Why Being Able To Laugh At Yourself Is Crucial To A Happy Life

by John Haltiwanger

Laughter is one of life's greatest gifts. It makes our complex and often confusing existence decidedly more tolerable. There's nothing more satisfying than laughing until your stomach hurts, and there's an inexplicable power in sharing laughter with others -- even complete strangers.

Humor and laughter are restorative forces and, even in the darkest of times, can help us find meaning and purpose. To borrow from Mark Twain:

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

The benefits of laughter are instantaneous. There's a great deal of evidence laughing improves both our mental and physical health.

For example, research shows it greatly reduces stress, strengthening our immune systems in the process.

Thus, laughter not only reinforces social bonds, it's essential to our survival. When life gets tough, laughter is often the only thing that makes us feel better.

Captain Gerald Coffee was a POW for seven years during the Vietnam War. He claims he and the other American soldiers he was imprisoned with found solace in laughter, and it helped them make it through the harrowing experience:

Laughter sets the spirit free through even the most tragic circumstances. It helps us shake our heads clear, get our feet back under us and restore our sense of balance. Humor is integral to our peace of mind and our ability to go beyond survival.

Indeed, laughter is vital to our sanity and longevity. It gives us strength, both spiritually and mentally.

Correspondingly, research shows people who are able to laugh at themselves are much happier.

Don't obsess over the past, laugh about it.

Being able to laugh at yourself is a sign of resiliency and mental toughness.

It's one thing to find humor in particular situations, it's another to be reflective and self-aware enough to laugh at oneself.

We all make mistakes in life, doing and saying things we wish we could take back. Many of us likely have certain personality traits we'd like to overcome.

But nobody is perfect. There's no point in beating yourself up for being human. A big part of what makes life so beautiful and interesting is the fact we are all deeply flawed in our own ways.

We can either grieve about our imperfections or laugh about them. But, as Kurt Vonnegut once said:

Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.

This is not to say there is anything wrong with crying, as it also has many benefits. But the key to getting through life in one piece is finding balance in all we do, including emotional expression.

People who laugh at themselves understand the value of this notion. Instead of dwelling on missteps and embarrassments, they look back and chuckle. In doing so, they acknowledge, accept and celebrate their humanity. For this reason, they're a lot more content.

When you laugh at yourself, you radiate positivity.

A study from Ursula Beermann of the University of California, Berkeley, and Willibald Ruch of the University of Zurich, revealed being able to laugh at yourself is linked with higher levels of optimism and better moods.

Beermann and Ruch had 67 participants rate how well they're able to laugh about themselves and find humor in difficult situations. Simultaneously, they chose one or two of their peers to rate them on the same attributes. But unbeknownst to all of them, as they answered questions surrounding these characteristics on a computer, photos were being taken of them.

Subsequently, the participants were asked to rate an array photographs in which the faces of various individuals were distorted because the photos were stretched out. In the process, they discovered distorted images of themselves.

The researchers videotaped the participants' reactions to see whether they laughed or smiled when they came across the images of their faces.

Ultimately, those who rated themselves highly in terms of being able to laugh at themselves laughed more vigorously at the distorted photos of their faces. These same individuals had also received high ratings on this characteristic from their friends.

The researchers concluded being able to laugh at yourself is a distinct personality trait, and it was connected to the fact these individuals had less serious dispositions in general.

The lesson to take from this is we shouldn't take life or ourselves too seriously. We should laugh at the absurdity of it all and revel in both our positive and negative characteristics -- they're what make us unique.

Life is a series of ups and downs. We can't allow negativity to take over; we have to fight against it, and laughter is one of our most powerful tools in this endeavor.

Citations: The first ever experimental investigation of laughing at oneself (Research Digest), Does Laughing Have Real Health Benefits (Time), Humor and Resiliency Towards a Process Model of Coping and Growth (Europes Journal of Psychology), Tragedy Laughter and Survival (AATH), Why Laughing at Yourself May Be Good for You First Ever Study (Time)