The Serious Business of Laughing


Many years ago, when I was teaching bottom-line-focused teams of executives to make more money and spend less by reprogramming the way their brains were taught to approach every strategy in the book, I came to the realisation that they were all too serious for their own good and what they really needed was to loosen up.

I devised a rather clever way to take their minds off the “important stuff” and introduced the “anything goes” crazy wall. A sizeable portion of our conference room walls, well apart from our “important stuff” mapping, was devoted to the posting of impossibly huge, laughably unattainable “no one has ever done that before”, “how the heck could we ever make that happen” goals.

Predictably, the wall stood empty while the “important stuff” gathered steam all around it … until some brave soul moved hesitantly away from the pack with a roughly scribbled or sometimes drawn “crazy idea” and stuck it on the crazy wall. This caught the attention of another one or two brave souls who were getting tired of rehashing the same old stuff and a conversation got going. Over the next few minutes, the sound of laughter attracted a few more curious souls, and very soon more crazy ideas found their way to the wall, triggering off more chuckling, hooting and guffawing, and before long the whole group was roaring with laughter over each other’s “wayyyyy out of the box” thinking.

Laughter reigned supreme. It eliminated many of the negative responses to the intense stress they were under to perform, and it produced the abundance of endorphins they needed to see the funny side of things, do a 180 and think up innovative, high spirited solutions to their exhaustive agenda of goals and challenges.

Would it surprise you to hear that some of the best “crazy ideas” generated over their multi-day session ended up being adopted and implemented by the team with unprecedented success?

This happened with such regularity that I called my consulting company Too Serious! unLimited.

“Laughter can get through the keyhole while seriousness is still hammering on the door.” Terry Pratchett

The Healing Power of Laughter

“A giggle a day keeps the doctor away.”

The physical and mental benefits of laughter have been documented since biblical times. The list is practically endless …

  • From increasing our oxygen intake which stimulates our heart, lungs and muscles, promotes healthy cell growth and allows our organs to work more efficiently.
  • To releasing endorphins, the feel-good chemicals our bodies produce to boost our mood, reduce physical tension and stress and relieve pain.
  • Boosting our immune system response through the release of neuropeptides that decrease stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine and increase immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies.
  • Stimulating our body to produce our own natural pain killers to relieve pain.
  • Adding joy and zest to our lives, strengthening our relationships, diffusing conflict and enhancing teamwork.
  • Keeping us positive and optimistic through difficult situations, disappointments and loss.
  • And so much more …

In his highly praised work “The Anatomy of an Illness”, Norman Cousins writes “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep.”

Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring our mind and body back into balance than a good laugh.  Humour lightens our burdens, inspires hope, connects us to others, keeps us grounded, focused, and alert.  It also helps us release anger and forgive sooner.

With so much power to heal and renew, the ability to laugh easily and frequently is a tremendous resource for surmounting problems, enhancing relationships and supporting both physical and emotional health.

Best of all, this priceless medicine is fun, free and easy to use.

Are our Brains Programmed to Laugh?

Good question!  That’s a resounding YES.  We are programmed to laugh.  In fact, science tells us that we laugh much earlier than we begin to speak, and that laughter is not unique to us humans.  A sense of humor is fairly widespread amongst the animal kingdom.

I won’t bore you with the mechanics of the obvious interconnection between the neuropsychophysiology of adanosine triphosphate and normalpropoxynitrobenzene and all that gobbledegook that gives rise to a burst of laughter in your brain because everyone knows THAT…

Suffice it to say that the evolutionary origins of human laughter can be traced back to between 10 and 16 million years ago and likely played an important role in our survival.

Laughter is thought to have evolved as a form of social bonding in animals and as a way to express playful intention.  Laughter was the glue that kept the group together.  It signaled to the group that everything was OK, that there was no need to be anxious or threatened by what was happening around them.

Over the centuries, the brain further developed and reinforced these connections as a meaningful way to reduce the increased levels of stress and tension that we, humans, have to deal with in order to lead successful and gratifying lives.

A very stressed brain can only think in very narrow ‘fight or flight’ channels.  We revert to our earliest learned behaviour under significant stress.  This makes us vulnerable.  If we can laugh under stressful conditions, we allow our brains to find novel solutions to our situation.

Fortunately, we have also evolved ways to tickle our brains, chase away the cobwebs of seriousness and fill it with joy and laughter pretty well any old time we choose.

Try this:

  • Smile. Smiling is the beginning of laughter, and like laughter, it’s contagious.
  • Find your inner child and give it a good dusting.
  • Surround yourself with fun happy people.
  • Subscribe to a “joke of the day” newsletter.
  • Watch your favourite comic actors ply their skills and talents at making you laugh (Laurel and Hardy anyone?)
  • Join an online Laughter Yoga class.
  • Count your blessings. Actually make a list.
  • When a restaurant server asks you if there will be anything else, ask them for a joke.
  • Keep your nighttime reading to books that make you chuckle.
  • Play with your children.
  • Play Pictionary with your friends next time you get together.
  • Enjoy a night of karaoke. That’s always guaranteed to crack a smile on everyone’s face.
  • Chase the dog around the house.
  • Put on your favourite music and get up and dance like it’s 1999 and nobody’s watching.

Let me know how it goes for you.

  1. When was the last time you had a good rip-roaring belly laugh that brought tears to your eyes?
  2. What makes YOU laugh?
  3. What other ways do you know of to lighten up your mood?

Post your questions or answers below and read what others are saying.

What I’m Watching:

This is going to date me something awful but I grew up watching Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Monty Python and so many of those often black and white comedy shows that graced our TVs in the good old days.

You’ll find hundreds of them here.  Have a good laugh and click away to your heart’s content.

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1 year ago

Thank you, Cliff, for another very informative and entertaining blog, and for sharing the story about the group of executives you were leading many years ago. The crazy wall idea was brillant. I know that I don’t laugh enough. I promised myself after your talk to laugh at least onc a day (minimum). Laughter is so beneficial and an excellent stress reducer.
I have been a fan of Laurel and Hardy forever. That scene stole the show!
I was in stitches.

1 year ago

I think this work is a work of pure genius. No really.

Andrew Abernathy
1 year ago

Cliff, once again you get to the right point in the right way. Thanks!
PS L&H are still as funny, maybe more so than in their lifetime.

1 year ago

Great to hear from you Andrew.
I love L&H too.
Brilliant clowns.

Time for a catch up chat?
Merry Christmas.

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