Humor is a powerful Attribute. Why? Because humor incites laughter - and laughing makes us feel good. Often, we tend to think of humor only during the best of times, ironically though, it is especially powerful during the worst of times. During a difficult situation, finding humor can help calm, comfort, empower, and even encourage you and others around you.
This concept is not just philosophical - it’s biological.
Why Laughing Feels So Good
Laughter is an involuntary response, much like sneezing. In other words, when we are compelled to laugh - there is not much we can do to stop it. Suffice to say, the chemicals that our bodies produce during laughter are also involuntary - we are going to get juiced with them whether we like it or not. The great news is that they are all “feel good” chemicals - and they come in the form of two neurotransmitters and one hormone.
First, laughing triggers dopamine. This chemical tells our brains that laughing is pleasurable. Even in the most difficult situations, dopamine can brighten our mood and help us keep going — it's the neurotransmitter that says “this is good, keep doing this”. Next, endorphins are released, another neurotransmitter. Endorphins are the human system's opiates - they mask our physical pain. If you’ve heard of or experienced “runners high” you should know that endorphins are the culprit. It’s nature’s way of helping human beings be the endurance creatures that we are. In the old days, it often took many hours (sometimes days) to track down the big game, or find the right shelter - endorphins helped us by killing some of the physical pain induced by going that long. Finally, there is oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone,” that is released when you laugh. Oxytocin helps us form bonds and connections with others - it’s a feel-good hormone that shows up through physical touch, genuine eye contact, or even witnessing an act of kindness or generosity. As a hormone, it's a little slower coming into our systems - but sticks around longer than dopamine and endorphins. Which is why we can still feel good several hours after a good laugh. Interestingly, even hearing someone laugh or seeing someone smile can actually stimulate mirror neurons that cause the release of oxytocin, which is part of the reason why laughter is so contagious.
Admittedly, we all find different things funny, a joke that makes some people double over in laughter might fall flat on others, so what we actually laugh at is unique to our own taste. When it happens though - the physiological and biological response is identical in every human - and every human will feel better because of it.
Humor is also another way that we are able to endure. Cancer patients often feel better when they introduce humor into their everyday routine. During the COVID 19 pandemic, those who were able to find humor in the situation likely felt better through quarantining. Humor helps us endure hardships and optimize our performance along the way.
Humor’s Role in a Team
As you might have guessed, humor has a much larger effect on teams than you might think. In a team environment, the biochemical reaction that humor generates signals that team members will be there to help when times get tough. On a team with humor, the chemicals are working in our favor. Dopamine “encourages” courage, endorphins help mask pain, and the oxytocin forges bonds between members. Every high-performing team that I’ve ever experienced had at least one class clown - and they are an essential member. By making people laugh, they strengthen bonds and help the teamwork through different problems. This doesn’t imply that every person on a team has to be a class clown (that would probably be bad) - just that every person should have the ability to laugh once in a while.
Guard and treasure laughter and those who create it
Laughing can help you and those around you feel better. When things get difficult, even just a short burst of laughter can unleash a powerful cocktail of chemicals that help us feel good and persevere. So the next time you find yourself in a tough spot, think of that funny joke or story, and laugh about it. Then tell it to someone else. You will be giving both of you a true gift.
If you want to learn more about your own Attributes, take our assessments. Our Teamability Assessment will help you assess your humor Attribute.
Rich is a former Navy SEAL who draws upon 20+ years of experience as an officer where he completed more than 13 overseas deployments – 11 of which were to Iraq and Afghanistan.
❤️ Newsletter - Join our community of optimal performers
💪 Take our free Attributes assessment to measure your Drive, Grit, and Mental Acuity
🤖 Download the first chapter of my book