Humour is sometimes thought of as frivolous and unimportant. Recent research is telling us the exact opposite. We now know that laughter alters brain functioning and boosts production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with the brain’s reward and “feel good” system.
It reduces cortisol, the brain’s stress hormone, and may even improve memory. According to James J Walsh, MD, there is ample research to show that people who laugh often actually live longer than those who don’t laugh as much. Few people realize that health actually varies according to the amount of laughter.
We also learn better through humour. A raft of research is now supporting the idea that learning is enhanced when we use humour in our lessons. When students enjoy the lessons, they absorb information more readily and they tend to remember the information longer.
Humour helps us to be more resilient. People who laugh a lot usually have a positive attitude and the ability to find humour even when things are not going well. Because they are fun to be around, others gravitate toward them and they generally have a strong social network that benefits them and everyone with whom they interact.
Thinking guru Edward De Bono believes that humour is a high form of intelligence. Understanding humour requires thinking flexibly: finding novel relationships, observing oddities in images, and making analogies. People who engage in humour can see situations from a new vantage point or come up with the unexpected. Just watch the daily talk shows such as Trevor Noah, Jon Stewart and Conan O’Brien and you will experience humour and intellectual stimulation at the same time.
On the social front, people are often seen as having a ‘sunny’ disposition because they can initiate humour more often. They tend to place greater value on having a sense of humour, to appreciate and understand others’ humour and to be verbally playful when interacting with others. Having a whimsical frame of mind, they thrive on finding incongruity and perceiving absurdities, ironies and satire; finding discontinuities and being able to laugh at situations and themselves. They poke fun of themselves and others with sensitivity to the other’s feelings.
Physically, laughter does more than make you feel good. A hearty belly-laugh has many of the same physiological effects as exercise: laughter reduces arterial wall stiffness, increases pulse, blood pressure and respiratory rate. It oxygenates the brain as well as delivers oxygen throughout the body. It stimulates release of nitric oxide, which, enhances blood flow and reduces inflammation. Vigorous sustained laughter even burns calories!
As parents and teachers, sometimes you might find your little ones driving your blood pressure northwards and making you start balding prematurely. When that happens turn on the humour switch. Turn a potentially nasty situation into a situation you can laugh at. Make a wisecrack or see the absurdity in the situation and find the “funny” in it.
Here are what 3 parents thought about the humourous side of parenting.
- “My three year old daughter asked me how it’s like to be a parent. I thought about it for a moment and then asked her about her day in school. Then I interrupted her every 5 seconds until she cried.”
- “Parenting is mostly just informing kids how many more minutes they have of something.”
- “Parenting is 80% making empty threats and 20% picking up miniature toys on the floor.”
Dr Henry Toi, Dean of Curriculum, Mulberry Learning.