Paul Osincup has always been interested in the role that humour plays in our lives. In a talk from May 2016, the professional speaker, consultant, and expert for corporate conflict resolution examines what it means to not take ourselves too seriously. He also discusses how humour impacts our interactions with other people, and how it can help us become better leaders.

According to Paul, we live in a world where interacting with others is no longer the only option available to us. Workers and staff are looking for mentors and leaders who are relatable, not so perfect, and on occasion, can even be a bit silly. Gone are the days when how seriously other people take us is directly related to how seriously we take ourselves.


More and more people are uncomfortable with impersonal and bureaucratic management and leadership. 60% of Millennials are leaving their jobs within the first three years because they feel like it's just not a good culture fit for them, and when asked to describe the character traits of the best leaders in their organisations, sense of humour is mentioned twice as often as any other trait or characteristic.  No one should be surprised by this, insists Paul.


Great Leaders, Great Sense of Humour


Some of the greatest leaders throughout history didn't take themselves too seriously, either. Abraham Lincoln is a great example. Once, when giving a speech, he was interrupted by a man in the crowd who repeatedly heckled that Lincoln was 'two-faced.'


Lincoln could have become angry and shouted back at the man in the crowd. Or he could have pretended he hadn't heard the remark and simply carried on with his speech. Instead, Lincoln paused, looked directly at the heckler and said, "If I had two faces, do you really think I would choose to wear this one?"


According to Paul, Lincoln's come-back is the perfect example of a great man not taking himself too seriously. Lincoln understood that humour has the ability to reduce the distance between people. It makes leaders seem more approachable and can reduce the stress of meeting them in person.


Humour Does More Than Make Us Laugh


Laughing can boost morale and increase productivity. It sparks creativity and trust. One of the best things that humour does for us is that it often leads to laughter and, as it turns out, laughter is really good for us.


Laughter increases blood flow and reduces muscle tension, with some studies suggesting it works as a kind of massage for our internal organs. Plus, laughing burns calories; one minute of solid chuckling is the equivalent of ten minutes on a rowing machine, according to Paul.


Even More Reasons to Smile


But Paul isn't the only expert to promote the benefits of humour and laughter. In her post on the Psychology Today website, author Emma Seppala cites seven reasons why we should all laugh more:


1. Laughter makes us more resilient


If you've ever experienced a bout of nervous laughter in an awkward or difficult situation, then you'll recognise that laughter can help us control our emotions in the face of challenge.


2. Laughter improves our memory and fights stress


Studies show that laughter sharpens our capacity to remember things, while at the same time, it reduces the stress hormone cortisol.


3. Laughter improves our relationships.


Laughter makes us more accepting of people we meet for the first time, and it helps us build and strengthen new relationships.


4. Laughter improves our health


One study involving diabetic patients found that laughing lowered stress and inflammation levels, and actually increased good cholesterol. According to a further study, this also works when you laugh while telling a joke, not just listening to one. Apparently, even the anticipation of a punchline can boost our immune function and lower stress-related symptoms.


5. Laughter helps us learn better


Trying to learn a new skill, hobby, or a language is for most of us a pretty serious affair. But research proves that a good laugh while learning can help us engage more with the subject matter.


6. Laughter makes us more attractive


When we come to choose a romantic partner, humour and playfulness are the two traits most highly valued.


7. Laughter makes the world a better place


Laughter, at least on a neurological level, is extremely contagious. Try it, and you'll agree.


Fake or Real? Who Cares?


One of the most extraordinary facts about laughter is that we don't have to be really laughing to enjoy the benefits. Our bodies can't tell the difference between a real laugh and a fake laugh. And children, says Paul, are more aware of this than anyone else. Kids laugh on average around 300 times each day, the average 40-year-old laughs about four. Even babies laugh.


Still not convinced? Then how about the well-documented fact that the most common regret of people in hospice care is they wished they could have stopped pretending to other people and that they could have laughed more often? In the end, it seems, most of us regret that we didn't have more silliness in our lives.


Life Is No Laughing Matter. Or Is It?