Laughter as the “Yellow Canary”

In the old days miners carried a yellow canary into the mines with them as a primitive early warning system.

Dangerous gases could form easily in the mine if something upset the balance of the underground air. The little birds had sensitive respiratory systems so if just a small amount of the colorless, odorless, tasteless but deadly gas was in the air a canary would stop singing, began to sway and fall off its perch and drop to the bottom of its cage. It was said that, “If the canary hits the deck, the miners hit the exits.”

(Fortunately the canaries lost their jobs to modern technology so I’m sure that saved many of their little lives!)

I have a theory that laughter is the ‘yellow canary’ of relationships, families and workplaces.

You don’t have to tell jokes, wear red clown noses or bring in comedians. When the atmosphere is warm, friendly and happy, laughter naturally happens.

Someone laughs at a comment. Maybe one person chuckles, “Excuse me” to another as they narrowly avoid a collision in the hallway. Someone may share what humorist, June Cline calls an IMO or “Idiot Moment” and they both burst into laughter. (You know you’ve had idiot moments!)

In work situations the absence of laughter is usually warning of a problem. People may be feeling burdened, disrespected or fearful for their jobs. When there is tension, pressure and stress there isn’t much laughter. When people take themselves or their situations too seriously there isn’t much laughter. When people are anxious there isn’t much laughter. The absence of laughter may be your early warning to look at the work environment and see what problem you may be overlooking.

Laughter is important in relationships, too. When I was married we laughed a lot. If I noticed we weren’t laughing much I’d look around to see where there was tension or disconnection. Sometimes there would be a disagreement we needed to resolve. Other times it would just be that one of us was working too hard or stressed over something and needed a break. Ignoring the lack of laughter would have allowed discontentment to turn into resentment or an irritation to grow into anger. Taking time to do something fun could often change the energy in our relationship. When the energy of a relationship is positive it’s easier to tackle problems and soothe ruffled feathers.

Now that I’m widowed and trying to date (Arrgggh!) I have a rule—no laughter on the first date; no second date!

Laughter is a good thing!

  • What about you? Are you hearing laughter in your workplace and relationships?
  • Can you look back at any situation and see that the absence of laughter was a clue something was amiss?
  • Do you disagree?

I’d love to hear from you! Comment here or email to

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