Laughter Really is Great Medicine: we grow more resilient through positive emotion

#2 in 7 research-backed ways to grow more resilient.

What is Resilience?

Resilience is the psychological strength that allows some people to adapt, thrive, and/or return to their baseline faster after adverse experiences happen.

Dealing with change, setbacks, loss, and grief is an inevitable and normal part of life. Resilient people are emotionally agile — they don’t ignore “bad” things or negative feelings, nor do they wallow in negative emotions. They have a “fitting” emotional response — neither overblown, nor callous, nor insensitive.

Fortunately, a person is not resilient” or “not resilient”: you can always grow your resilience because resilience is a set of skills that can be grown through practice, not a static trait of individuals.

But what happens when “normal” for everyone changes dramatically and seemingly overnight? In times of extreme collective uncertainty and adversity, like that posed by our new COVID-19 reality, it’s particularly important we all practice resilience daily so we can maintain our health, compassion, grace, and equanimity in the face of change and fear.

This is the second in a series of ten research-backed ways to grow your resilience.

How does Positive Emotion Grow Resilience?

We all know that life is more enjoyable when we have more positive emotion — but did you know it directly impacts our ability to think creatively, to broaden our attention, to recover faster from colds and the flu, and to improve our overall health?

Physiologically, laughter and humor lowers our heart rate, relaxes our muscles — it’s a signal that the situation is safe, and that we are part of the group. We even literally see more — our vision expands on the periphery — when we experience positive emotion. And, as social psychologist Barbara Fredrickson finds in her research, it allows us to see beyond ourselves more metaphorically, in the sense of going beyond our needs, wants, and interests and being able to take others’ perspectives.

While we all look forward to the big moments — the weddings, the graduations, the arrivals home —

life happiness, and our resilience, is about the frequency of positive experiences not the intensity.

We could think of this as our “daily diet” of positivity.

With each new experience of positive emotion, we’re able to better put things in context of the larger, most important aspects of life; and, the more we wire our brain for positive emotion — the more we cultivate positive emotions every day — the easier it gets to experience and find again, even during tougher times.

Positive Emotion Practices

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1. Create Shared Laughter:

Victor Borge once wrote,

“Laughter is the closest distance between two people.”

While we cannot see as many people in person during COVID-19, that doesn’t mean we can’t have shared laughter. This is important for individuals, partnerships, and office teams. Develop inside jokes, share memes, play funny games, have a dance contest or a corny joke contest.

o How-to ideas: Do different design thinking or improv exercises with your teams at work to make sure you laugh together before starting meetings. Mo Willems has a great “daily doodle” that could be fun for friends, partners, or teams. Share funny memes, stories, gifs, with friends on the daily.

2. “Hunt The Good Stuff”

We’re wired as humans to have a negativity bias. And, when everything in the news is overwhelming and loaded with fear, it can make it hard to get beyond that bias. “Hunting the Good Stuff” is a research-backed strategy to counteract this — and it’s simple because it’s just about noticing and analyzing the good things in your life.

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o How-to ideas: Set aside five minutes each day — beginning, middle, or end — and reflect on the last 24 hours. What are three things that went well? Then, reflect on why each thing happened, why it’s important to you, and what you can do tomorrow to enable more of that good thing. Bonus is to set up a regular sharing of what you notice with a friend or partner.

3. Aim to Create 3 Positive Interactions Per Day

Aim to create three positive interactions each day, then remember them at the end of the day. This doesn’t have to be long discussions — even just a quick hug with a partner, or a three-minute FaceTime call with grandma or your best friend, or a smile and thank you shared with the grocery cashier will do. It’s important you see the other person, but otherwise, let your creativity run wild!

To Learn More: Barbara Fredrickson is a social psychologist who has done a ton of research on positivity resonance — the biochemical response that underlies positive emotion in connection. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, writes about building positive emotion in his framework for flourishing. GreaterGood has many resources to check out for fostering flourishing.

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My niece approves.

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Solving systemic problems to create a more just, loving world. Transforming education for human flourishing and thriving democracy. Co-Founder @ REENVISIONED.

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