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Joanne Stern, Ph.D.

Joanne Stern Ph.D.

What Made You Laugh Today?

Five reasons to insert laughter into your life regularly.

A mom recently told me that her favorite question to ask her kids when they come home from school is, "What made you laugh today?" I thought it was brilliant. First of all, it's a terrific, creative conversation starter. It sparks kids' imagination and takes the focus and pressure off their performance for that day. Secondly, it makes kids scroll back through their day and pull out what was cool and special. That's much more fun than telling you about yet one more math class, art project or recess game. And, thirdly, it helps establish a habit of thinking positively and looking on the bright side of things.

The other day a mom was telling me what happened in their household that morning. Her six-year-old son Josh dawdled getting dressed, pushed his breakfast around on his plate without eating and fiddled in the bathroom when he was supposed to be brushing his teeth. With every minute that passed, they were getting later and later for school and Mom was getting more tense and frustrated. She began to raise her voice and threaten. As five more minutes ticked by and Josh was no closer to being ready for school, she told him she was taking away one quarter from his allowance for that week. Apparently un-phased by his punishment, he hunkered down into his procrastination and another five minutes ticked by. And another quarter. Soon he was down to zero money. Totally frazzled, Mom somehow got him into the car and off they went-she was tearing her hair out; Josh was crying. And they were too late to patch it up before he walked into his classroom.

Sound familiar? When she related the story to me, I began to laugh. It just tickled me because I remembered those days when my two daughters were young. While I giggled, Mom began to laugh too as she took a different perspective and saw the funny side of the morning scene. We continued to talk about it, and she realized that she could have guided the entire episode into a different direction if only she had lightened up and looked for the humor when it was happening instead of three hours later.

Laughter is a wonderful concept to use with your kids-in connecting with them, in building strong relationships, and sometimes even in discipline.

How about applying the principle of laughter to yourself? Here are five reasons to insert laughter into your own life on a daily basis.

1. Laughter connects you to the positive side of life and to your own creativity. Think about it: Your reality is not actually what is, but how you perceive and hold what is. When you're negative, you're more likely to stay stuck in the same old, same old. But when you allow positivity to wash over you, you'll tend to find alternative, better options for dealing with challenges and achieving success. It boils down to this: when you laugh, you get more out of life.

2. Laughter makes you more fun to be with. I'll bet your spouse prefers you with a smile rather than a frown. Friends enjoy you more when you're upbeat. And kids love a happy parent. They're willing to put up with seriousness for a while, but they sparkle and come to life when you're fun. This doesn't mean that you should be fake or inauthentic. But it does mean you should be on the lookout for anything-even the smallest thing-that will put a smile on your lips and a delight in your heart.

3. Laughter allows you to enjoy your kids more. If you carry your burdens with you all day and hold them front and center, you don't even notice the adorable behaviors of your kids because you're too self-absorbed. When they say something cute and funny, it passes right over you and you miss the opportunity to connect with them in their world. They grow up so fast, and your time with them at each age and phase of their live is short. When you find the humor in their antics-whether they're toddlers throwing their veggies on the floor or teenagers trying to manipulate you into loaning them the car-it helps melt away your frustration and see your kids for the unique and precious people they are. A young mom told me that every night as she and her husband are getting ready for bed, they ask each other what was the favorite thing their toddler did that day. That question immediately thrusts them into the joy they receive from their child and provides a fantastic way to share a chuckle.

4. Laughter puts life into perspective. We tend to take ourselves, our work and our families all too seriously. Focusing on our problems doesn't help in solving them. It only gets us off kilter. Laughter restores our equilibrium. It doesn't eliminate the challenges, the responsibilities or the hard work required to create success at home or at work. But it's a breather that lightens the load. It's like a reset button to take us back to a more balanced place so we can start again with a renewed energy and a fresh spirit.

5. And, of course, laughter relieves stress. You can actually feel the layers of tension peel off when you laugh. We've known for years that laughter is truly the best medicine in the world. It boosts the immune system, re-energizes the body, diminishes pain and revitalizes the spirit. And, best of all, this medicine doesn't taste bad, has no negative side-effects and costs nothing.

There's power in laughter-healing power, restorative power, rejuvenating power. And it's fun. Now we only need to remind ourselves to laugh more.

For more parenting tips, check out my book, "Parenting Is a Contact Sport: 8 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Kids for Life."

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