Why Don’t You Laugh Much?
Four year old kids laugh 300 times a day — something that takes the average 40 year old over two months to accomplish
Listening to Stanford Business School Professor Jennifer Aaker interviewed on NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast about her recent book with Naomi Bagdonas Humor, Seriously, I was riveted by this comment: The average four-year-old child laughs 300 times a day, while it takes the average forty year-old-adult nearly two and a half months to laugh 300 times.
How is that we all have an immense inherent capacity for laughter, yet somehow that part of us gets turned off? I’ve got a hypothesis about the macro problem, as well as initial thoughts about the antidotes. Let’s start with the later.
It was 5am when I stumbled across Aaker’s podcast, which led with the 300 laugh comparison. My initial response was to ask whether I could laugh approximately 20 times before 7am? Opening Instagram for inspiration, I came across a post that piqued my curiosity by a good friend for many years, who’s now a leadership coach. The post was a quote that read: “There is a fundamental problem with feedback — it focuses on the past”
Thinking about the quote for a few moments, I tried to determine whether I agreed with the insight. Yet, before I could develop a point of view on its validity, a smart ass comment crept up that made me giggle…not once…not twice…but three or four times. Since my good friend is based in London, I decided to post an ironic comment, characteristic of dry English humor. My comment read: “If you post stupid shit like this again, it’s going to piss me off and cause me to lose respect for you.”
Proud of my art, which of course focused on feedback in the future rather than the past, I kept laughing up to about ten times as I made my way for caffeine and a morning work-out. I copied the image of the post including my comment and shared with three mutual friends. They all thought it was funny and two had funny comments to build on the line. One of my friends asked whether my friend who posted it liked the line? “Hmmm…” that was a fair question, I thought, but knowing him for many years, as a laid back and fun loving person, I figured he’d appreciate the art. As I worked out, I could not stop laughing about the stunt, and made it to thirty laughs by 7am. At that point, I started to reflect more deeply on why we laugh so little in adult life.
It struck me that we live in such a rational-dominant world, dating back to the Enlightenment, that we are only beginning to understand the immense power of our other capabilities — things like imagination and humor and social connection — all deeply relevant to unleashing our creative potential.
While on an elliptical machine, I texted about twenty people the statistic about 300 laughs in children vs. adults, while also mentioning that I had laughed about 30 times before 7am, and nearly unanimously, everyone thanked me for it. It was as if my text made their day, although several also wondered if I was high to be able to laugh that much by 7am (I hadn’t realized the date was actually 4/20). But, nope…just high on life!
People obviously feel an immense thirst to express aspects of themselves that get repressed by modern systems — from the way we’re educated to the way modern capitalism systems can soul crush us.
By about 8am, I had laughed about 45–50 times, and I started to wonder if maybe 300 laughs in the day might be achievable. I also heard a report back from one of the three friends I shared the Insta post that my good friend in London deleted my comment. “Huh, that’s interesting,” I thought. He must have taken it very literally. Naturally, this only made me laugh more about the post and comment, especially knowing how strong our friendship is.
As the day went on, I started to not only loosely track my progress towards three hundred, I also paid attention to what fueled the laughs. These were my initial insights:
Context: It’s all about context, context, context. Life is about the context we create…with the people we chose to spend time with. If you want to laugh, generative energy is necessary. If people drain you consistently, it’s not going to bring out your levity.
We are our relationships and who we surround ourselves with — choose wisely!
Inner Child: We all have an inner child who wants to come out and play. Of course, adulthood requires judgement, wisdom, and responsibility, but all responsibility and no play will leave us repressed.
Life Can be Fun: While we all must do the work of personal development and growth in life, and make commitments to family and our communities, the only inhibitor on fun is ourselves and our mindsets. Spend time with people who make you feel young.
Post-Enlightenment, we spend way too much time in our heads and in concepts, or mired in debilitating emotions or limiting beliefs like guilt or shame, rather than choosing the moment.
Goals and Success: I found myself wondering once again why we so often measure the wrong things in life? As Professor Aaker noted in the research she cited in the podcast, having more humor in our life not only makes us happier and feel greater well-being, humor leads to more successful career outcomes. What if instead of measuring personal productivity down to the minute, we measured how many times we laughed in a day?
Being Easily Entertained & Threads: If you love certain movie clips, keep them handy for the moments you need a laugh. Two clips brought about ten laughs each that day, one from Meet the Parents and one from Old School. I also realized how easily entertained I am. An example of this is that for several years I have been in frequent stare-downs with my neighbor’s cat Felix. This renegade cat frequently shows up in my garden, like it’s his garden. Felix is also quite alpha and fearless, often hissing at me…I hiss back! Each encounter with Felix, which may happen three or four times a month, is guaranteed laughs, just as the movie clips are. This is the value of threads: the laughs keep going for hours, months, or years.
Anyhow, I don’t know where I was going with all that…As my day approached 8pm, I went over 300 laughs (to around 350, I guessed), the greatest contributor being the Instagram post and comment. Wow, it was possible! That was very surprising. I was also surprised to learn that my good friend had de-friended me on Instagram, but he surely was in the wrong frame of mind because friendships like ours are the grist for a life of joy and fun. And the sheer irony of the de-friending meant only one thing: the laughs keep coming and coming!