And reams of other evidence support the idea that living with levity can help people feel better. There are small studies that connect laughter, humor and feeling amused to increases in optimism, feeling in control and life satisfaction, as well as decreases in depression, stress and anxiety. Research also suggests that humor helps us build stronger bonds with each other, with links to greater satisfaction in both romantic relationships and the workplace.
So, how do you cultivate more levity?
The idea of “working on levity” may feel a little forced. But, like building any other habit, practice helps — and there’s evidence that purposely creating amusing experiences has the same benefits as spontaneous amusement. This applies even to the Eeyores among us: “The capacity to experience amusement and levity is one of the ways that people can change,” said Caleb Warren, co-director at University of Colorado Humor Research Lab and marketing professor at the University of Arizona.
To wit: Dr. Ruch and his colleagues had participants take an eight-week humor training course in which they completed the following tasks in the name of science: They watched more funny TV shows, laughed louder or longer than they normally would, identified puns in media and conversations, and made self-deprecating jokes. Humor trainees reported increases in cheerfulness and decreased seriousness as a result.
So how do you try this at home, without the help of an official humor training? Here are some ways to start.
Look for things that are just the tiniest bit amusing.
Searching for things that are “funny” can turn levity into a chore. Instead, try noticing “what’s true, and a little bit delightful,” Ms. Bagdonas advised. When your angry kid stomps into the room, does she kind of resemble a tiny, drunk dictator? When you pass a dog park, can you appreciate how the entire affair seems like a canine singles bar?
Sensitizing yourself to these moments primes you to notice and savor them, said Heather Walker, an organizational psychologist who describes herself as a “recovering serious person” and runs a workplace consultancy called Lead with Levity (“lead” is not in reference to the heavy metallic element, but a reader spotting puns in the name of levity could be forgiven for reading it that way).
Create a levity diary.
Find time to record your amusing experiences. Maybe on your morning run, a man jogs past you wearing in a Santa suit. During your commute, perhaps the train conductor makes a completely unintelligible announcement, and you make eye contact with another commuter and laugh. These small moments are prime candidates for your diary.