Yes, do do, that’s also funny.)
9. Make someone else laugh
Having a sense of humor isn’t always about you. Give the joy of laughter to someone else—a coworker, a cashier at the grocery store checkout, a friend who’s having a bad day, even a baby—it’s guaranteed to lift your spirits.
10. Bring back the joke!
Time was people told each other jokes—well-timed little stories with punch lines—at parties, in the office, at dinner. Having a joke at the ready is often a very handy thing. It can break the ice and liven up an evening. Learning to tell a good joke can be fun too; it involves super-precise timing and a good feel for how the mind makes leaps when it hears a joke. As John Cleese points out, since comedy is about the unexpected—and the unexpected gives a creative and joyful jolt to the brain (which we experience as a laugh)—a joke can’t be too obvious. The well-timed punch line that asks us to leap just far enough is the essence of the joke. And then there are some images that just make us laugh, like an elephant riding a bicycle. If your friends don’t tell jokes, it’s hard to pick them up, so you might have to buy a book or search on Google.
11. Take an improv class
Improv is all about making those sudden leaps—together with others. There are rules— okay guidelines, maybe—for making improvising work (see Bookmark This on page 16). The biggest one is to be open to going where the other person is going, and to be willing to take them somewhere in response. You’re playing together. It’s about trust, but it’s also a helluva lot of fun, can build confidence, and will lead to some fall-down-laughing moments.