Your Neurochemical Self

Getting real with a 200-million-year-old brain

Three Ways to Medicate Yourself With Laughter

Laughter triggers endorphin and you can make space for it

Laughing is free and it has no calories. So why aren’t we laughing? Here are common obstacles to laughter and simple ways to overcome them.

1. I’m too busy.
The time you spend complaining could be spent laughing.

2. Nothing is funny.
What others find funny may not turn you on. When something does crack you up, it stops being funny in a short time. You have to keep foraging for humor instead of waiting for it to come to you. 

3. I’d rather be real.
If you’re goal-oriented, you may hate the aimlessness it takes to find laughter. If you’re a partier, you may hate the vulnerability it takes to have authentic laughter rather than forced cheer. Maybe you’re too nice for mean-spirited humor, but too sophisticated for “nice” humor. Maybe you're too responsible for silliness, but too casual to follow your funny bone to places your friends are not going to. You may need to transcend your image of yourself before your body will laugh.

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Shouldn’t it be spontaneous?
You may think laughing shouldn’t require a time budget and a new self-image. Spontaneity is nice, but you will miss out on endorphin if you count on it. Old habits lead to old humor, which stops being funny after a while (especially put-down humor). You can find new humor if you look in new places. If your friends are looking in old places, you can look on your own. You'll like the endorphin reward.

Endorphin is hard to come by
The brain releases endorphin in response to physical pain. The euphoric feeling masks pain, which enabled our ancestors to seek safety when injured. We were not meant to be high on endorphin all the time. It would be foolish to create pain just to stimulate endorphin. Laughing stretches your innards in a way they usually don't get stretched. Like a massage, the controlled distress relieves tension. You may tense up again soon, which is why you need to laugh often.

To each his own
I don’t enjoy most of what others find funny. Put downs of public officials don’t make me laugh, nor do tales of intoxication. But I laughed really hard at this skit about a book club fighting over whether to pronounce “Sartre” with one syllable or two. I have lived in a world where people battled over trivia. Watching such battles on stage makes them feel safe, which gives my inner mammal a nice sense of relief.

Humor = relief

Everyone needs relief because your inner mammal knows that you are threatened as long as you’re alive. Humor makes threats feel more managable. Anything that's funny to you is worth making space for in your life. I make space for my local improv theater. The core principle of improv is saying “yes” to suggestions and then making sense of them. Great examples are herehere, and here. If you don’t believe they are making up every word on the spot, take an improv class and you will learn how they do it.

Some laughs come when I don’t expect it. Last week I went to an entrepreneurship lecture and it ended up being hilariously funny. The speaker was the founder of Betabrands, a company that makes clothing that’s funny so people want to talk about it and forward it. He started with Cordarounds - corduroy pants with horizontal rather than vertical wales. The pants reduce friction, which lowers your Crotch Heat Index. That’s funny! The company went on to sell socks with insurance - if you lose one, they send you a spare. That’s funny! I hate to promote products, but Chris Lindland had me laughing again and again so I had to mention this. I hate to promote crotch humor, but here is his statistical analysis of how crotch ads perform on social media. (scroll down) I did not expect to laugh so hard when I went to this talk, and it rewarded me for trying new things.

My book Meet Your Happy Chemicals: Dopamine, Endorphin, Oxytocin, Serotonin shows how you can wire in new happy habits in 45 days, and rid yourself of unwanted "happy habits."

Loretta Graziano Breuning, Ph.D., is the author of Meet Your Happy Chemicals and founder of the Inner Mammal Institute.

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