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.