The power of laughter
Laughing with someone can strengthen your relationship, and it’s good for you too!
Earlier this summer, I spent a few weeks working with African refugees in Italy. At first I had no idea how to communicate with men who didn’t speak my language. They seemed to have had such different life experiences than me. After a few awkward moments, I saw a large sheet of paper and some markers on a table. I drew a simple tic-tac-toe board and soon had a few guys looking at the paper and waiting for me to do something. I taught them how to play and within minutes, I heard the beautiful sound of their laughter. We played for hours and cheered together as they figured out the strategy and started winning some games. When I returned the next day, I was greeted by smiles and they remembered my name. Throughout my time there, we found out we had more in common than we imagined. It later struck me that when we choose to learn something new, we are vulnerable. When we succeed at the task at hand, there can be a great deal of joy. Sharing that joy with someone else creates or strengthens a bond.
I quickly forgot this lesson and got back to work when I returned home. I attended a work retreat and laughed for hours with my colleagues as we spent time with each other during and after the work day. The laughter struck me once again. Our group is very productive after we have this time together. We reach out to each other more frequently. Could it be that laughter strengthens our relationships? PBS says yes. There are a variety of benefits to laughter including bonding and reinforcing the group identity. You probably know there are health benefits as well – both physical and emotional. Laughing can reduce stress, reduce pain, increase creativity, increase self-esteem and so much more.
What does this mean for volunteers who work with youth? The first lesson is to prioritize fun along with learning. Try to create opportunities for laughter and silliness and remember that trying new things can often bring on the laughs. When you look at the health benefits, it is clear that laughter should be one of the goals rather than a byproduct of time spent with others. Take a look at some age appropriate ways to develop humor and infuse laughter into your time with young people.