Campus & Community

Laughing your way to the good life

4 min read
Sheila Blake, a staff assistant at the Kennedy School, joins in the friendly fray as Kathleen Lyons (not pictured) leads a session of the Society for Ladies Who Laugh Out Loud at a noontime talk. (Staff photo by Kris Snibbe)

Conjuring images of dancer Isadora Duncan on the beach and comedian Lucille Ball at the candy factory, the founder of the Society for Ladies Who Laugh Out Loud gave about 30 Harvard women some seriously silly advice during a noontime talk Thursday, May 24.

Be silly – and don’t take yourselves too seriously.

“Laughter is like human crazy glue. It changes the way we connect to people,” said Kathleen Lyons, a health and communications specialist, not to mention former teacher, journalist, and bartender. “We know it’s good for our health, good for our immune system, good for our heart. People have been saying laughter is the best medicine for 1,000 years.”

Lyons is studying the impact of playfulness and humor in women’s lives. She’s already written a book on it, “Women at Play, Women at Peace,” which is yet to be published. But she’s still traveling the country proselytizing, seeking converts to her humor-as-a-way-of-life religion.

“We had a good laugh in the middle of a work day and heard an important message as well,” said Cyndie White, co-chair of the Committee on the Concerns of Women at Harvard, which sponsored the event, held at Fay House at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

Lyons’ talk was the last in a yearlong series sponsored by the committee. This year’s series dealt with taking care of yourself, according to co-chair Mary Ruggiero, and included lectures on finance, music therapy, and the changing family.

“We started talking about needing to laugh,” Ruggiero said of the planning process. “This was excellent.”

Lyons’ message is that though life is often serious, there is also often humor to be found even in the most serious times. She got her message across in an hour-long talk laced with personal anecdotes, including her claim to the title as the only new bride to have melted an entire refrigerator, and a few silly exercises, such as throwing your arms in the air, tilting your head back, and shouting, “I’m depressed!”

In another funky exercise that had the audience waving colorful scarves and chanting “I. Have. So much. To do,” Lyons got people laughing at themselves, probably because many in the audience felt it was true.

There is an actual Society for Ladies Who Laugh Out Loud, begun by Lyons six years ago. The society has members in 30 states and in Australia, “so we’re laughing out loud Down Under,” she says.

Lyons said she began the society because she noticed that today’s hectic lifestyles have too many women in “gotta make the doughnuts” mode when they wake up. And all too often, she said, their days go downhill from there.

Her work is spurred by memories of playfulness from childhood – one tale told of a second-grade report card that noted “Kathy has quite a sense of humor. She will have to watch out for that.” The memories are augmented by a longing to know not only where that playfulness was lost, but how to recapture it.

Lyons is no stranger to the high standards and “gotta be perfect” mentality that sometimes drives us to work harder even than our health allows. She told of dragging herself to school, sick with appendicitis, it turned out, because she didn’t want to ruin her perfect attendance record.

“We get our personal worth from our resume,” she said. “[But] building a resume is a lot easier than building a life that is jam-packed and full of fun.”

Lyons’ talk was funny, but not standup. Her tales had a point that wasn’t always obviously funny. Still, with the perspective of years they were the kinds of things we often laugh at – like melting a refrigerator (or having your “falsies” pop out of your bathing suit).

But why wait when we can laugh now, she asks.

“We need the resume. We need the money. We need the positions. We need to support ourselves,” Lyons said. “We all want to live well. I promise you if you add some belly laugh leisure to your life, you will live well.”

Contact Alvin Powell at