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John Hipkiss, centre at the front, with his Laughter Therapy team.

John Hipkiss, centre at the front, with his Laughter Therapy team.

You've got to see the funny side of business success the Indian way

By Georgia Bradbury

Funny business in the workplace is being replaced by the business of having fun, with laughter boosting productivity in companies worldwide.

The rise of the laughter industry – which has its roots in India but is now a global phenomenon - has led to numerous companies setting up with the mission of spreading laughter among workers.

Laughter therapy has proved productive in people’s personal lives as well as in the business world and companies such as BBC Scotland, The Financial Times and Google have run workshops. BarclayCard and Ernst & Young have also reportedly signed employees up to laughter therapy workshops.

Companies that offer the therapy include United Mind, Laughing Lotus, Laughter Business, Laughter Therapy, The Alchemy of Laughter and Laughter Yoga, with some even offering the alternative therapy over the phone. But what are the benefits?

Lesley Batchelor, director general of the Institute of Export, values the importance of laughter in business and the workplace. She said: “Laughter certainly has its place in a work environment and I’m a firm believer that a happy office works harder.

“However, other cultures have different views on humour in business. In the USA and Germany, joking in a business context is seen as flippant, even rude. If you’re trading internationally be personable and smile, but avoid jokes.”

Laughter Yoga says that laughter lowers the level of stress hormones in the blood, a fact that has been supported by clinical research conducted at Bangalore, India and in the US.

The website also claims laughter releases endorphins to instantly improve your mood, helps you to connect quicker with other people, acts as an aerobic exercise and promotes energy and relaxation, as well as providing stress reduction and a stronger immune system.

Laughter Yoga was founded by Dr Madan Kataria in India in 1995. Since then, the Laughter Yoga trend has swept across over 72 countries, leading to the impressive upsurge of thousands of laughter clubs.

UK TV recently aired an On Site Massage Co workshop on the concept. Two of the Laughter Yoga trainers both advocated the therapy. Yogic instructor Nisha said: “When I first introduced laughter yoga, it was as part of a wellbeing workshop. Working with diverse groups of people, from accountants through to teachers, I found people opened up and it was a great bonding exercise.”

Instructor Nihat also had positive comments: “I used to work for a major financial corporation where I started running laughter yoga sessions on lunchtimes. For me and my colleagues it was a welcome relief from the traditional corporate culture.”

The laughter industry has seen major growth in the last 10 years, and UK-based company Laughter Therapy has been a part of this. The company’s founder John Hipkiss said the hardest part of promoting laughter therapy in the UK was breaking through the British stiff upper lip.

So is there was a connection between laughter therapy and the hard economic times the country has experienced in the last five years, with people looking for their own brand of ‘comic relief’?

John says he is often contacted by companies who are going through big changes, adding that, after initial cynicism from bosses and workers alike, the infectious laughter creates strong ties and a happier workplace atmosphere.

The New Indian Express said a study found the average adult laughs on average 15 times daily – not enough to raise those essential ‘happy chemicals’ - and Laughter Yoga consider themselves to be a cost-effective solution to this predicament.

They believe laughter yoga has proven health and lifestyle benefits, and that it is also a useful tool for reducing stress physically, mentally and emotionally.

According to LaughterYoga.org, it is scientifically proven that the brain cannot distinguish between real and false laughter.

Business consultant Eric Tsytsylin claims the positive benefits of laughter can remain for a long period of time after the forced or natural laughter originally occurred.

In a speech at the Graduate School of Stanford Business on the effects and benefits of laughter in the workplace, Eric also cited laughter as productivity’s greatest ally, arguably a vital aspect to the success of any business.

He said that a study also found that “individuals primed to laugh before a complex task exhibit not only more flexible, creative decision making but also greater analytical precision. Laughter truly engages the whole brain.”

As well as in business, laughter therapy has found a place within the health industry. UK-based Laughology have been using laughter therapy in the NHS to aid the recovery of post-natal depression.

The Cancer Treatment Centres of America have also recognised laughter therapy as important, and have suggested that laughter therapy, alongside more traditional cancer treatments, may help in the overall healing process. Dr Pamela Gerloff also discussed the importance of laughter and health on psychologytoday.com.

She said: "Journalist Norman Cousins famously chronicled the effects of his self-prescribed laughing cure in his book Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient. Cousins, who suffered from inflammatory arthritis, claimed that ten minutes of hearty guffawing while watching Marx Brothers movies brought him two hours of pain-free sleep. Both inflammation and pain were significantly reduced."

Laughter therapy is slowly seeping into everyday life. Eric Tsytsylin said: "It's time we start taking laughter seriously. I’m talking about laughter as a powerful tool that individuals and organisations can use to boost happiness, creativity and productivity.”

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