“If you can laugh together, you can work together.” Robert Orben
Let me tell you a true story. A busy, stressed executive confided that it was increasingly common for him to argue with his wife within minutes of walking into his home, and to his dismay, often within earshot of his young child. On one particular day, he parked his car and paused outside the front door. He remembered three stress-reducing techniques, especially the smiling one. He took a few minutes to carry out the relaxing practical exercises and then he entered his home and greeted his wife with a smile and a hug. He later shared that on that occasion, even though his wife was agitated and annoyed, he was calm and able to listen with compassion rather than being cross. What surprised and delighted him was that his child witnessed the loving exchange and remarked on how “Daddy was fun.” He felt sure that they all slept better because he accessed self-care after practicing short, easy, but powerful mood-changing exercises. His story cemented what I have witnessed and heard, time and time again: accessing more support for yourself spreads well-being to those in proximity and even further afield. Self-care is contagious. Yes, self-care with smiling! I will share the easy but powerful smiling method later in this article.
Smiling is the start of laughter. Both smiling and laughter are some of the best tools in your workbag for success, even more so in a changing world, to spread support and stability. The pandemic is a serious matter, but laughter provides us with an additional form of support and more resources for us to cope. A busy self-employed mother shared that laughing helped her feel her power and connect more with others—two things that are reduced for many during the current global events.
Laughter is everywhere. No matter which country or culture you work in, you are guaranteed to encounter it. Laughter through humour (when used effectively) can prevent burnout, create a resilience to stress, release tension, and relax people. (1)
Relaxed, happy people are more creative and open to working with each other, and this boosts productivity. (2) When you genuinely laugh with co-workers, clients or customers, you create connection and more reception to ideas. The positive sounds of laughter can trigger a response in the listener’s brain, priming them to smile or laugh and aiding connection with the other person. (3) Shared laughter promotes relationship well-being. (4) Relaxation that results from a bout of laughter reduces the stress response and triggers the release of endorphins, which helps workers to feel more relaxed both physically and emotionally. Those who are high in humorous character traits are reported to leverage higher levels of positive affect in stressful situations, and to see a potentially stressful event as a positive challenge rather than a threat. (5)
Laughter and humour can serve as a useful measure of just how healthy and well-functioning a team or workplace is. Laughter around the office likely indicates that people are getting along, are highly motivated and work in a positive, open and supportive atmosphere. In a changing world, adding short well-being sessions such as laughter well-being (akin to laughter yoga; the yoga part refers to healthy breathing and the sessions are seated) to video meetings helps maintain cohesion and connection between remote workers and individuals who are juggling work and family. A fifteen-minute session of facilitated but appropriate laughter can generate more mental and physical well-being. Laughter can be viewed as the sound of bonding and collaboration, great signs of a productive team. Beckman, Regier & Young (6) reported that laughter sessions are an effective tool to improve workplace performance.
* Laughter breaks down barriers and trust emerges
* Laughter is a social tool and supports team building
* Laughter helps conflict and reduces tension
A habit of genuinely smiling more at work can force your brain to associate this positivity with your workplace, therefore increasing the satisfaction that you feel with your job. Smiles are contagious and create harmony among co-workers. A warm smile to one co-worker can create a chain effect of kindness and warmth and convey confidence in your abilities. Smiling with your eyes as well as your mouth (a Duchenne smile) can help lift your mood, calm you down, and strengthen your connections with other people. Such a smile is quite persuasive and often associated with positive customer service experiences. (7) Do you often flash a fake smile at work or on a video call? Perhaps to get through the working day or hide your inner unhappiness? Perhaps you have been asked to smile more at your customers? Research suggests that this may have unexpected consequences, such as worsening your mood and causing you to withdraw from the tasks at hand. Workers found to engage in fake smiling (known as ‘surface acting’) had worse moods as opposed to ‘deep acting’ where they generated genuine smiles through positive thoughts. Smiling for the sake of smiling can lead to emotional exhaustion and withdrawal and is not great for organisations. When workers smiled through deeper efforts (by cultivating pleasant thoughts and memories), their moods improved and their productivity increased. Hence a genuine smile can not only improve your mood but can make you more productive too. (8) Many people have shared with me that, in this age of mask-wearing, they can pinpoint ‘smiling eyes’ despite the mouth cover or mask. Genuine smiles engage the muscles around the eyes as well as around the mouth.
The exercise used by the executive at the beginning of this article is one that I term “smile for success and connection”. Take two minutes to stop before making a phone or video call, doing an interview, or interacting with a customer or client (or a family member, like the executive). Start by recalling a happy, joyful memory of a time when you felt deep satisfaction. Remember an event that brought you comfort, happiness and joy. Visualise, if you can, the details, such as the people, sounds or colours associated with the memory, to enhance the feel-good sensations with your emerging genuine smile. This will help you to relax, create softness around you, and connect you with others in a positive beneficial way.
How can you raise a smile when it feels difficult? Smiling helps you to find relief from stress and pain, and allows you to remember that you can still enjoy life despite what you are facing. Firstly, sit down (if you are able), as this can help you access relaxation. Focus on your breath, which helps you to move your attention to your body. Close your eyes if it feels comfortable and picture a positive memory of joy and happiness, or think of someone you love like a family member, a friend, a pet or a teacher. A second strategy that works well is to move in any way you can that feels good and safe. Movement can help you shift towards a smile as it takes you away from your thoughts and back into your body. Choosing to walk around the room, or even swaying or dancing, can often help create an inner shift towards feeling better and lead to a genuine smile.
Read more in my book Laugh More, Chapter 8, where you can explore Laughter, Workplace Performance and More.
I wish you smiles, laughter and relaxation.
Sam provides mental health talks and high impact stress-reducing, and well-being workplace sessions for teams, meetings and individuals. Enjoy more connection, collaboration and communication in as short as a 30-minute session. Sam’s book Laugh More: Soar in your Health, Career and Relationships is available on Amazon (Kindle and print) and Apple Books, with a foreword written by Teresa Payne, Managing Partner at Parfitt Cresswell.
- Talbot, L & Lumden, D. (2000). On the association between humor and burnout. Humor-international Journal of Humor Research – HUMOR. 13. 419–428.
- Baas, Matthijs & De Dreu, Carsten & Nijstad, Bernard. (2008). A Meta-Analysis of 25 Years of Mood-Creativity Research: Hedonic Tone, Activation, or Regulatory Focus?. Psychological bulletin. 134. 779–806.
- Warren, J.E. (2006). Positive Emotions Preferentially Engage an Auditory-Motor “Mirror” System. The Journal of Neuroscience. 26 (50) 13067–13075
- Kurtz, L. E., & Algoe, S. B. (2015). Putting Laughter in Context: Shared Laughter as Behavioral Indicator of Relationship Well-Being. Personal Relationships, 22(4), 573–590.
- Vetter, Laura & Gockel, Christine. (2016). Can’t buy me laughter – Humour in organisational change. Gruppe. Interaktion. Organisation. Zeitschrift für Angewandte Organisations psychologie (GIO). 47.
- Beckman H, Regier N, Young J. Effect of workplace laughter groups on personal efficacy beliefs. J Prim Prev. 2007 Mar;28(2):167-82
- Gunnery, S.D., Hall, J.A. The Duchenne Smile and Persuasion. J Nonverbal Behav 38, 181–194 (2014).
- Scott. B.A, Barnes. C.C & Wagner D.A. Chameleonic or consistent? a multilevel investigation of emotional labor variability and self-monitoring. The Academy of Management Journal Vol. 55, No. 4 (August 2012), pp. 905–926.