CIPD 2014: The science of happiness

On day two of the CIPD's 2014 conference Stephanie Davies, director of training and development firm Laughology, took to the stage to discuss the role of humour in improving lives and how this can be implemented in organisations.

Davies, who cut her teeth as a stand-up comedian before studying psychology, discussed humour as "a system for processing information" and laughter as a communication tool."Long before we even had language, the sounds of laughter were there to let other people know how we feel," Davies told the audience, noting that laughter can either communicate positive or negative emotions. "If we understand that laughter is a communication tool, why aren't we using it more?"Laughter is a tool, she said, for getting neurotransmitters firing and "jump-starting the brain.""The way it works is every situation creates a thought, which creates a feeling and an action, and that thought will depend on how we look at life, and dependant on how we feel at that moment in time. But what's the most exciting thing about the thought part is that it's flexible. We can change it. We do get stuck in patterns of working, of thinking, of doing, but the really important part is that it can be changed."It's hard, but it's not impossible... We can put thinking models together to be able to do that."Distracting ourselves even momentarily from a bad situation can help us feel better, "and when we feel better we think better, we behave better."Davies emphasised the importance of knowing your humour/happiness triggers and being aware of where you're going with thought processes. Are they taking you somewhere positive or is it a process that's creating a block?"If they're blocking you, how can you divert those thoughts?" Davies asked. "How can you have triggers that will immediately help you think and feel differently?"Davies illustrated this process with diagrams demonstrating how the brain's happiness/reward circuits are activated in the limbic system. This is activated when, among other things, we feel supported and when we're participating in positive relationships.In positive situations when we feel happy we're better equipped to learn and we're more likely to have 'sticky learning' as the brain associates the learning with reward.Davies pointed to the cost of stress, highlighting recent findings that stress and mental illness cost the economy £70-£100 billion per year.Getting further into the nuts and bolts of how humour might have practical applications for organisations, the audience was asked to take part in an exercise. They were asked to perform an increasingly tricky task that, as mistakes proliferated, devolved into laughter. Davies pointed out that fear of mistakes affects behaviour but that the exercise created a safe, humorous environment in which to make them.“When we feel happier the brain makes more connections to that behaviour.” And, Davies said, neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, oxcytocin and endorphins - chemicals that we want when we're problem solving - are all produced by laughter.Davies suggested a decoupling of success and happiness, pointing out that associating the two means that happiness is constantly moving away from us.Davies said she has spent the last seven years researching happiness and what that means in terms of skillsets for the workplace. She identified five key elements: confidence, self-sufficiency, personal development, positive relationships and coping strategies.Laughology uses a coaching model it calls F.L.I.P. (Focus, Language, Imagination, Pattern breaking) which implements humour and techniques used by comedians to reframe a situation in a more positive context to achieve better results."Some people create happiness when they walk into a room, some when they leave. Choose which one you want to be," Davies said, finally, to applause.For more news and features about Human Resources click here. You can read more of Re:locate's coverage of CIPD 2014 here.