Let Them Laugh

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:36 pm

Years ago, I was teaching at Marshall University. I loved teaching for many reasons. One of the top reasons was that I worked with a zany team of professors who were always looking for ways to inject fun into our work.

A typical move was when three of them knocked on my classroom door and pulled it open to loudly deliver the message that my belly dancing class was cancelled that night. The students loved it. I had to get revenge and found a few ways.

I enlisted a graduate student to stand up in one colleague’s class, and sing "The Star Spangled Banner" at the top of his lungs in the middle of her lecture. Masks and costumes were brought out long before Halloween.

We all were committed to our jobs, all serious professionals. Still, we gave ourselves permission to lighten up, to infuse the academic atmosphere with the particular and positive energy that healthy humor brings.

When I was raising my kids, they often heard me say, "Rule No. 1, have fun." I trust that spirit followed me into business and professional settings through the years. It probably has, as I’ve always had a serious belief in play.  

Nothing binds a team like shared laughter – the real thing, not some political chuckling when the boss tells a joke. A playful spirit wafting through an organization can relieve stress, promote well-being, release creativity, promote comfort and replenish positive energy. Employees want to stay in a place like that. They tell good stories about life at work.

In her bestseller "Positive Energy," Dr. Judith Orloff says, "Clearly, laughter liberates. Physically, muscular tension loosens, clearing the wreckage of exhaustion; emotionally, laughter raises your spirits and softens rigid defenses. In terms of subtle energy, laughter

bathes your system with positive

vibes that ease all that ails you. Studies abound lauding how laughter heals."

Quite a list of benefits for any system and the people in it – and with no outlay of capital!

Some of my clients tell me about the good-natured fun in their offices. One is an owner of a small business who finds all kinds of reasons to celebrate with her team. Perhaps it is just a half-hour diversion sprinkled atop the intensity of the work week; yet the atmosphere is lighter there. The people feel appreciated. This boss also brings her dog to work and invites employees to do the same. I don’t think there have ever been more than three dogs in the building on any given day. It does keep you grounded and happier, they say, to have a yellow lab sleeping by your feet in your cubicle.  

Other clients tell me about offices with lots of toys, kid toys available when you need a break from being such a serious adult. Marc Lesser, a wise man who wrote "ZBA Zen of Business Administration," titled one chapter "Sit-Down Comedy: Humor at Work." He defines sit-down comedy as helping people see the funny side of business. He says that work is a great playground, a grand theater for us to express ourselves and interact with each other.

Sadly, more often I hear, "We’re just not having any fun around there," or, "I start feeling depressed Sunday night thinking about Monday morning and going into all that tension."

From what I hear and observe, some managers seem to think that quiet worker-bees with noses to the grindstone and furrowed brows are the most productive employees.

Drones may be easier to manage than free, playful spirits – but they have no edge on productivity.

So what can you do to be awake and open to all the humor around you?

Lesser suggests you identify situations at work that make you laugh in a positive way. If you have trouble with this, look at what prevents you from seeing the funny aspects of your business.

Do you have memories of that rush of energy and connection after sharing a good belly laugh? If your silliness and laughter still tend to hide behind a heavy persona, spend more time with kids – they have Ph.D.’s in play.

The intuitive clown Wavy Gravy said laughter is like the valve on the pressure cooker of life; a survival tool. He wrote, "When you laugh at something, everything lightens up. Whatever tightness you have, that particular log-jam is broken.  The energy of your life force begins to flow again."

This free, available and portable energizer is only waiting for you to open the gate. I wish you lots of serious fun as you play with the lightness lurking in unexpected places during your time at work.

Jo Hawkins Donovan has a coaching and psychotherapy firm in Whitefish Bay and can be reached at (414) 332-0300, or at jo@hawkinsdonovan.com. The firm’s Web site is www.hawkinsdonovan.com.

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