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Can you laugh in a crisis?

laugh in a crisis

Can you laugh in a crisis? Sometimes, laughter feels inappropriate. But laughter occurs in surgical rooms, during military operations, and even as we grieve the death of a loved one. Our capacity to laugh in the face of adversity is one of our most vital coping skills. We shouldn’t be embarrassed that we laugh. It is a normal reaction to stressful situations.

Why are we so hesitant to laugh in times of crisis? What are the advantages of learning to laugh in times of trouble?

Why are we reluctant to laugh in a crisis?

Our typical reaction in a stressful situation is to freeze, flee, or stay and fight.

We may favor a particular response based on our temperament or social upbringing.

Depending on our viewpoint, we might think that the fighter is either courageous or ill-tempered and that the individual who flees is cowardly – or wise enough to live to fight another day.

“In prehistoric times, humanity often had only two choices in crises: fight or flee. In modern times, humor offers us a third alternative; fight, flee – or laugh.” Robert Orben.

laugh in a crisis
Can you laugh only in good times? Or can you laugh in a crisis as well?

Some individuals are hesitant to use laughter in a time of crisis. To them, it feels disruptive and is not in their current skill set.

But I believe there are three benefits to learning to laugh in a crisis that outweigh our discomfort.

Three benefits of learning to laugh in a crisis.

First, laughter disrupts our freeze response and releases the tension that paralyzes us.

A crisis, by its very nature, is disruptive. Laughter is a normal response to that crisis. In a problematic season, what we laugh at can reveal our fears and insecurities. We can use that laughter to help us identify problems and solutions.

Laughter disrupts our bodies and our minds. Our bodies give evidence of this disruption. It starts with a smirk, then a smile, a slight chuckle, a loud guttural noise, a snorting nose, a belly laugh, and sometimes ends with tears. Laughter disrupts our standard thought patterns. We encounter a thought or wordplay that surprises us, and our minds respond—sometimes presenting a solution that would have otherwise evaded us.

Second, learning to laugh at ourselves enables us to lead others. The ability to laugh at ourselves makes us relatable, lovable, and approachable. It demonstrates that we have the mindset to lead ourselves and others. It makes us a person others will turn to when they face difficulty.

Jodi Flynn, the author of Accomplished, says that “If you are going to go big, to dare to change the world and be seen, you’re going to need your sense of humor.”

If you want to lead well, you must laugh at yourself.

When we laugh at ourselves, it frees others to laugh with us. Notice, I said with us, not at us.

Third, laughing with others creates a community. A bond forms from interacting with others through laughter and adversity. Laughter can validate another person’s perspective, remove social barriers, and create a shared experience. Shared experiences are powerful.

When we can laugh at ourselves and others, we find the strength to move forward despite our circumstances.

Like any soft skill, using laughter in a crisis takes practice. But unfortunately, this is a case where less is more.

Here are some suggestions to increase our ability to laugh in a crisis.

  • Practice smiling in the morning in front of a mirror.
  • Listen to the famous baby laughing video on Youtube. Over 12 million people have seen this video.
  • Set aside time each day to intentionally laugh.
  • Remember, a moment you thought was funny and relive it in your mind.
  • If nothing personal comes to mind, have an audio or video you can play that causes you to smile or laugh.


What is your typical response to a crisis? Is it working for you, or should you consider the disruptive power of laughter? Have you considered the role that humor might play in addressing trauma?

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Cover / Featured Photo by Karina Thomson on Unsplash

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