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The serious business of laughter


Stanford’s Eric Tsytsylin believes we should be taking laughter seriously. He explains why laughter is a powerful tool for individuals and organisations to boost happiness, creativity and productivity.

Tsytsylin starts his talk with the popular YouTube video of a baby laughing at paper being ripped. The average daily laugh count for a baby, he says, is 400. For adults over 35, the average laugh count is just 15. As he puts it:

We are in the midst of a laughter drought.

He puts that down to tiredness, or stress, or unhappiness with our current employment situation. He claims that disengagement at work costs the US $350bn of lost productivity every year (although this clearly can’t be related directly to lack of laughter).

Tsytsylin reveals that laughter releases endorphins, our natural pain killers. It lowers stress hormone levels, lowers blood pressure, relieves muscle tension, and may even stimulate white blood cell activity. A Stanford study found that 30 seconds of deep belly laughter is equal to 10 minutes of strenuous rowing in terms of impact on heart rate.

A Wharton study found that individuals primed to laugh before a complex task exhibited more creative and flexible decision making, and greater analytical precision.

Even when the laughter was forced, participants became more optimistic, had greater perceptions of self-efficacy and more connection to their social group – effects measured for 90 days after the forced laughter sessions.

He believes there are small steps we can take as individuals and teams to chip away at the problem of disengagement through increasing laughter.

He quotes Zappos as a good example, as they encourage employees to be themselves at work, for one through the decoration of their own working space (pictured below).


He then describes how Hulu employees are given nicknames, participate in regular taco eating contests and stock their offices with custom-built air-zookas.

He gives the example of how Yahoo uses creative meeting room names to lighten the mood – meeting rooms are named after 80’s bands including Wham, Spandau Ballet and Haircut 100.

Southwest Airlines’ stock symbol isn’t SWA, or something else predictable, it is LUV, which they believe says more about them as a company.

Introducing more laughter into our offices doesn’t mean turning them into a circus, Tsytsylin concludes. It’s more important to do it in a way that feels right and authentic, representing what your company stands for.

Tsytsylin doesn’t recommend a one-size-fits-all approach for all companies to adopt, but he does suggest that for some companies it means having slinky springs and silly putty in the office, for others it means having regular team retreats. Or it may be putting rotating funny quotes in your email signature, or holding meetings where people can only communicate using pictures and gestures.

At Creative Huddle we regularly indulge in comedy, with Monty Python a particular favourite. John Cleese states in this video that he believes laughter to be the quickest route to the Open Mode – his term for the optimal state for creative thinking.

We also love John Cleese’s quote:

Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.

If you’ve visited our Twitter profile you’ll see that our ‘silly walks’ image borrows extremely heavily from Cleese and Monty Python. Watch the original sketch here.

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