Laugh Lots, Live Longer

5 screen-free ways to put more humor into your life

By Chad Patrick Shannon

How would you like to accomplish all of the following in one simple act?

• Relax more

• Better your heart health

• Find pain relief

• Get stronger

• Live longer

The simple act: laugh more.

Studies have shown laughter works as a muscle relaxer, increases blood flow, offers pain relief, and bolsters the immune system. One study in Norway showed that those who laughed more outlived those who didn’t.

Norwegian researchers reported findings from a 15-year study on the link between sense of humor and mortality among 53,556 women and men in their country. The team assessed the cognitive, social and affective components of humor using a validated questionnaire, and examined death from specific conditions: heart disease, infection, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The findings show that for women, high scores on humor’s cognitive component were associated with 48 percent less risk of death from all causes, a 73 percent lower risk of death from heart disease and an 83 percent lower risk of death from infection. In men, a link was found only for the risk of death from infection—those with high humor scores had a 74 percent reduced risk. The gender differences could be due to a slight decline in humor scores as the men aged, the authors suggest. No association was found for the social and affective components of humor.

The cognitive component is a fairly stable aspect of personality and may influence the way individuals attribute meaning to everyday experiences, says study co-author Sven Svebak, a professor emeritus of neuromedicine at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. In this way, it may buffer against conflict in social interactions and overall stress, preventing the escalation of stress hormones, Svebak says. When these hormones, such as cortisol, are chronically elevated, they suppress immune functions.

Although there is a genetic component that determines sense of humor, it is also developed through socialization.

“I expect that children who lack adult models for the use of humor as a coping resource in the face of challenges are less likely to activate their sense of humor to cope with everyday life when they grow up,” Svebak says. But if you had a humorless childhood, never fear—studies show people can learn to embrace the absurdity of life at any age.

Humor Heals

Where then, can you get more humor in my life? It’s all around you. Your relationships – spouses, friends, parents, kids, co-workers, etc. Yet, we often allow routines and ruts impede our closest relationships. We can get caught thinking about the future or dwelling over the past, which drags on enjoying the moment. When you hang out in the present time, you’ll find yourself being more spontaneous, and having a grand old time doing so.

Okay, But How?

First, a major trap. Finding entertainment in the world of handheld devices and endless access to content can be so easy. One can go to Netflix and find their favorite hilarious film or pick from a whole swipeable row of stand-up acts. No doubt, you can be laughing within minutes, but you still aren’t engaging with your mate, pal, your parent, or kid.

So, without further ado, here are five screen-free ways to inject humor into your life.

1. When taking a long car ride, play an improv comedy game.

There are really only two rules to improv. “Yes, and.” The “yes” part – always agree with the other person. The “and” part – add something to what they offered you. That’s it. I’ll give you the easiest game to play. Build a sentence together one word at a time. As the sentence grows, you repeat all the words given. My wife and I have had many laughs over this one.

Me: The

Wife: The dog

Me: The dog dentist

Wife: The dog dentist failed –

Now we have a good set up. What’s a dog dentist? What did he fail? And what will happen next? The games ends when one party doesn’t repeat the sentence correctly. The sentences can be funny but the big laughs come when the person mixes up the words.

2. While waiting at a doctor’s office or for dinner to be ready, doodle with your loved one.

You’re in a full doctor’s office and your eight-year-old kid appears bored out of her mind. Grab a piece of paper and create a world one doodle at a time. No agendas, just a willingness to be zany. Perhaps your child draws a horse. Then maybe you draw a shoe store. You’ll laugh drawing it and your kid will probably giggle and add something funny too, like a scooter under the horse. By then, you’ll have engaged in improv and injected humor into your life.

3. When waiting on a bus or a plane, or in any other public place with a lot of people, make up funny stories about why people are behaving a certain way.

Maybe you and your spouse have an hour delay. Spot a conversation 50 feet away and suggest a story.

Example – Wife picks a couple talking intensely. The Husband starts the story:

Husband: He’s explaining the importance of his underwear.

Wife: She’s trying to explain that they had to pack in a hurry, hence only blue boxers on this trip.

Husband: He suggests that the only boxers that make him feel confident are the red ones.

And this can go on forever, with new details, directions or even dialogue being added to the scene. I’m betting you added the next turn in this story, and smiled doing so.

4. Take a look at old photos, or a family album with someone. Invariably there’ll be goofy photos and reasons to smile. Sometimes, a great old and humorous story will come up.

True story: I once came home to find my wife and mother laughing hysterically. Apparently, my wife had discovered that I looked quite serious in many of my childhood pictures. With each new serious photo they found, they’d giggled more. Suffice it to say they both had very healthy hearts that night.

5. Take an improv, standup comedy, or a comedy sketch writing class.

You’ll practice your “Yes, and” and pick up new games to play with your friends and family. At your weekly practice, you’ll be laughing. And most improv schools have regular shows, which will create even more laughs.

Give any one of these activities a try and let humor into your life. Your healing body and mind will thank you for it. As an added benefit, you’ll find your relationships even more rewarding. I guarantee it.

Chad Patrick Shannon is a freelance writer, story consultant, and attorney. He has written articles, film scripts, comedy sketches, plays, and historical/legacy pieces, but he couldn’t have asked for a better subject for his first full-length book, The Best Seven Years of My Life. He lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and creative better half, Catherine, along with their dog, Stella.