Lighten your load with laughter
June 1, 2000
One day about a dozen years ago I did something out of character for me, prompted by several articles I had read on the power of humor. I got on the elevator to go to my fifth floor office with one of my Ph.D. students, which was unusual in itself because I usually took the stairs. I asked my student to copy my behavior. Then I turned to face the back of the elevator. A young woman got on at the second floor. Without saying a word, she turned and faced the back of the elevator. Presumably this was social conformity in action (a social influence principle I discussed in this column in February, 1995, under the heading, "The urge to conform and obey"). Whatever the case, my student and I fought back the urge to break out laughing. Two men got on at the third floor, saw the three backsides facing them, and shouted, "What the heck is going on?" We couldn't hold it in any longer. All of us laughed the rest of the way to the fifth floor. I still remember my mood that morning. After getting off the elevator I was playful and euphoric; not my usual serious, work-focused self. I said, 'Good morning,' with a smile to everyone I passed in the hall. I recall stopping to give one student genuine praise for excelling on a class research assignment. That day in 1985 showed me the value of humor. It can raise mood states, lift attitudes, and improve interpersonal behavior. You can put it to use for safety purposes as well. When people are in a good mood, they're more apt to actively care for the safety or health of another person. Plus, the creative use of humor can improve group presentations and one-on-one interaction.