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LOL! It’s important

By Joanne Jacobs

Prioritise this before you need to think hard: 

You had to have laughed (or I’ll be suspicious you’re not human), and when you did you sparked up your brain in the best way possible to start a working day.

For innovative solutions laughter is invaluable – laughter makes it easier to think more broadly and associate ideas and relationships more freely. This is partly because to laugh – to get a joke – requires the whole brain. The left side effectively sets up the joke, and it’s the right half that ‘gets it’. This is very different to an emotional response, which is typically confined to one part of the brain. Laughter and humour, on the other hand, ripples all around the brain, relying on and affecting every part of it, even making new neural pathways.

Studies have found that many of the games used in improvisational comedy training could be effectively adapted to product design idea generation – and have found that doing these (and having a bloody good laugh in the process), increased idea output by an average of 37% in brainstorming sessions held after the exercises.

Laughter is not unique to humans – bonobos laugh a lot (and have sex a lot, and live in female-governed communities, and play even as adults, and are rarely violent – is there correlation? There’s a whole other blog there). Those animals that laugh, like humans, most likely developed the habit for pleasant cohabitation in groups – which for them (and us), means a better chance at survival.

Laughter bonds – it’s a form of communication. Conversations that include laughter last longer, people who laugh together are more tolerant of each other, and it lowers stress levels. It’s the simplest and probably the most pleasurable way to have a team work well together.

Laughter lowers the levels of our stress hormone – cortisol – which in turn improves short-term memory (both the creation of memories and the recollection). Learning (creating new memories), and delayed recall become more challenging as we age but even simply enjoying some humour rather than #ROLF increases endorphins, sending dopamine to the brain, makes the immune system work better, and changes brain waves to ‘gamma frequency’ – amping memory and recall.

Humour helps us overcome the brain’s strong negativity bias. We are geared to have clearer memories (so greater awareness), of negative experiences over the positive. It makes sense for a caveman to be acutely attuned to rustles in the bushes, but in modern working life negative bias means we’re not effectively able to assess innovative ways of working, or new products etc. unless we work on getting more in touch with what is positive about these things, which makes us less risk, and change, averse.

On average children laugh 400 times a day, while adults only laugh on average 15 times. That, to me, sounds like many people are not just losing their creative abilities as they age, but also their sheer enjoyment of life. Researchers suggest that the minimum number of laughs adults need each day, to fire up the grey cells and be open to possibilities, is at least 30. It’s time to consider how often we are laughing (along with how many steps a day we are walking, or what number of calories we consume). 

The day I wrote this blog (and by that I mean ‘the day I watched the cream of funny cat videos’), was easily the most enjoyable day I had at work this month. 

I’ve built neural super freakin’ highways to the video above.

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