10 Tips to Lighten Up and Laugh

You’re never too grown-up to laugh like a kid.

A man with a red handlebar mustache grins.
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Happy April Fools' Day! How are you celebrating this "day of legalized frivolity," as Steve Wilson, psychologist and director of National Humor Month, would describe it? We'd hope with a prank or joke, and plenty of laughing. Some research indicates that the benefits of laughter go well beyond the ever-important fun factor. Laughter may be a blood pressure reducer, an immune system booster, a stress buster and a friend maker.

Laughter can "make the unbearable more bearable," says Katherine Puckett, national director of Mind-Body Medicine at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Puckett leads Laughter Club (which is exactly what it sounds like) at the Midwestern Regional Medical Center in Zion, Ill., for patients, their families and staff. "I've had people say to me after Laughter Club, 'I didn't even think about cancer for the last hour,'" she says. "And this is someone right in the middle of treatment." Once, she says, an 8-year-old girl whose mother was a patient came to Laughter Club and reported back: "I didn't know you could still laugh when you're feeling sad."

Yes, you can laugh. Whether you're facing serious illness, or just stewing in a traffic jam, you're allowed to laugh and reap its benefits. But because we're serious adults with jobs (or without jobs) and responsibilities and bills and meetings, it's hard to remember. But we'll help. Wilson, Puckett and Karyn Buxman, the author of "What's So Funny About Heart Disease?" and a motivational speaker, share these 10 tips to lighten up and laugh.

Love your laugh. Worried that folks will think your laugh is loud, nasally or cackling? Consider this ancient sentiment: Haters gonna hate. Deflect this criticism and don't hold in your giggles, Wilson says. "It comes through your vocal cords, which means it has your voice quality, which means it's unique to you," he says. "Your laugh is part of your identity and self-esteem, and it's essential to who you are. So to inhibit it or deny it puts you in jeopardy for health and happiness."

Embrace positive laughter. "[Humor] can be a tool that you use positively, but it can also be a weapon," Buxman says. Anyone who's been the butt of a joke, a target of bullies or the recipient of ill-willed sarcasm knows that there's a major difference between laughing with others and being laughed at. As the saying goes, "The richest laugh is at no one's expense."

Don't worry about being funny. "There's a difference between being funny and having a sense of humor," Buxman says. No need to prepare an opening monologue, or to invest in a 12-pack of clown noses. It's OK if you're not the next Louis CK. Relax, and focus on enjoying and sharing laughs, rather than creating them.

Hang out with people who have a sense of humor. Take note of who makes you laugh and smile, and spend time with them. Grab a cup of coffee with your jovial coworker. Call up your goofy cousin. Social bonds and the benefits of laughter are well worth the effort.

Know your sense of humor. "Sense of humor is very personalized," says Buxman, who's partial to the "Big Bang Theory." But you may laugh at "Girls," or cat videos, or Tyler Perry movies, David Sedaris books or improv shows. Instead of thinking: "Why does everyone think this is funny?" or "I don't get it," figure out what kind of humor does make you howl and schedule time to enjoy it.

Look for humor."Every day, make a conscious effort to seek humor," Buxman says. Take a two-minute break at the office to watch a video of laughing babies (or whatever your comedy fix is), she says. Record a TV show that makes you laugh. Read the newspaper and look for goofy headlines worthy of Jay Leno's mailbag. "Start looking at the world through that lens of humor," she says. "And you'll be amazed at what you find." Keep a journal of all these little things that make you laugh, Buxman adds, so when you're feeling blue, you have a quick guide for perking up.

Play pretend. One of the patients at Laughter Club came up with this idea: Have a fake snowball fight. "Pretend you're leaning over, picking up the snow," says Puckett. "You're going to throw the imaginary snowballs, get hit by imaginary snowballs, and if you're feeling really mischievous, you can sneak up and put a snowball down someone's back." It's this "permission to play," as Puckett calls it, that will lighten the mood and, hopefully, cue the laughs.