Tomorrow (the first Sunday in May) is World Laughter Day. To commemorate that, I hope this post will create a laugh or two.
The title of this post comes from comedian and pianist Victor Borge. Growing up, I often watched him on TV with my family. We laughed a lot as we did. And Borge was right; nothing can bring two people closer than a shared laugh. Sadly, though, many of us have forgotten that.
My father-in-law, Don Harris, understood the importance of laughter in making and strengthening connections. Don never heard a joke he didn’t like (or repeated hundreds of times). He kept a pocket-sized notebook with entries in it numbered from 1 to 200. Next to each number was a keyword or phrase that reminded Don of a particular joke.
Don became a substitute teacher after he retired as a full-time teacher. When he would substitute in a class for the first time, he would ask a student to pick a number from 1 to 200, and then Don would recite the joke corresponding to that number in his notebook.
Most of those jokes were real groaners like:
“A man had a dog who ate a ten-dollar bill, so he took his dog to the vet. The vet said, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it; I know what to do. I’ll keep the dog overnight and call me tomorrow.” So the man went home and called the vet the next morning. “I’m calling about my dog,” the man said. “How is he?” The vet replied, “Sorry, no change yet.”
After many groans and a few chuckles, Don would shake his index finger at the class in his most serious expression. “Listen, students,” he warned. “Let’s get an understanding right now. If you don’t maintain order in this class, if you don’t diligently work on your assignments today, I’ve got 200 jokes in this little book of mine, and so help me, none of you will leave today until I’ve told you every single one of them.”
Not surprisingly, after such a warning, Don never had a discipline problem in any class he taught. And the kids loved him.
Behavioral scientists have found that the average four-year-old laughs 300 times a day. I believe that, as I recently babysat three of my grandchildren (ages 3 through 5), and they constantly laughed the whole time at just about anything. Dr. Seuss must have had my grandkids in mind when he wrote, “From there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere.”
Conversely, it takes the average forty-year-old two and a half months to laugh 300 times. Behavioral scientists sometimes refer to the lack of laughter among adults as the laughter cliff. We laugh a lot when we are young, but it drops off dramatically around the age of 23, or just about the time most of us enter the workforce. And we don’t start laughing again until after we retire.
Why don’t we laugh much as adults? Perhaps our lives are just too sad or challenging. But we should laugh every chance we get. Studies have shown, for example, that funerals, one of the most tragic events we could attend, are better for us if we laugh during them. People who laugh during funerals show 80 percent less anger and 35 percent less distress and feel significantly more optimistic about moving forward.
Humor works in business settings as well. Leaders with a sense of humor are more admired and motivating and cultivate trust. Studies show that people working for a boss with a sense of humor are 15 percent more satisfied with their jobs. And an amusing line at the end of a sales pitch increases a customer’s willingness to purchase by 18 percent.
Humor strengthens relationships and education, too. Couples who recall times when they laughed together (compared to those who recalled only happy moments but without laughter) are 23 percent more satisfied in their relationship. And students whose class material contained humor performed higher on final exams by 11 percent (and retained what they learned longer).
While I tend to prefer dramatic films over comedies, I am not afraid to laugh out loud at the movies. Here are four of my all-time favorite funny movie scenes.
In high school, my friends and I could quote verbatim the opening scenes from Young Frankenstein:[i]
My in-laws love fart jokes and stories. I am more of a human anatomy kind of guy. So, here is a hilarious scene from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me[ii] about a particular part of the male anatomy:
Will Rogers once said, “Everything is funny, as long as it’s happening to somebody else.” But I like this from Max Eastman better, “It is the ability to take a joke, not make one, that proves you have a sense of humor.” In the film, Liar, Liar,[iii] Fletcher Reede (played by Jim Carey) must tell the truth for one entire day. He turns this potentially disastrous scene with his law firm partners into repeated laughs because the head partner can laugh at himself:
And speaking of being able to laugh at yourself, here is a scene from Roxanne,[iv] a modern retelling of the story of Cyrano De Bergerac, which is my all-time favorite hilarious movie scene:
I still laugh at that scene even though I have seen it dozens of times. I hope you did, too. But if not, perhaps you are a person psychologist and author Anne Wilson Schaef talked about: “I realize that humor isn’t for everyone. It’s only for people who want to have fun, enjoy life, and feel alive.” So enjoy life with a big, fat belly laugh, for as Charlie Chaplin said, “A day without laughter is a day wasted.”
[i] Young Frankenstein:
- Production Companies: Gruskoff/Venture Films; Crossbow Productions; Jouer Limited
- Director: Mel Brooks
- Screenwriters: Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks
- Starring: Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman
- Release date: Deember 15, 1974
[ii] Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me:
- Production Companies: New Line Cinema, Gratitude, and Moving Pictures (I)
- Director: Jay Roach
- Screenwriters: Mike Myers and Michael McCullers
- Starring: Mike Myers, Heather Graham, and Michael York
- Release date: June 1, 1999
[iii] Liar, Liar:
- Production Companies: Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment
- Director: Tom Shadyac
- Screenwriters: Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur
- Starring: Jim Carrey, Maura Tierney, and Amanda Donohoe
- Release date: March 21, 1997
- Production Companies: Columbia Pictures Industries, IndieProd Company Productions, and L.A. Films
- Director: Fred Schepisi
- Screenwriter: Steve Martin (based on the play by Edmond Rostand)
- Starring: Steve Martin, Daryl Hannah, and Rick Rossovich
- Release date: June 19, 1987