You probably know that laughter is a stress reliever. But you don’t have to be getting your funny-bone full-on tickled to experience the emotion of amusement. Which is the ability to see the lightness and humor in a situation. It requires you to take more of an observer stance than to feel like you’re completely enmeshed in a circumstance, and that mental distance gives you some space to process. And it helps you not take yourself overly seriously, which is super helpful.
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Amusement has been shown by science to act like a boundary or a buffer against negative states of mind or external experiences
And beyond your own self, amusement has also been shown to help foster bonds to other people. Which is something humans need to survive, both physically and emotionally. Let’s hear it for amusement!
I don’t know about you but I didn’t expect to see amusement on a list of positive emotions. Although it is not only very legitimately a positive emotion of its own, it also has been shown to be more effective than other positive emotions in certain instances.
A 2014 study conducted by researchers at the University of Zurich compared the effectiveness of three different activities designed to boost positive emotions on self-reported indicators of both happiness and depression. And compared that to a placebo group who received no intervention. The study enrolled a total of 163 females aged 50–79 for one and completed questionnaires on their happiness and depressive symptoms five times. (Pre- and post-test, and then again 1, 3, and 6 months).
This group of females was either told to do one of three activities designed to foster a specific positive emotion. A gratitude visit, where you write a letter thanking someone and then read it to them. A three good things exercise, where you write down at the end of the day three things that went well and reflect on why. And a three funny things exercise, where you write down–you guessed it–three funny things that happened and reflect on why they were funny. Or a placebo exercise where you thought about childhood memories.
And the exercise that outperformed the others in terms of reducing symptoms of depression was the three funny things exercise. Boom! Funny isn’t frivolous. Of course, you don’t want your laughs to come at the expense of another person, but laughter really is good medicine.
I’ve got a funny story about a time amusement saved my bacon
It was the time that I went on the Today Show.
First, yes, girl, I was on the Today Show! At the time my first book, The Anywhere Anytime Chill Guide had just come out. And I was writing regularly for Body + Soul magazine. The magazine was based in Boston, and I lived in Brooklyn. One of my editors was scheduled to go on the Today show and talk about stress relievers. But for some reason that I can no longer recall, she couldn’t get out of Boston and to New York City where the Today show was filmed. She knew about my book and that I lived close by and recommended me. I wrote up a pitch and they booked me.
At the time, I also had a newborn, so I hadn’t been leaving the house much at all. As excited as I was to be on the show, the thought of getting up and making myself presentable in time for a 5:30 am call was a big deal. The producer sent a car service to pick me up so that definitely helped. And then I spent an hour in the hair and make up station getting camera ready. Where I sat next to Barbara Corcoran, whom you might know from Shark Tank, and Steadman Graham, aka Mr. Oprah. So I could kind of geek out on the semi-famous people I was in close proximity to.
But when it was finally my time to go on set, my knees were knocking
I’m sitting in my chair and the PA is fiddling with the wires on my mike which are threaded under my shirt. I feel something itchy on my chest and pull out the lip of my sweater to see what it might be. I flip the neckline of my sweater inside out and there is the big white tag. It turns out I am wearing my sweater backwards and am going live on national TV in less than a minute!! The camera guys saw it, the PA saw it, the woman who was interviewing me saw it, and we all burst out laughing. Like, big belly laughs. And you know what? It was the perfect thing to shift me out of that deer-in-headlights stressed out mode and in to the present moment.
That is a high stakes example of the power of amusement, but it can also relieve stress and make you better equipped to do hard things in daily life, too.
Daily Tiny Assignment
Your tiny assignment is to complete this same three funny things assignment that the participants in the study I mentioned earlier did. Tonight, write down three funny, silly, or amusing things that happened today. To notice those things, you’ve got to put on your humor glasses. Maybe you spill something on your shirt right before a Zoom call. Or maybe it’s something someone else says or does, or something that happens in a book or a movie or a meme or a video.
Don’t just capture what happened, also think about why it was funny to you–which will help train you to notice other things that tickle you in that same way. Bonus points for keeping it up for a week!
And then notice if it’s easier to notice those funny things tomorrow, and how it relates to your mood.
Be sure to come back tomorrow when I’m interviewing Andrea Scher, who’s new book, Wonder Seeker, can help you get back to that fun state of seeing the world as a wonderful–literally–place.