Harvard researchers studied the elements of a good life over the past 80 years and came up with one scientifically proven predictor of happiness: developing warmer relationships. Take note that this is not just relationships, but feelings of warmth between two people. In my opinion, one surefire way to develop warmth is to laugh together.
Neuroscientist Robert Provine, studied laughter and concluded that laughter is an important part of mating. Men are attracted to women who laugh in their company. His study showed that female participants laughed 126 percent more than males. Could a critical indicator of a healthy romantic relationship be women who laugh?
Regardless, both men and women benefit from the warm relationships enhanced by laughter so here’s some thoughts for setting the environment and increasing levity…
Laughter is contagious, which is why there are all those laugh tracks on TV sit-coms. I have learned from personal experience that you don’t have to be funny to make people laugh. You just have to find the funny in things. Laugh and others will laugh along with you.
I don’t tell a good joke or come up with a fast quip so I don’t consider myself funny. Yet, others have told me they consider humour to be one of my skills. I have come to realize that I laugh easily and that laughter is infectious. People laugh when they spend time with me so they remember me as being funny. I am not afraid to tell stories on myself (especially about my poor cooking ability) and I find being delighted is effortless. My advice is that none of us need to look for ways to be funny- we just need to look for ways to laugh.
In my corporate job I laughed so hard with those in my department that the CEO walked down the hall and asked if we were having a party! When we married I told my husband that his only job was to make me laugh. At both work and at home I find laughter useful in finding common ground, relieving tension and setting boundaries.
Laughing is a form of non-verbal communication. When you laugh with another you share and create a bond. Dr. Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist from Oxford University researched the role of social laughter on an individual’s well-being. His studies show that laughter fosters closeness the way grooming, patting, and delousing promotes and maintains bonds between primates. Gorillas pick bugs and humans laugh- these methods are one in the same to express that we are couples!
One word of warning: Humour is not teasing as that most often weakens relationships. Patrice Oppliger, author of ‘The Dark Side of Stand-Up Comedy’ says that humans derive humor from ridiculing others and punching down. What may be funny for those higher on the ladder is often hurtful for those below who are the target of the joke. Such humour is counter-productive when the goal is to strengthen the relationship. In fact, Mayo clinic found that aggressive and mocking humour is associated with depression and higher anxiety, which clearly isn’t a warmer relationship!
Laughing together could come from watching a funny movie but its more meaningful if the shared laughter comes from shared stories. Mishaps are worth their weight in gold as it is often the worst incidents that end up being the funniest later. The plane that didn’t take off and left you stranded? The toilet wouldn’t flush at your friend’s special brunch? Terrific! Think how funny this will be with a little time and space. When I was growing up and it felt like catastrophe had hit my Mom would say, “This will make for a great story later” and she was always right.
To develop the funny stories of your relationship say ‘YES’ a lot. For example, it’s my personal policy to never leave a country without a local spa treatment. Thus, I have stories to tell of standing naked in front of a roaring fire in Ecuador while the therapist hit me with sage brush and spit into the fire and another where a healer in Panama melted crayons in her backyard to cure my headache and it worked!
My husband and I like to travel and we recently made a list of our favourite travel memories. Many of them revolved around a funny incident and shared laughter. He is a fussy eater and we once stayed at a lovely inn with a very foodie restaurant. He forgot his glasses and couldn’t read the menu. I knew there wasn’t anything he would like so I suggested the risotto with chicken which was actually rabbit. All throughout dinner he kept exclaiming that this was the best and most succulent chicken he had ever eaten. Later in the room I confessed that he had eaten rabbit and we’ve laughed about that for more than 20 years.
So, say yes to life, delight in it, share stories and laugh. Laugh and your partner will most certainly laugh with you. It’s the secret to warmer relationships and a scientifically proven predictor of happiness.