It's a funny story...

By Stacey Leasca
February 20, 2021
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Having a good laugh is not only good for your soul, but it turns out, it could lead to a longer life and a better career.

Jennifer Aaker, a behavioral psychologist, and Naomi Bagdonas, a business consultant, are two women who know a thing or two about funny. In fact, they're so knowledgeable they even teach a class on humor at work at Stanford Business School. And now, the duo is sharing their knowledge in the new book "Humor, Seriously."

As the duo shared with Inc., they've found plenty of evidence showing that having a healthy sense of humor can help in both business and life as well. In the book, they point to one study out of Norway that followed more than 50,000 people for 15 years. The study found that those with a sense of humor lived an average of eight years longer than those who without.

"Some people believe this is too serious a time to laugh," Bagdonas shared with The Guardian. "But this is when we need humor more than ever. With this global pandemic, the shift to remote working, loneliness, and depression rising precipitously, many of us have never felt so disconnected. When we laugh with someone — whether through a screen or 2m apart — we get this cocktail of hormones that strengthen our emotional bonds in a way that wouldn't otherwise be possible. Studies show it makes us more resilient, creative, and resourceful."

However, as the women found in their own survey of 1.4 million people in 166 countries around the world, we are laughing far too infrequently. Their survey found rates of laughter take a dive after the age of 23, or really, at the major inflection point of adulthood after college. And, as The Guardian noted, other research backs this notion. One study it pointed to showed that a four-year-old laughs 300 times a day while a 40-year-old laughs 300 times every 10 weeks.

people laughing
Credit: Drazen_/Getty Images

Why does this laughter cliff happen? According to Aaker and Bagdonas, a lot of it happens because we shift into workplace mode where everything is "serious business." And that's why they say it's okay to find a bit of fun in your office.

The women shared with Inc., it's important to start by not trying to be funny, but rather, waiting for the humorous moment to arrive.

"Fun is not a top down thing. It is not a leader's job to dictate the terms of the culture. It is a leader's job to signal that humor and fun are welcome here," Bagdonas said. Instead, as a leader, allow others to shine and go along with their jokes.

Next, the women told The Guardian, to keep it all contextual.

"Humor is one of the most context-dependent things in the world," Bagdonas shared. She says, consider these three things before attempting to make a joke: truth, pain, and distance. "Examine the truth, ask how great is the pain and is it distant enough?" she says. "The closer the truth gets to the very real pain people are experiencing, the greater the risk of offending," and the individual differences in pain and distance are vast. "We're in a hard place, but we can still joke about it," says Bagdonas. "It's looking for elements of shared experience, like lockdown, that don't hit so exactly on that direct pain."

And, if you're going to try to be funny, you better be ready to apologize if need be.

"When you decide that you are going to use humor, you need to be open to apologizing," Aaker told Inc. "A boss or a manager who is not open to apologizing may be inadvertently squashing the opportunity to have humor and levity define the culture."

Want to read more? Check out all their advice in the new book and more from their interview with Inc.