How to Raise Happy Kids: LOL—a Lot

Get serious about getting goofy. Laughing can bring families closer together.

Goofy posing family with dog, man in oversized paper glasses Photograph by Priscilla Gragg

Yes, laughter is the best medicine, and it appears to work best if you're diligent about getting your daily dose. So what do you do if your home isn't exactly Comedy Central? Easy! Gather the clan around the goofy cat videos and indulge in a quick and guilt-free silly session. Even if we have to resort to clips of Grumpy Cat to provoke a chortle, we still get a genuine "squirt of dopamine" -- one of the main brain chemicals associated with happiness and pleasure, says Scott Weems, PhD, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Maryland and the author of Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why. It doesn't much matter what we're laughing about, as long as we're doing it.

And these good feelings multiply when we giggle together. One study found you're 30 times more likely to laugh when you're around others than you are when you're by yourself. The closer the relationship, the more intense the effect, notes Weems. In fact, he says, we should think of laughter as the Krazy Glue of a close family. The takeaway? To get happy, get intentional about getting regular guffaws, and make sure your loved ones are getting theirs, too.

    Make Happy Happen

    1. Share good jokes. Along with the cookbooks, keep a few humor compendiums in the kitchen. Two can't-miss titles: Ten-Second Tongue Twisters, by Mike Artell (ages 6 to 9, barnesandnoble.com) and Laugh-Out-Loud Jokes for Kids, by Rob Elliott (ages 6 to 12, amazon.com).
    2. Encourage clowning. Schedule An Evening of Ridiculous Parlor Games once a month. Try a funny walk contest, a silly version of Simon says ("Simon says cluck like a chicken"), or a fictional dance-off ("Daffy Duck versus the Hulk. Go!").
    3. Troll online. Bookmark links to hilarious kid-friendly videos for impromptu viewings when real-life laughs are in short supply. Find animal clips at cuteoverload.com or give your kids a screen-time assignment to search for the most comical videos on The Muppets' YouTube channel. Easiest way to save links: click the "Watch Later" icon, found on the lower frame of YouTube offerings.

      Yoga for Yucks

      A new twist on an age-old discipline, laughter yoga combines breathing techniques with playful exercises designed to relieve stress and induce chuckling. Laughter is "a release valve for pent-up emotions and tensions," says Jennifer Lennon, a Boulder, Colorado, yoga instructor. As a bonus, a good laugh has been shown to be a great cardiovascular workout.

      Try some of Lennon's family-friendly suggestions to get your own gang giggling. Don't worry if as a grown-up you feel a little silly at first. "Start by getting pleasure from your kid's enjoyment," says Lennon. "Just smiling and making eye contact doing these moves helps create an emotionally enriching connection." Pretty soon you'll likely be ha-ha-ing, too.

      • The Dancing Noodle: Pretend you're an uncooked spaghetti strand thrown into a pot of boiling water. Slowly get floppy and relaxed as you bounce around in the bubbling water and start to cook.
      • The Hello Hug: Stand some distance from a family member. Now run toward each other but miss a few times. Finally, meet and hug. A giggly reunion is pretty much guaranteed!
      • The Air Tickle: Lie on the ground while the others pretend to tickle you -- no actual touching allowed. Seeing people wiggle fingers near ticklish places is usually enough to get laughs rolling.

        The FamilyFun Funny Film Festival

        Forget Cannes. We consider these flicks true masterworks because even after countless viewings, they still make our families snort into their popcorn.

        • Bringing Up Baby: Screwball comedy -- with dinos!
        • Despicable Me: Wild animation voiced by Steve Carell
        • The Lego Movie: Tons of blockheaded fun and action
        • Galaxy Quest: Super-silly science-fiction satire
        • School of Rock: Jack Black = best sub teacher ever
        • The Princess Bride: Funny swashbuckling fantasy

          Originally published in the May 2015 issue of FamilyFun magazine.