Creative Nurse

Laugh, nurse, laugh!

Victor Borge, the famous Danish comedian, pianist, and conductor once said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” Infusing laughter and humor into your work life is a powerful tool that can improve communication, reduce stress, foster cohesiveness, and boost overall performance and staff engagement. (See It starts with a smile.)

Key takeaways
– Laughter reduces stress, boosts the immune system, and is good for the heart.
– Using humor to have fun at work builds a sense of community within the team.

When was the last time you heard someone say that he or she didn’t feel good when laughing? Probably never, right? The physical and psychological benefits of laughter are well documented in the literature. A hearty laugh shuts down the release of the stress hormone cortisol and triggers the release of endorphins, reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and pain and improves the immune system and cardiovascular function. When it’s shared, laughter binds people together, increasing happiness and intimacy. And humor can help shift perspective, allowing everyone to view situations in a more realistic, less threatening light that enhances teamwork and diffuses conflict.

Is it okay to find humor in nursing?

Wanting to bring laughter and humor into the serious nature of what we do every day may seem inappropriate, but situationally appropriate humor and playful communication triggers positive feelings and fosters emotional connections. These connections create bonds that buffer stress, disagreement, and disappointment and heal resentment and hurt.

Healthcare providers have higher stress levels and complaints than employees of any other field. Nurses are continually challenged by the physical nature of the profession, which requires the ability to work with multiple complex patients and meet the emotional demands of those patients and their families, while working long hours with increasing workloads. Daily pressures can lead to decreased morale and low-performing teams, but incorporating laughter and humor into everyday practice can ease distress.

Humor—the good, the bad, the ugly

Humor should be amusing and laughter-provoking for everyone, and when used appropriately it doesn’t require understanding social cues. Humor should lift the spirit and make everyone feel more comfortable. In other words, we should laugh with, rather than laugh at, our coworkers. Avoid sarcasm because it can be misunderstood and often targets others in a negative way. Racist, sexist, ageist, and other forms of discriminating jokes are bad humor and should never be part of workplace interaction. Gags and practical jokes should be used only when your judgment tells you those on the receiving end will find them funny. And always remember to be cognizant of the suitability of the time and place where humor and laughter will occur.

Why so serious?

Laughter is a natural part of life. Infants begin smiling during the first weeks of life and laugh out loud within months of being born. The average preschool child laughs or smiles 400 times a day, and the average 6-year-old laughs or smiles 300 times a day. The sad news, though, is that the average 40-year-old laughs or smiles only four times a day. As adults, we need to raise our laughter quota.

Start by not taking yourself too seriously. While ambitions are noble, being overly serious will weigh you down and reduce your chances of achievement. Levity fosters positivity, optimism, engagement, and successful navigation through the ups and downs of life. When you’re able to laugh at yourself and share your embarrassing moments, you communicate your openness, humbleness, and sense of humor with your team.

Have fun at work

Listen for laughter during your workday and move towards it. More often than not, your coworkers will be happy to share something funny because it gives them an opportunity to laugh again.

You might even want to recruit some new employees. The positions that need to be filled include Chief Executive Humor Officer, Vice President of Laughter Services, Director of FunRaising, Secretary of Humor, and Laughter Ambassador. And don’t forget to onboard a Levity Leader, whose job it will be to remind others that they’re taking themselves too seriously. (See Invite humor into your workflow.)

Go team

Seeing the humor in all the situations life has to offer is important. Sharing your funny stories with others and having them laugh with you will incorporate humor and laughter into the fabric of your work life, finding it naturally in everything you do. A sense of community and cohesive culture are born when a team laughs out loud and has fun together.

Kara Theal is the director of clinical information systems at Northwell Health in Lake Success, New York.

Selected references

Advisory Board. Health care workers may be the nation’s most stressed employees. February 13, 2014.

Agarwal SK. Therapeutic benefits of laughter. Med Sci. 2014;12(46): 19-23.

Gerloff P. You’re not laughing enough, and that’s no joke. Psychology Today. June 21, 2011.

Kraft TL, Pressman SD. Grin and bear it: The influence of manipulated facial expression on the stress response. Psychol Sci. 2012;23(11):1372-8.

Stevenson S. There’s magic in your smile – How smiling affects your brain. Psychology Today. June 25, 2012.

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