In April 2020, Psychologist Dr. Rachel Goldman writing on the benefits of laughter said:
“Laughter connects us with others. Just as with smiling and kindness, most people find that laughter is contagious. So, if you bring more laughter into your life, you can most likely help others around you to laugh more and realize these benefits as well.”
So, why aren’t we laughing more?
Dr. Goldman also pointed out that the average child laughs about 400 times a day, while the average 42-year-old averages a paltry 15 daily giggles or guffaws.
What happens between 12 and 42 is anyone’s guess – and there are all kinds of theories, but I would like to advance an idea of my own.
Not Working More, But Accomplishing More
Back in the days of our grandparents and great-grandparents, we worked for a clear-cut purpose, and it wasn’t simply to survive but to build something and to work toward a dream.
Now, I will acknowledge that life wasn’t always fair. Access to dreams was often unequal, but somehow, if they couldn’t build a business or a vocation, at least our ancestors could build toward making a better future for their children. At the end of the day, our ancestors felt good that they had done well. It made them happy and more content.
I believe that we aren’t happier, indeed that we don’t laugh more, because we lack enjoyment in our work. We no longer care about doing the heavy lifting that comes from joyful work.
My theory goes back to a breakthrough study that appeared in the Harvard Business Review back in 2011 on the topic of work. The authors of the report studied work for 15 years (that’s a lot of work). Here’s just one aspect of what they found:
“Early on, we realized that a central driver of creative, productive performance was the quality of a person’s inner work life – the mix of emotions, motivations and perceptions throughout a workday. How happy workers feel; how motivated they are by an intrinsic interest in the work; how positively they view their organization, their management, their team, their work and themselves – all these combine either to push them to higher levels of achievement or to drag them down.”
The study caused a light bulb to go off within me. Many of us don’t have a happiness problem, as we want to be happy. And many of us are crushed by too much work – or too little. What many of us lack is an accomplishment.
We feel disconnected from our work (virtual or in-person); we don’t feel as though we’re working toward much of anything and that our work (which often takes up most of our waking hours) has little meaning. Many of us are no longer interested in doing the heavy lifting of traditional work. It makes us unhappy.
The creation of meaningful work is as close as your imagination or cellphone. None of these ideas costs very much (if any) money. You can lift as heavily as you desire, and I believe each idea will lead to greater happiness. Why? Because you will be building something great.
1) Comfort. I know a man who has served as a lay minister for the past 20 years. He brings comfort and healing to those who are suffering. His greatest asset isn’t a divinity degree (he doesn’t have one) but his beautiful heart.
2) Entertain. Sing, act, dance or play a musical instrument. Do you think a resident in an assisted living home will care if you mess up the lyrics to a song?
3) Create. Paint, draw, sketch, throw pottery, write or use whatever talent you have. Share your talent with the world. The creative energy you share may build up someone’s life.
4) Volunteer. Volunteer for something bigger, more significant and nobler than you can currently imagine doing yourself. Foster injured pets or work in a hospital or build a community garden. It is a virtual guarantee that hundreds of volunteer opportunities are within a 20-mile radius of where you live.
5) Coach. A child, somewhere, desperately needs your help and encouragement. You don’t have to be a superhero; be a good person. Build character. It is much more important than winning or losing.
6) Love. Build a network of friends far different from anyone you can imagine. Want to build something special? Build a circle of love.
Meaningful work doesn’t have to mean being a mechanic, electrical line installer or teacher or designing a computer software program that does something wondrous. It’s about the joy of accomplishment.