by Heidi Hanna, PhD, AIS Executive Director

Simple Strategies to Build a Humor Mindset.

I find it quite funny that April happens to be recognized as both Humor Month and Stress Awareness Month around the globe. And just by finding it funny, my brain shifts into a more optimal state for the day ahead. Let me explain…

Stress is what happens when the demands on our time and energy exceed our perceived capacity. When we have what we need to adapt effectively, this stimulus for change leads to growth. It’s what we call tame or tolerable stress, and it’s actually beneficial to the development of our brain and body. When we don’t have or don’t think we have the resources we need to meet the expectations or tasks of our day, our brains shift into survival mode, which hijacks our energy and attention to focus only on what’s seems most important in the moment. Unfortunately, without intention this usually means we’re stuck in a fear state, pumping out stress hormones that we don’t actually use, building up toxic inflammation in our body that breaks us down over time and ironically blocks our ability to problem solve effectively.

What’s funny about that?

I think it’s hysterical. What was designed to help us survive danger is now actually the cause of danger. Maybe not funny in a “ha, ha” kind of way, but the kind of humor that makes you go hmm. Here’s the good news. If you can find the funny in a situation like that, allow your brain to see the comedic irony and just pause to reflect for a moment, you will actually begin to release the grasp of stress and shift into a better state of mind. This doesn’t mean we ignore what’s negative in life, but we also allow ourselves to slow down enough to embrace the adventure of it all.

A powerful shift for stress reduction

Studies have shown that finding things funny reduces the production of stress hormones, decreases inflammation in the body, improves memory and cognitive capacity, allowing us to problem solve more creatively over time. And it turns out that seeing funny is a skill that can be developed; just like any other mental muscle you train over time. If you’re constantly looking for what’s wrong in your life, you are guaranteed to see it more often. But regularly seek out things you find funny, curious or interesting and you’ll notice life becomes much more amazing and amusing every day.

Build your mirth muscle

Humor can be divided into three types of experience: the physical expression of humor is laughter, the mental navigation that occurs when we recognize humor may be referred to as wit, and the emotional delight we feel is called mirth. When we allow ourselves to fully feel the internal giggle of something funny, there are hundreds of chemical changes that occur — shifting our state from surviving to thriving. All measures of cognitive performance improve, as our neurons are nudge towards expressing creativity, insight and innovation and turning down the noise of the stress response. Try it for yourself right now. Check out this baby laughing, and see if you notice a shift in your state of mind, and body.

By using humor strategically, actually planning time to experience things you find funny on a regular basis, you build a mental muscle that is more in tune to the humor of your day. Just like anything else you pay attention to, you experience more of what you focus your mind to see. So if you want to have more fun, play, and laughter in your life be proactive about putting things in your path that will shift you in that direction. Here are a few quick techniques to try:

1) Share a funny image with a friend every day via text message.

2) Add a funny cartoon to your email signature.

3) Create a funny playlist with videos you enjoy to watch during your morning and afternoon recharge break.

4) Go on a walk and look for things to find funny.

5) Find a funny podcast or YouTube channel to listen to each evening to reset your brain to relax.

The best way to create a new habit is to enlist the support of a friend, so ask someone to be your humor buddy and commit to share things you find funny as often as you can. Each time you receive your humor nudge you’ll be reminded to stop and reflect, and when you share you’ll not only find funny yourself you’ll know that you’re contributing to help recharge someone you care about. The more we commit to shift our stress for good, the more positive and calm our world will become. Little neural nudges can make a big difference when we’re all practicing together. And the more we can all see funny, the better we can collaborate to solve the stress of the world.