If you think your life is too boring to be funny, joke’s on you: Humor is all around us.
Cultivating more humor in your everyday life is “one of the fastest and most powerful ways to increase overall health and wellbeing,” says Steven M. Sultanoff, a clinical psychologist and professor at Pepperdine University who’s a past president of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor, a non-profit focused on the study and use of humor. He doesn’t consider himself a particularly funny guy; he wasn’t his high school’s class clown and would never call himself the life of the party. But he’s dedicated more than 40 years to helping people benefit from the healing powers of humor. “The experience of humor and distressing emotions can’t occupy the same psychological space,” he says.
Adding humor to your daily life can lead to a wide array of benefits. Research suggests that it sparks energy, boosts brain power, improves immunity, curbs stress, and enhances mood. Some of those benefits stem from laughter, which is the physical response to humor, Sultanoff says. But not everyone laughs when they’re amused—and you don’t have to in order to reap benefits. Experiencing humor also has less visible effects; it shifts thinking in healthy ways and provides new perspectives. Plus, it leads to what Sultanoff describes as “relational fusion,” or the social benefits derived from laughing with others. “When you experience humor with somebody, you bond with them—there’s this moment of connection,” he says. “When people are bonded, they generally feel more relaxed, safer, and more comfortable.”
In other words, the benefits are nothing to laugh at. We asked Sultanoff and other experts for their favorite ways to lighten up everyday life.
Figure out what makes you laugh
Comedy is like music—we’re all drawn to different genres, says Kate Nichols, a New Jersey-based psychotherapist and stand-up comedian. Think about what kind of humor appeals to you the most, then seek it out as often as possible. Go to comedy shows, spend more time with people who make you laugh, and put on a funny movie “instead of that hard-hitting emotional drama you usually watch,” Nichols says. Social media can also be useful: Create a folder on Instagram or TikTok where you can save the most hilarious memes or videos, and then return to them when you need a moment of levity.
Identify at least one funny thing a day
We’re often oblivious to what’s in front of us until we start looking for it, so set a daily intention to look for humor. “When you wake up in the morning, say, ‘I’m going to find one thing today that I can giggle at or at least smile about,’” suggests Allen Klein, author of The Healing Power of Humor (and another past president of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor). “Then see what happens.” You’ll likely find the funny in unexpected places—and laugh a lot more than usual.
Relive your favorite funny moment
The next time you feel down, consider this prompt from Sultanoff: “Tell me about three times you laughed so hard you fell down,” he instructs. “Maybe you laughed so hard you had tears rolling down your cheek.” Visualizing a favorite funny moment is like a form of meditation. It’s convenient—you can do it anywhere—and it’s almost guaranteed to boost your mood.
Take a comedy class
Nichols started taking improv comedy classes after college, when she needed a new spark in her life. She remembered that as a kid, she liked making funny sketches with her friends and writing parody songs to make people laugh. “I Googled improv comedy classes near me, and there happened to be something 20 minutes away—and they were having an open house that weekend,” she says. “The timing felt serendipitous.” She immediately fell in love with improv, which led her to stand-up comedy. Now, she regularly performs around the country and world.
Can you still take a class if you don’t consider yourself particularly funny?” “Absolutely,” Nichols says. “A comedy class is going to get your wheels turning no matter what, whether humor comes naturally to you or not.” Improv in particular is “great for folks who are trying to get out of their own head, because the focus is being in the present moment.”
Train yourself to be quick-witted
Sultanoff integrates humor into his psychotherapy practice in a variety of ways. He recalls a client who had taken his infant to a hair salon on a rainy day, and as he was leaving, the stylist said, “Be sure to cover up the baby.” He spent the rest of the day ruminating, convinced that the stylist was criticizing him over poor parenting.
Sultanoff issued a challenge: If the man could go back in time, what might he say? The funnier, the better. Sultanoff was delighted by what his client came up with: “Don’t worry about the baby. He hasn’t had a shower yet today.”
It’s an easy exercise to repeat after uncomfortable experiences. Brainstorm quips, and you’ll “train yourself to at some point be able to do them in the moment they occur,” landing a one-liner in real time.
Master one joke
Many of us innately love to make others laugh, and doing so doesn’t require great comedic skill. “I tell people to learn one simple, good joke,” Sultanoff says. “It doesn’t have to be long.” Practice it, then use it in situations that need some levity.
Enlist some props
If you end up sitting next to Klein in traffic, you might notice he’s wearing a bright red clown nose. “The world is so serious these days,” he says. “I put it on, and I look in my rear-view mirror. It instantly lightens things up.” One couple he knows puts on clown noses every time they start to argue, immediately breaking the tension.
Sultanoff also encourages the use of props. After getting an X-ray, he likes to slip on glowing red thumb lights, tell the tech he’s feeling strangely radiant, and then give a thumbs up. “That person has a moment of joy with me, and then goes home and tells other people the story,” he says. “It’s a highlight of my day, and hopefully theirs.”
Don’t force it
Striving to be funny often has the opposite effect, so don’t put extra pressure on yourself. “If you’re exposing yourself to more funny things on a regular basis, you’re going to wake that part of your brain up,” Nichols says. “It’s just like exercising—if you’re working a muscle group over and over, those muscles get stronger. Think of your sense of humor in a similar way.”
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