How Your Sense of Humor Works

If You Want to Laugh More, Learn to Meditate


Dr. John Morreall, a noted expert on the benefits of humor for health and wellbeing, recommends the following demonstration of tension release. I think it’s remarkable, and I think you will too.

Sit up straight in your chair. With both hands grip the armrests or the edges of your chair as tightly as you can. Make every muscle in your body as tense as you can, especially the muscles in your face, neck, chest, and arms. Now, holding that tension, laugh out loud. Can’t do it, can you? You either held the tension and couldn’t laugh, or you let go of the tension in order to laugh.

Laughter and Meditation are about Letting Go.

Our sense of humor is often more available to us after meditation. Many people report that meditation is most effective in their lives when they stop trying to make something happen and just let go. In this sense, meditation is like laughter.

Laughter is both a physical and an emotional release. Just as in John Morreall‘s demonstration above, you can’t laugh and stay stuck at the same time. Laughter is about releasing your grip on your problems—and, more importantly, their grip on you. In this sense, humor isn’t a way of avoiding problems; instead, it is a way of assuming authority and seniority over your problems.

The image of meditation as an endeavor of grave seriousness is familiar in many traditions, but so is joyfulness. The Dali Lama, despite constant hardships in his life, calls himself “a professional laugher.” The crises we have to endure at times are serious. But most of us, thankfully, do not have to endure crises all the time. Taking things too seriously at the wrong time and the wrong place can be destructive, and needlessly minimizes our enjoyment of life.

The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.– Mark Twain 

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