It seems like every day, a new workplace study finds that suppressing employee individuality is counterproductive. Organizations that encourage their employees’ humor and eccentricities do better than their competitors. Is this because people are more relaxed and comfortable working somewhere that accepts (and even values) uniqueness? Probably. Is it because things like humor and individualism actually increase the free flow of creative ideas and outside-the-box problem solving? It’s beginning to look that way…
There absolutely is a connection between humor and improved brain function. A great deal of study has been devoted to the negative things that can happen to the brain and why they happen. We know a lot about the effects of depression, fear, and anger. For some reason, the positive influences haven’t generated as much interest. But these influences are very interesting. Laughter, in fact, is not only interesting but is positively mysterious.
How does the brain know that something is funny? Studies suggest that on this is a three-part process. A cognitive element helps you get the joke. A neuromuscular aspect helps move the muscles of the face to smile and laugh. And a third emotional element produces the enjoyable experience of laughter.
Why is laughter enjoyable? It stimulates the production of a neurochemical called dopamine, which is also associated with many other pleasurable activities.
All of this seems to have some very practical benefits. Tests have found evidence that humor in films and videos can diminish stress and promote relaxation. How this happens is not entirely clear. Something is definitely happening on the biological level — the production of dopamine. But could laughter also simply distract the brain from whatever else was on its mind, so to speak? It doesn’t really matter. We’ve seen that stress weakens brain function, so whatever lowers stress will have the opposite effect.
At this point, I’m tempted to tell some funny stories, but I’ll resist that temptation and say goodbye until my next blog post.
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