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Laughter eases work woes

Have you noticed all the glum faces in the workplace? They’re the faces with the mouths turned down or locked in a straight line. Americans have become grimly serious about their jobs. Changes in the marketplace have created a pool of anxiety and anger in employees who find they are often easily expendable. Their innate yearning for loyalty is being thwarted by forces beyond their control. As stress grips workers’ faces, smiling and laughing have been allowed to die down and sometimes disappear.

How sad for us and our society. Laughter is important as a biological means of healing and controlling stress, and although we know this, we don’t know we know. Somewhere along the line, we decided that laughter, while fun, is trite and unproductive. We even developed rules about when it’s okay and when it’s not. Let’s look at just a few. You may laugh at jokes, but you can’t laugh just because you feel like it. Laughing in groups is okay, but if you laugh alone, you are suspected of a little craziness. It’s acceptable for meetings to have some obligatory humor but spontaneous or sustained laughter is inappropriate. Productive people don’t laugh at work. Frankly, it can make you serious just trying to do laughter the right way.

It’s hard to say when we got so serious about controlling laughter in our society. We are increasingly controlled and controlling, and let’s face it. Laughter is out of control. Your muscles relax, and you could appear klutzy, spit out your food, or wet your pants. Your face contorts, you gasp for air, and can’t talk. You hold your belly while you make unintelligible laughter sounds. Dignified and professional is not the image you portray at that moment in time. But, oh man! It does feel good!

Although we pursue pleasure avidly today, we don’t allow ourselves to feel it when we have it. It’s hard to believe that as we laugh, we release anxiety and frustration and are better able to enjoy things, but it’s true. Since we don’t have to pay for laughter, flip a switch to turn it on, download it or have it constructed, it seems disturbingly simple—too simple to be a long term answer for feeling better.

Laughter, mind you, is not the same thing as humor. Humor is only one trigger for laughter, although a really good one. Other triggers might be tense or boring situations, absurd things happening at serious moments, embarrassment, or the uncomplicated, unsophisticated truth. Laughter is our body’s way of giving us a break from anxiety, frustration, and irritation. Without that release, we will grow increasingly serious and stressed.

If we can allow laughter at work, we will feel less overwhelmed and better able to do our jobs. An appropriate, playful attitude will help us enjoy our work and feel more positive about the people we work with. Laughter creates bonds between management and employees, and employees feel more connected to one another.

One major source of laughter is stress related tension we treat playfully. Boy, do we have tension and stress to spare! So a source of laughter is no problem. All we have to do is figure out how to play with our feelings while we continue to produce for our employers. Humor can help. Keep an eye cocked for the absurd and silly incongruities that spring up like mushrooms as we humans interact. Sometimes our inconsistencies can even make our society seem a little silly. Does it make sense that we work out furiously but will drive endlessly around a shopping center parking lot looking for a spot closer to the door? We drink bottled water because it’s healthier, but we use it to wash down such things as hamburgers, french fries, candy, and buttered popcorn. A chuckle at such behavior can lift our mood and erase a lot of frustration.

If you can let your hair down and play with a few simple, mindless toys during stress breaks at work, that’ll also help. (The key word here is mindless.) If you can’t openly play, think playfully. As a dreadful day drags on, you could see yourself as ragged and thirsty, crawling that last 100 yds. to the border. Try giving your projects silly names. A monthly quota might be "Quasimoto." A report due at the end of the day could be "Thumper." This can make a to do list less anxiety producing. Allow yourself a few moments here and there of word play regarding the things you’re working on. For example, you might say to yourself, "A dillar, a dollar, my results will soon foller." A little banter with colleagues can also really perk up a day.

The serious aspect of your work is a constant. If you can develop a playful aspect for yourself, at the end of the day, you’ll have accomplished a great deal of serious work in a light hearted way. You can leave for home with energy to spare. Wouldn’t that be great?

Americans are hard working people. We are famous world wide for our standard of living, our openness, and our ingenuity. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were also known for our ability to laugh and for the resulting warmth and energy laughter would contribute to our work and our total way of life? If you allow yourself more laughter, you will be able to enjoy your days, even look forward to them. You can slow down the frenzy you may be caught in and view things from between the corners of a smile. From the vantage point of your smile, all things will seem more manageable.

©1999 Enda Junkins

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