A Good Sense of Humor Prolongs Life and Makes Work Easier

Jennifer Aaker, a behavioral psychologist, and Naomi Bagdonas, a business consultant teach a class on humor at the workplace at Stanford Business School. Now, they are sharing their knowledge in the new book “Humor, Seriously.” Based on research, Aaker and Bagdonas concluded that a good laugh is not only good for your soul, but it can also lead to a longer life and a better career.

Jennifer Aaker (left) and Naomi Bagdonas (right)
A Good Sense of Humor Prolongs Life and Makes Work Easier

Hard Times for Humor

Bagdonas observed that some people believe our times to be too serious for laughing, but she thinks this is when we need humor most. The shift to remote working during the pandemic led to the rising of loneliness and depression rates, and many people felt extremely disconnected. When two people laugh together, even when it is through a screen, they both receive a mix of hormones that help strengthen their emotional bonds in an otherwise impossible way. Humor also makes people more resilient, creative, and resourceful, according to studies.

When Do People Stop Laughing?

The authors conducted a study among 1.4 million people in 166 countries worldwide, and it showed that people are not laughing as often as they should, especially after the age of 23 — the inflection point of adulthood after college. According to Aaker and Bagdonas, this mostly happens because we shift into workplace mode where everything is “serious business.” For this reason, a bit of fun in the office is badly needed.

Humor at Work

Business people talking in meeting
A Good Sense of Humor Prolongs Life and Makes Work Easier

To find humor in the workplace, a person should start by not trying to be funny. Instead, they should wait for the humorous moment to arrive. A leader’s job is not to entertain and make others laugh. A leader should rather allow others to shine and go along with their jokes, in this way signaling that humor and fun are welcome.

Mind the Context

Young people chatting, humor is the context
A Good Sense of Humor Prolongs Life and Makes Work Easier

Still, humor is one of the most contextual things in the world. Bagdonas advises considering three factors before attempting to joke — truth, pain, and distance. The closer a joke is to the truth and the real pain that people are experiencing, the greater the risk of offense also is. The individual differences in pain and distance are big. According to Bagdonas, it’s possible to joke if you look for elements of shared experience (lockdown) that are not hitting so exactly on the direct pain.

Be ready to offer an apology if the joke proves to be painful or offensive. A manager that is not open to apologizing will nip the opportunity of having humor and levity in the office in its bud.