Let’s face it. We’re all in a hurry. To get to work. To fin­ish a report. To launch a prod­uct. To learn the results of a test. And finally, to get home from work. We’re in such a hurry that we’ve mas­tered the art of mul­ti­task­ing, which is an entirely dif­fer­ent post in itself. This one, how­ever, is about focus: it seems that we’re distracted.

Our busy, con­nected, wired world has us focus­ing on sev­eral things at once. As a result, we are laugh­ing less. One researcher blames that on our frac­tured atten­tion. Peter Breg­man, an author and con­sul­tant hon­ing lead­er­ship skills of top CEOs, put out the word just before Christ­mas: We are too dis­tracted to laugh.

Breg­man posited, in a recent post on the Har­vard Busi­ness Review, that laugh­ing requires our full atten­tion. When we’re simul­ta­ne­ously talk­ing on the phone and review­ing a report, answer­ing a child’s request, or (yikes!) dri­ving, our atten­tion becomes frac­tured, ren­der­ing us unable to appre­ci­ate a funny moment with the laugh­ter it deserves. A com­ment that inspires a huge belly laugh from our live con­ver­sa­tions only rates a two-second gig­gle as we con­tinue to split our atten­tion between 2D and 3D worlds. Does that mat­ter? Is laugh­ter important?

Pos­i­tive, healthy laugh­ter is good for us. It boosts our immune sys­tems and ups our oxy­gen intake. It low­ers our blood pres­sure and releases “feel good” hor­mones called endor­phins, while low­er­ing lev­els of harm­ful stress hor­mones like cor­ti­sol. That phys­i­o­log­i­cal tango improves emo­tional health and increases energy and creativity.

There are lots of work-related and social pluses as well, such as improved pro­duc­tiv­ity, ele­vated prob­lem solv­ing, inspired coop­er­a­tion, improved mem­ory, and fewer employee absences due to stress-related health issues. And really, whether you run an inter­na­tional con­glom­er­ate, sell bicy­cles, or write com­puter code, there is enough seri­ous stuff in the work­place. Appro­pri­ate humor and the result­ing laugh­ter are the most effec­tive and least costly tools in the box to dif­fuse ten­sion in a con­tentious meeting.

Despite that good news, there are those call­ing out laugh­ter as harm­ful. The New York Times pub­lished an arti­cle on Dec. 20 warn­ing that the dan­gers of laugh­ter include dis­lo­cated jaws, headaches, her­nias, arrhyth­mias, and some­thing called “gig­gle incon­ti­nence.” So if you need an excuse not to par­tic­i­pate, here it is.

Breg­man agrees that there are times when he loves mul­ti­task­ing, not­ing that some of his tasks, such as deliv­er­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion, require a num­ber of coor­di­nated cues and actions. Those actions, he notes, are all focused on a sin­gle, com­pli­cated, mul­ti­fac­eted task: com­plet­ing a good pre­sen­ta­tion. It’s when unre­lated tasks are per­formed simul­ta­ne­ously that frac­tured atten­tion dimin­ishes our per­for­mance and enjoy­ment of the moment. We can­not laugh if we’re merely phys­i­cally present. We need to be engaged.

Want to laugh more? Being a results-oriented kind of guy, Breg­man sug­gests treat­ing laugh­ter as a met­ric, set­ting a num­ber of times a day to laugh and try­ing to meet it. I’m sug­gest­ing a sim­pler approach: be con­sciously present and engaged. If you’re doing it right, and you allow your­self the priv­i­lege, laugh­ter will come. When it shows up, make sure you rec­og­nize it and give it your best effort. Embrace it, enjoy it, then grab those endor­phins and put that sero­tonin to work as you return to your task, or tasks, at hand, refreshed and renewed.

1 comments
Richard Guereca
Richard Guereca

I love the funny ads the best.  A laugh and a flash of the product and it gets locked into my brain.  I'm a beginning blogger and I'm trying to use humor in my posts.  As my list grows, I want to email offers to my readers and I was thinking about adding a joke to my emails to give my readers a little chuckle.  Would this tactic get a positive response?  I guess if the joke is funny it would.  What do you think?  Thanks.