At Your Service: August 17, 2011

The sound of children’s laughter is like no other. The high-pitched squeals that punctuate the constant rumble of joy expressed give special meaning to summer days. Add to that the reverberations off the sun-dappled waters at Pine Hill Lake or a favorite swimming hole and you have a perfect moment.

Trying to analyze why it gives us such pleasure is much like asking why we feel warm in the sun. Pleasure is the essence of laughter and it flows freely from children. While that freedom seems to fade with the loss of innocence and increasing responsibilities as we age, laughter has the same power to delight in adult life and even in business.

Laughter is noisy and spontaneous. It bursts from our lungs and spirit with a vengeance; when it is at its best, we are out of control. These realities would lead some to say that it is inherently unprofessional behavior. After all, laughing is like throwing up a stop sign in the middle of whatever you are doing. It also halts the activities of those around you while they wonder what you found so funny. When you recount the experience, even more time and attention can be lost in another round of chuckles.

Make sure it’s appropriate
Laughter can be inappropriate when it is directed at someone or makes groups of people the focus of ridicule. The laughter that accompanies mockery has a different ring and it does not have the contagious quality present in the simple expression of joy. For this, we can learn from children.
While it is true that children can sometimes be cruel to one another, their laughter more often bursts from the sheer joy of whatever they are doing. Running, playing, painting, making funny faces and sounds all feel good in the moment and are a catalyst to laughter. Any pleasurable experience can be expressed as laughter, and usually is for the young.

You may say that playing is not the same as working. I say, “Why not?”

Doing the job well
There is such pleasure in doing a job well, that we could easily burst into laughter every time a task is completed well.

There are generally two reasons we don’t give ourselves that experience: We don’t always do a job well enough to be filled with joy about our accomplishment. When we are doing those things we consider to be “work,” we tend to do what must be done rather than giving it our best every time, which cheats us of the joy of accomplishment. Our second reason for not laughing at work is that we are often so focused on what other people will think or say, or what is appropriate, that it overshadows our experience of the present. The simple truth is that other people are probably not thinking about us at all.

If we all took such pleasure in our work and working together that it led to spontaneous outbursts of joy, we might transform the American workplace. Countless studies have demonstrated that a brief positive diversion is usually the prelude to focused attention and enhanced productivity. (It is the reason the coffee break was initially implemented). Imagine the contagion of laughter in your workplace and the possibility of perfect moments for you and your customers.