April 1, 2021

It’s April 2021. Times like these aren’t very funny. In fact, they can be downright scary and sad. But, April is National Humor Month, and May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. So as an AAPI female who thinks she’s rather funny, I am going to claim and celebrate both these identities and refuse to let go of the possibility of laughter as a way to connect, empower, and heal.

Shared laughter and humor have always been integral to my work in leadership and organizational development, whether around issues of injustice and inclusion, professional development gaps and growth areas, or emotional intelligence and equanimity. I often feel like a misfit (toy) as an academic nerd/corporate trainer-coach/mindfulness teacher…and comedic improviser.

Enter stage left: Laughter on Call. When I joined the LOC team in 2020, it was like finding another home as it is fueled by the power of shared laughter. In 2020, I cheered on the increase in articles and webinars on how mindfulness supports employee wellbeing and engagement. But articles alone are insufficient. The good news is that some future-focused organizations recognize that compassion is a must-have non-negotiable to sustain an ecosystem of wellbeing. They know that compassion is not soft or squishy, but as Roshi Joan Halifax defines as “the capacity to be attentive to the experience of others, to wish the best for others, and to sense what will truly serve others.” Easy to say, tough to do.

Enter stage right: Laughter on Call. The increasing demand for Laughter on Call to bring levity to build connection, wellbeing, and trust in teams come from leaders who recognize that shared laughter cultivates compassion. Compassion in turn allows us to face reality and imagine a better possibility with greater courage and hope. Bringing shared laughter disrupts the status quo. As Sophie Gilbert said in the Atlantic, “to find something funny is take away its power.” After all, a healthy dose of humor is a differentiator of highly effective leaders who are adept at navigating teams through tumultuous times and make work *gasp* fun and motivating. In so doing, leaders create a shared investment in the vision, resulting in higher engagement and performance. So what are some ways we might leverage laughter?

  1. Learn from data all around
    Particularly during times of uncertainty, we must draw information, ideas, and insights from sources others overlook and include diverse perspectives. Laughter on Call’s work, for example, encourages participants to draw ideas and inspirations from their surroundings to connect with others with a moment of hilarity. Paying attention outward requires us to ruminate less on our internal chatter and instead find greater space to laugh at the absurdities of life, build trust, and connect with others.

  1. Detour from the routine
    Compassion requires us to meet reality as it is – the good, the bad, the ugly. It gives us the ability to navigate when even those things we thought were immutable go haywire. It allows us to challenge the way “things have always been,” invite others to imagine with us, and adapt accordingly. Laughter also relies on the unexpected. We often find things funny because they are precisely the opposite of our expectations and assumptions. Embracing laughter and forgoing routine is scary, but it allows us to consider what is possible with compassion.

  1. Don’t run away from joy
    Compassion requires standing in discomfort and still finding hope and joy. When we bring compassion, we don’t walk the world with rose-colored glasses, but face what is. Emerging research connects humor and fun at work to positive morale, motivation, and engagement. Laughter gives space for us to embrace the toughest times with compassion and nudges us to run towards joy. Those who will flourish in an unchartered future are those who do not fear joy. Rather, they create the conditions for laughter, wellbeing, and compassion.

Image by Gertie Gebre Photography