What Exactly Does Stanford Know About Humor?

stanford humor

There is a rarefied power in humor, or at least there is in certain sections of the business world, and, possibly, comedy. The Stanford Graduate School of Business recently highlighted standout professor Jennifer Aaker and Lecturer Naomi Bagdonas, who created the first ever Humor: Serious Business class at Stanford GSB last spring.

Bagdonas, in an interview with Gentry Magazine, explained that her class is about “the power (and importance) of humor to make and scale positive change in the world, and also to achieve business objectives, build more effective and innovative organizations, cultivate stronger bonds, and capture more lasting memories.”

She elaborates: “Laughter makes us more physically resilient to the tensions and stressors of corporate life. It releases oxytocin, which facilitates social bonding and increases trust. When people laugh together at work, relationships improve, and people feel more valued and trusted, mitigating the effects of these workplace stressors.”

Aaker explains that around the age of 23, many people seem to fall off a “humor cliff” and become more solemn and severe, as if growing into oneself means restricting the possibility of fun.

Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas / Photo by Jack Hutch

“We go to work, and all of a sudden we’re very important, and we’re very efficient, and we’re no longer allowed to leave the house in sweatpants or count ice cream as a food group,” she said in the interview.

Aaker adds that many workplaces contribute to this self-perception. It’s no joke that “workplace stress — fueled long hours, job insecurity and lack of work-life balance — [was linked to] at least 120,000 deaths each year and accounts for up to $190 billion in health care costs.”

Bagdonas’ goal is to use the course to “instill a mindset that taking your work seriously doesn’t mean you need to be serious all of the time. In fact, being serious and being humorous can be in service of each other. The right balance of levity and gravity gives power to both.”

Read the whole Gentry Magazine interview with Aaker and Bagdonas here.

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