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Survival of the Funniest? How Humor in the Workplace Lowers Stress

“I’m not afraid of dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Woody Allen

In a study at Standford University, psychologists found that telling jokes about terrifying, tragic or even horrifying events helped people cope more effectively with their stress than acting in a solemn way, and that optimistic humor served as a better coping mechanism than cynicism.

Part of the study involved people looking at emotionally disturbing photos (car accidents, dental exams and aggressive animals) then reporting their emotional responses before and after being taught how to improvise and reassess the photos in a humorous way. Those who reinterpreted the photos using more positive humor reported substantially lower stress levels. The Stanford researchers also found in a related study that the use of positive humor to re-frame stressful experiences increased people’s creativity, verbal fluency and cognitive flexibility.

I’ll give the last word to Woody on using humor to deal with difficult events: “The key is to not think of death as an end, but as more of a very effective way to cut down on your expenses.”

Michael Kerr,, 2012

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