Laughology: A little funny business

A former comedian is on a serious mission to instil humour into our working lives – but this isn't about creating more David Brents, she tells Nick Harding

Have you heard the one about the CEO and the comedian? No? Well, bosses and humour don't always mix. Their attempts to use laughter as a motivational tool, or to garner popularity, often fall somewhere between excruciating embarrassment and out-and-out inappropriateness. "Big" Nev Wilshire from BBC's fly-on-the-wall documentary The Call Centre is a case in point.

But when harnessed properly, humour and laughter can be powerful tools in and out of the boardroom. And that's where Stephanie Davies comes in. As a former stand-up comic, she is now a behavioural expert and founder of Laughology, a unique enterprise that uses the science of laughter and humour to develop psychology-based programmes that help people in a range of settings, several of which are the boardrooms of blue-chip companies.

Davies works with CEOs, executive teams and workforces in areas such as culture change, creating happy workplaces, staff engagement, communication and presentation skills, and executive coaching. Outside of the boardroom, she has applied her skills to a variety of groundbreaking projects. These include creating the country's first happy-centred school, developing an initiative to encourage resilience and community spirit in a divided area of Bradford and running a rehabilitation programme for service users in a secure mental-health unit.

When it comes to teaching CEOs to be engaging, Davies' work is serious. "Language and the way we use it has a huge bearing on how we are perceived," she says. "Some executives use lingo, acronyms and corporate bullshit, which are all inaccessible to normal people. One of the most important aspects of leadership is connecting with people and to achieve this you need to reframe the language you use. It is archaic to be talking to people in old-style leadership speak. Look at Barack Obama, he'll often use humour and the common touch to get a message across."

To get business leaders to let go of their reliance on corporate speak, Davies draws on her days as a stand-up. "I get them to stand up and tell a funny story about something that happened to them, in front of their peers. Many squirm at first. But suddenly their whole method of communication changes, they become upbeat, open and, most importantly they start to use simplistic, accessible language. It's a powerful way of getting people to realise how to deliver a message in a more human way. It's not about turning people into David Brent, it's about turning them into Barack Obama."

Davies draws on a range of scientific studies into the effects that laughter and humour have on the brain and body, and uses the data to devise simple self-development practices for real-life situations. Her book, Laughology: Improve Your Life with the Science of Laughter, has won plaudits from academics. It demonstrates how people can take control of their emotions and use humour as a coping mechanism.

"I started Laughology seven years ago because I believe we all have the right to be happy, resilient human beings. We are all born with the ability to have a sense of humour but developing one is a skill we learn and we can continue to learn through life." Davies studied in the US with the health activist Patch Adams, who used humour to address health and social issues and was made famous by the eponymous biopic.

Davies distinguishes between laughter and humour. Humour is a cognitive process. As individuals, we learn what is funny and what is not, and develop our own unique sense of humour. Humour will be relative to our experiences, it develops through childhood and into adulthood. "Very simplistically, we process information about the environment around us and that creates thoughts. Every thought will create a feeling and those feelings are caused by chemical reactions in the brains, so if we can interrupt a negative thought or distract ourselves from a situation briefly using humour, it can change the way we feel. Humour changes the chemical make-up in the brain. It is the basis of how cognitive behaviour therapy works."

Because the brain constantly evolves, creating new neural pathways through the process of neuroplasticity, Davies maintains that we can teach our brains to be happier and more positive and as a result live less stressful and healthier lives. Laughter, she says, is the physical manifestation of humour, although it is not always linked to humour; it can occur as a result of shock, nerves or embarrassment. It is an indication of the way we are feeling. People learn to use laughter in social situations. It is also a powerful communication tool and can be used to display a range of emotions.

"People use laughter to gain social acceptance. There is lots of research which shows that people laugh more at their bosses and that women laugh more at jokes told by men they feel attracted to," Davies says. "Many stand-ups have deep issues and they get hooked on receiving laughter from crowds. Essentially, they go out on stage and try and make people like them."

Laughter has a range of physical and psychological benefits. "It releases dopamine and serotonin – neurochemicals with beneficial effects – it increases heart rate, regulates blood flow, makes you more alert and can increase the levels of antibodies in the bloodstream," Davies says. By developing psychological toolkits that enable people to harness these benefits, Davies has been able to create pioneering initiatives in the public sector. One involves working with service users at a secure mental-health unit. "I was invited after a presentation I gave at a conference. The specialist staff were initially sceptical of my approach when I presented to them. One commented: 'Laughter's too risky.' I understood what they meant and, apart from anything else, there's a safety issue in an environment like that. You're dealing with sometimes fragile people. But laughter can help people in a huge number of ways. It provides 'a-ha' moments. It encourages people to realise they are intelligent enough to get that joke, and it enables people to connect with each other." The course is now a 10-session one-hour-a-week programme with a booklet given out each week.

In her book, Davies offers a range of simple techniques that readers can use to bring more laughter and humour into their lives. "Most importantly, we need to know what makes us laugh," she says. She also points out that the language we use to frame our world will have an impact on how positive we are and how much we laugh. "If you constantly use negative language, you will feel negative. If you make an effort to replace negative words with positive ones, in speech as well as in your internal dialogue, you will think and feel more positive."

Laughter can even help people control their weight and become healthier. A study in the US found that people who watched funny movies showed changes in levels of hormones regulating their appetite. "Laughter also works on the mechanisms in the brain that make us eat too much of the wrong things," Davies says. "There is a major link between our emotions and the food choices we make. Many people make unhealthy food choices when they are down, tired or stressed. Laughter can act as a distraction to the cravings we because it causes the brain to release serotonin, a hormone sometimes described as nature's appetite suppressant."

'Laughology: Improve Your Life with the Science of Laughter' by Stephanie Davies is published by Crown House Publishing and available from Amazon

Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge has announced his departure from Blink-182

Arts and Entertainment
The episode saw the surprise return of shifty caravan owner Susan Wright, played by a Pauline Quirke (ITV)

Review: Broadchurch

Arts and Entertainment
Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo are teaming up for a Hurricane Katrina drama

Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups


An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment


Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original


Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'


Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

    Pot of gold

    Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
    10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

    From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

    While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
    Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore