Two guys walk into a bar… whoa, whoa, this is no joke.

Two guys walk into a bar.  They’re both leaders at the same company.  One has a big infectious smile and is laughing as he opens the door.  The guy at his left hasn’t actually cracked a smile since Laugh-In.  Quick test of your judgment skills:  Which one’s better at his job?

You’re going to need a little more info, right?

Nope.  It’s a simple call, and current research backs it up:  The guy who’s laughing and enjoying himself is better.  He’s considerably more likely to be more productive, inspiring, engaging, committed, efficient, secure, and trusted – overall a better leader.

1668_tonemappedsmallOn Sunday morning I got up early and drove back to Ocean Park to the site of the Royal Family Kids Camp to retrieve my bike that I had left on the front porch of one of the cabins.  The place was deserted and nearly silent except for the birds singing in the trees.  The cabins were empty, the playground without activity, and gone were the children’s big smiles, laughter, and boundless energy.

0470_tonemappedsmallLater in the day as I went through the couple of thousand pictures that I had taken of the kids this past week and searched for the best that I could share with you I quickly realized that the photos that I could share (for confidentiality reasons) all missed what so often makes a picture of children magical:  big smiles and lots of laughter.

0865_tonemappedsmallRoyal Family Kids Camp is a week-long camp organized to serve young children ages 7-11 with a history of abuse and neglect.  Some of these kids have stories that would tug at your heart strings if they could be shared with you.  Interestingly, what always resonates with me as I watch the kids through the lens of my camera is the resiliency of these children and their ability to smile, laugh, and have a good time.

Independence Day just passed with the celebration of our countless freedoms – many of which often seem to be taken for granted.  Sadly, some of the kids at camp cannot yet enjoy some of the freedoms that we experience as adults such as the freedom to pick their situations, the freedom to choose their caregivers, etc.  But one thing that I do observe year after year is that regardless of their situations they still take advantage of their freedom to smile, laugh, play, and give affection.

I’m not sure what happens to us as we get to adulthood – maybe we start to take life too seriously as stress and tension beats us down but studies show that children laugh on average 150 times a day while adults….  Any guess?
5 laughs a day.  Ouch.

2246_tonemappedsmallIf it is truly stress, tension, and the many painful experiences that life throws at us that saps our willingness to smile and laugh then we should know that research demonstrates merely anticipating something funny reduces levels of at least four neuroendocrine hormones associated with stress.  Dr. Lee Burk, assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Maryland, found that just anticipating something funny reduced the levels of these hormones and changed people’s moods.  The incidence of depression fell by 51%, confusion by 36%, anger 19%, fatigue by 15% and tension by 8%.

How about simply smiling?  Studies show that a true smile, one that emerges from the heart, will send blood to all the cells and creates a state of harmony throughout the body. It creates a chemical change that organizes and focuses your energy, and sends a spark to everything around you, opening up the possibility for change to occur.

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So how about simply smiling?  How many times a day do we share a smile with those around us?  Scientific research reveals that babies smile 400 times a day, children under five smile up to 300 times a day, adolescents a sparse 17 smiles on average – and adults … well, once again down into the single digits.

1086_tonemappedsmallIt’s sad, don’t you think?  We live in one of the most wonderful countries on the planet with freedoms and lifestyles that others can only imagine and yet as we mature we aren’t open to every chance possible to share a smile or share in a laugh.

Burt Howe recently shared the thought that every day we all have the freedom to make small life-changing decisions that can bring us to completely different destinations.  It is certainly one of the many freedoms that we have – the freedom of choice.  The small decision to simply exercise more, eat better, read more, spend money wisely, give more, practice our faith more – and smile and laugh more can all have a huge impact on our overall happiness and our success in life.

Given a choice between doing business with a company that is good but has no sense of humor, or doing business with a company that also puts a smile on my face, oh my God, I’m going to choose the company that puts a smile on my face every time.

– Ben Huh CEO of Seattle based media giant Cheezburger.

2157_tonemappedsmallSmall day to day decisions – they are so basic, so often taken for granted, and yet so powerful.  And just maybe, the smallest decision of all, simply smiling and laughing more is the greatest of them all. As the kids at Royal Family Kids Camp reveal:  Being funny is one thing. Being fun is everything.   It makes us more endearing, better leaders, better communicators, more upbeat, healthier, more employable, more likeable,  significantly more apt for people to do business with,  and just more pleasant to be around.

Life certainly can be tough at times and hard to understand and accept but possibly Jean-Paul Sartre definition of freedom was on the money when he said, “Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.”  Maybe for the kids at RFKC, and for you and I as well, exercising that freedom all starts with a lot more smiling and a little more laughing.

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Opening excerpt from The Levity Effect: Why it Pays to Lighten Up by Adrian Gostick and Christoper Scott.

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