By Eric Barker
July 26, 2016
IDEAS
Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

You don’t laugh enough. Yes, humor can improve your life. Not too surprising, you say?

Here’s the problem: you treat humor like a nice thing that happens, oh, whenever. But scientific research is showing giggles, guffaws and jokes are far too important to be left to chance.

We’re gonna learn the best ways to use humor to make you happier, healthier, more successful at work and even to improve your relationships.

First, let’s learn the neuroscience of why we laugh. Why are funny things funny? What’s going on in your brain that makes you giggle so hard you snort?

What Is Humor?

Humor is your brain rewarding you for finding errors and inconsistencies in your thinking.

From Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind:

Your brain needs to encourage you to update your incorrect ideas about the world and, like giving a dog a treat, it rewards you with a burst of pleasure. Instead of a biscuit, you get a shot of dopamine.

From Ha!: The Science of When We Laugh and Why:

And so it’s no surprise that those who have more horsepower to update those beliefs are funnier. Yup, research shows humor is a sign of intelligence:

(To learn how to be funny, click here.)

So laughs are the reward we get for improving our belief system. How can you use it to reduce stress, build grit and be happier all around?

Humor Makes You Happy

No surprise — yes, laughing makes you happier.

From The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People:

Your brain really likes it when you correct those errors. In fact, when you’re stressed, you should be seeking out comedy like a bloodhound.

Meditation and calm music might seem like good ways to chill out but they pale in comparison to jokes. Watching comedy is three times as effective as relaxation when it comes to de-stressing.

From Ha!: The Science of When We Laugh and Why:

And don’t just look for laughs when the stress is gone. You want to be joking through the pain. Humor can be a great way to develop that “grit” everyone keeps talking about.

What do the grittiest people imaginable have to say? When I interviewed Army Ranger Joe Asher he said this was the attitude that got him through his incredibly difficult training:

Navy SEAL Platoon Commander James Waters told me the same thing about getting through his training:

And the research backs this up. If you want to be resilient, laugh. It gets people through the toughest moments in life, including combat and severe illness.

From Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges:

(To learn the fun way to make your life awesome, click here.)

So more humor means happiness and less stress. But you need to be serious when you get to work, right? Wrong.

Read more: How To Get People To Like You: 7 Ways From An FBI Behavior Expert

Humor Improves Work

Research has shown that humor helps teams bond, increases the quantity and quality of communication, and builds trust.

Via Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries:

Want to be a better negotiator? Tell a joke.

From The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny:

And just watching bloopers before trying to solve a problem made people more creative.

From The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny:

Want to be a better leader? Harvard professor John Kotter shadowed 15 high-level executives. What did he find out about their meetings? They’re far from formal and serious affairs:

Want to give a presentation like a top-notch exec — but you’re not as organized as you’d like to be? No problem. Just throw in some good jokes and people won’t notice.

From Ha!: The Science of When We Laugh and Why:

(To learn how to be happier and more successful, click here.)

So humor makes you happier and better at work. But how does it score in that category I like to call “helping you not die”?

Read more: New Neuroscience Reveals 4 Rituals That Will Make You Happy

Humor = Health

People who use humor to cope with life’s challenges have more robust immune systems and are 40% less likely to have a stroke or heart attack.

From 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute:

Surgery patients who watched comedies asked for 25% less pain medication.

From Ha!: The Science of When We Laugh and Why:

And when you survey people who have lived past the age of 100, what do you find? “They considered laughter an important part of life…”

Researchers have a prescription to improve your health that doesn’t involve medication: laugh for a minimum of 15 minutes a day.

From 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute:

(To learn the best way to motivate yourself to exercise, click here.)

So you can laugh your way to happiness, success at the office, and health. But what about romance?

Humor Improves Relationships

Humor makes you sexy. It ranked as the #2 most attractive quality.

From Ha!: The Science of When We Laugh and Why:

(In fact, humor is so sexy research shows you can predict how many women a man has slept with by how funny he is.)

What’s interesting is that humor also correlates with intimacy, trust, dependability and kindness. Not too shabby.

From Ha!: The Science of When We Laugh and Why:

And if you want a marriage that lasts more than 50 years, laugh.

From The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny:

Plain and simple: more laughing means less fighting.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships:

But you’re going to argue at some point, right? Of course. But responsive partners who know the power of humor can actually laugh together while they’re disagreeing.

And when I spoke to the #1 relationship researcher, John Gottman, he said this is key because it helps keep the two of you calm. Here’s John:

Want a quick way to give your romantic relationship a booster shot? It’s simple: reminisce about the timesyou laughed together:

(To learn how to be funny, click here.)

Okay, we learned a lot. Let’s round everything up and learn the simple way to put this to use and get more laughs in your life…

Read more: New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

Sum Up

Here’s how humor can improve your life:

  • Humor makes you happy: Watching comedy is three times as effective at reducing stress than just relaxing.
  • Giggles make you more successful: Jokes build trust, improve negotiations, make you more creative — and help others ignore your missteps.
  • Humor improves health: Better immunity, fewer heart attacks, less pain and a longer life.
  • Laughs increase love: Don’t reminisce about that vacation. Recollect the time you two laughed so hard you cried.

If you don’t have time for more comedy, you’re not doomed. Just spend your free time hanging around with friends who have a good sense of humor.

Not only will you laugh more because they tickle your funny bone, you’ll laugh more because you’re around others who are laughing.

From Ha!: The Science of When We Laugh and Why:

Need a laugh right now? Here’s Louis CK talking about turning 40 (NSFW):

In closing, why is childhood something most people remember so fondly? Maybe it’s because we laughed more then. Actually, a lot more.

From The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny:

Want to be as happy as you were as a kid? It might be as simple as laughing more with friends.

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This article originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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