One of the best ways for me to unwind is to watch a movie at home by myself. For two splendid hours, I can become fixated in a story other than mine. And if I can watch a movie that can make me laugh or cry, better yet both, I have achieved the winning combination for my ultimate diversion.
I recently watched “The Bucket List,” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, two of my favorite actors. It is the story of two terminally ill men who head off on a road trip with a wish list of to-do’s before they die. While some items on their list are wild and crazy, like jumping out of an airplane, many of the items are unbelievably basic, like “laughing until I cry.”
There is nothing better than to experience a prolonged belly laugh that makes your gut ache and the tears flow. Almost as fun is watching a friend or colleague get so tickled that they completely lose it. I have always been lucky to work in environments where there was a lot of laughter. Several of my ACUI Central Office colleagues have uncontrollable, infectious laughs that give way to huge eye-wiping tears within seconds. Even if you don’t know what they are laughing at, watching them cackle is fantastically contagious.
I can’t imagine the work day if I could not use humor as a stress-reliever. And while unthinkingly I can espouse the benefits of laughing, much has been written to corroborate what I know to be true. There are immeasurable therapeutic benefits from laughing both from a physiological as well as psychological perspective.
As many of you begin your new academic year surrounded by depleted resources, rising prices, longer days, and reduced personal renewal time, make sure you lead by modeling a workplace environment that is fun. I think some people perceive those who cut up as being less productive. However, I believe the opposite to be true. A work environment filled with humor increases productivity.
When I was at the Oklahoma State University Student Union I supervised mostly part-time student employees (information desk staff, night and weekend building managers, reservationists, and set-up crew). It was important that all union events from student meetings, to outside conferences, to banquets, to football Saturdays, to the president’s and trustees’ events be set and executed to perfection. It was stressful—based on the sheer number of venues, events, participants, and departments involved—to deliver on the high standards we collectively had established. And while our work was commendable on most occasions, we were criticized by other departments who did not think we were taking our jobs seriously enough because we were irreverent jokesters.
Therein lay two of the biggest fallacies of a fun work environment: humor and laughter at work do not correlate to not caring or decreased productivity. According to clinical psychologist Steven M. Sultanoff, in his article “Taking Humor Seriously at Work,” humor in the workplace is an asset that can help facilitate interpersonal communication, aid in building relationships, reduce stress, provide immeasurable perspective, and promote energy and engagement. In addition, the creativity quotient goes up exponentially.
Many years ago, Norman Cousins wrote the ground-breaking book “Anatomy of an Illness.” Cousins had been diagnosed with an incurable disease and given very little time to live. When he got the death sentence he checked himself out of the hospital and into an expensive Beverly Hills, Calif., hotel where the service and the food were better and cheaper than that of the hospital. There he watched old Candid Camera television shows and Marx Brothers films.
“I made the joyous discovery that 10 minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep,” Cousins said. “… I was greatly elated by the discovery that there is a physiologic basis for the ancient theory that laughter is good medicine.”
Cousins beat the odds by living a long life. So, if healing and regeneration can possibly be affected by attitude and laughter, can you imagine what they could do for the workplace? Think about laughter improving your ability to cope. Think about laughter reducing your anxiety. Think about taking a lunch break full of funny stories among colleagues and its therapeutic benefit when you return to the task at hand. Finally, think about being silly. Some of the best work I have ever done came while having a raucous good time.