Police Psychology | Where Has All the Laughter Gone?

Posted: October 18, 2016 in Mastering Emotions
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Police Psychology | Where Has All the Laughter Gone?

by Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.


Cop humor is iconic but it is disappearing and we should try to figure out why.  In fact, those in police psychology understand the importance of laughter and laughing to our overall well-beings (particularly in helping cops deal with stress). AGirl Laughingnd yet, we don’t laugh anymore. There, I said it.

Now before you get all upset and yell that this isn’t true, let me explain myself. I’m 60 years old, and I have an 9-year-old daughter. I’ve noticed young parents with kids her age don’t laugh with their kids as much as my parents did with me, or as much as I do with my daughter. And this sets in motion a vicious cycle in which children laugh less and less as the years and generations go on and on.  What is going to happen to them?

 Gone are the days when teenagers used to rank on each other for fun. Now it’s bullying to rank on someone who is even your best friend. Gone are the days where you could walk around the city or your office and see the friendly smiles of the people around you.  In fact, often in a psychologist’s office, people are on edge, yelling at each other for doing this or that, or just overall unsettled with their life.  But, strangely, that was never the case in my office or with  my partner. Our clients tend to laugh, make jokes with us, and take a joke well also.  They have an overall sense of fun. Many say, “I don’t laugh like this anymore.”  Well, generally no one does, my friend, no one does anymore..

 I used to receive 25-30 emails every week from different police officers who had a good joke they thought I would enjoy.  That doesn’t happen anymore (although Bruce Kaitlyn Jenner created a mild resurgence of cop humor).  I remember, at the time, I didn’t particularly look foreword to these emails because I usually got the same joke multiple times (and how many times can you really laugh at a “knock-knock joke”?).  I still have those same email lists, but now my inbox is empty. No longer do I wake up each morning to find out why the chicken crossed the road this time, or what happens when two priests and a Rabbi enter a bar…now my inbox is full of work messages, and business information. And I’ll tell you right now, I would give a whole lot to be able to go back to old days where laughter was paramount and I could always count on my clients for a good joke. So, when I say we don’t laugh anymore, I mean that as a culture we have stopped placing such a high premium on smiling and joking around and good ol’ having fun with each other. And if I understand that laughing as been in the decline, I’m sure other individuals have noticed it as well.

The Benefits of Laughter

We understand that laughing has been in the decline, much to the detriment of society.  This is an extremely bad situation because there are so many good effects of laughter. They say “Laughter is the best medicine,” and while you probably shouldn’t substitute laughter for your antibiotics when you have an infection, a little laughter certainly never hurt anybody. Research shows laughter can boost you immune system, increase blood flow, decrease stress hormones, reduce the tension in you muscles, and even help in the treatment of diabetes and high cholesterol. It can also have an analgesic effect which came through in one study with cancer patients that 10 minutes of laughter can have a strong analgesic effect for up to two hours.  Aside from that, laughing can make you feel good about yourself, and it can make other people feel good when they’re with you. It’s so much easier to interact with someone who is always smiling then someone who looks like they have a rain cloud over their head. Also, for you workout warriors, research has shown that 100 laughs a day is equivalent to 10 minutes of rowing or jogging. So a half hour of Three Stooges may be the aerobic exercise you need and it is a lot more fun that a rowing machine.

Why is Laughter Disappearing?

So if there are so many benefits to laughing, why is this behavior slowly disappearing? I have two possible answers for this: First, our culture is very worried LOL keyabout being appropriate and not offending anyone.  This political correctness makes people afraid to laugh or spread jokes. While it is generally a good idea to be politically correct, everyone has to learn the boundaries of correctness. While there is definitely something to be said for not insulting anyone for the purposes of humor, making fun of yourself, or ranking on the people you know can handle it shouldn’t necessarily be avoided.

Another reason people don’t laugh as much anymore is because of the high-stress lifestyle many of us lead today. Many people hold down a job (or two), have to care for children, parents, or siblings, have to pay all the bills, and make ends meet in general. And, we all have to worry about someone else getting overly stressed. It’s really hard to remember to smile when all that’s going on in your head is:  “Did I remember to text Bob back? And I need to get home already so I can go to Suzie’s play tonight. And I can’t forget to pay the electrician and make time for writing up that report that is due tomorrow. And I hope my wife is in a good mood today because I don’t want any argument.”   It’s clear our over-packed days have caused a dearth of laughter in the world.

Police psychology: simple steps3 Steps to Stimulate More Laughter in Your Life

So what can we do about it? How can we bring laughter back into our lives?

  1. Overbooked. If one of the reasons laughter is disappearing is because we are too busy with other things, so that we don’t have time to stop and smile, then make sure you take a break every day to catch your breath. Spend 1 minute, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, however long you can spare and just sit down and smile.  Smile at the good things you have. Or smile because of the good things that will come.  Smile at the simple things that make you happy.  Go online and read a good joke, or watch a funny video.  Take this time to laugh and play with your spouse or your children or your friends. It doesn’t have to be long, and it definitely shouldn’t be forced. Just let loose and embrace the fun.  Start laughing for no reason, and since laughter is contagious, pretty soon everyone will be joining in.  If we can embrace the laughter, we can re-create a culture in which laughter and smiling is once again valued.


  1. Stop Pinballing Off of Other People’s Opinion.  Stop worrying so much about how you look, or what impression you are making. Stop being so self-conscious, and stop letting your ego or social appropriateness get in the way of a good laugh. It’s fine to laugh at yourself, to laugh at the little (or big) mistakes you’ve made, to laugh at something stupid you said or did. In fact, being able to laugh at yourself suggests you are confident and self-assured without being arrogant and full of yourself. If you’re able to laugh at yourself, embrace your personality—flaws and all—other people will enjoy spending time with you too. And if someone else looks at your differently because of this, don’t let that affect you. You are the only person who should be allowed to judge you—no one else’s opinions should matter.


  1. Greatest Hits. When a singer dies, the record companies immediately release a greatest hits album. It doesn’t matter if you were a big star or a one-hit wonder, there always seems to be a greatest hits album.  We all have greatest hits and they can be your go-to creator of laughter and smiles. What did you do in your life that really nailed it? When did you embrace a situation 100% and just knock it out of the park? Was it a walk off homerun in a baseball game as a child, or a touchdown, or perhaps a move business-wise?  Was it born out of a tragedy that was happening in your life where you turned bad into good? Did you problem solve for someone or give great advice? When did you feel your best, and just saw something no one else could? Collect these moments and reference them for the future when you need to laugh and smile. 


Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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  1. Excellent article! In this age of “hostile work environments” having any displayed sense of humor is a genuine liability, particularly for managers or supervisors. It is a very unfortunate product of “progress” and contributes to built up stress, unhealthy subcultures and general workplace dissatisfaction. I don’t long for the old days with mean spirited bullying and genuine harassment, but it seems there has to be a reasonable medium somewhere.

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