Laugh and be well

Think you're not funny? Think again. You can teach yourself to be funny and life will be so much more fun

Penguin with a gun

My sister Donna is a great example of someone who always finds something to laugh about. She was having a rough day. Nothing was going her way. Frustrated, she decided to stop at a coffee shop and take a break. There was a long line, which just added to her frustration. She got to the counter with my 87-year-old mother beside her. “Give me two scotch and sodas on the rocks!” she demanded. She has that funny sense of humour and is not afraid to do silly things at the drop of a hat. The look on the kid’s face behind the counter was priceless. Soon the rest of the people in the shop were laughing.

When your day isn’t going as planned, laughing is an opportunity to look at things from a new perspective. The power of humour, being joyful, is a choice we make. Take a break. I promise you’ll find something to smile about. This is what happened when I tried to relax…

With my office in my home, it’s very hard to ‘get away from it all’. There is always one more task that needs to be done. One day, in an attempt to take better care of myself, I decided to have a mini spa day and treat myself to a quiet, soothing facial. In my silk robe, I lit a scented candle, dimmed the lights, whipped up some egg whites and mixed them with honey. I lavished on the concoction. Ooooh! It felt so good. I placed my frozen silk eye bean bag on my eyes and stretched back on the recliner. My new goose down quilt covered my body like a warm embrace. I proceeded to have a relaxing morning... until the phone rang.

I jumped out of the chair and raced to get the phone. I tried to pull the eye bag off as I ran, but the honey mixture glued it to my face. Afraid to pull my skin off, I left it in place and just Helen-Kellered my way to the phone. All that came out was “mmmmmmm.” My mouth was honey-glued shut. I hung up and ran to the kitchen to run warm water over my face in an attempt to loosen the mixture. Running out of the office, I tripped over my briefcase and fell hard onto the carpet. My left cheek was now a bit rosier than my right one, but it matched the bruise on my arm so nicely. The warm, salty liquid of my tears helped to loosen the edges of my eye mask. The phone rang again. My priority now was to get this sticky mess off my face. Finally, free from my face-mask prison, I went to the phone to see who my mystery caller was. Will you believe? It was a cosmetic lady offering me a free facial. I just absolutely cracked up.

Stress can be fatal; humour is life-saving

Penguin watching 3D movie and having popcorn
When I get a flare-up, I reach for my stash of laughter-filled DVDs

Stress and worry may cause insomnia, types of paralysis, nervous stomach, ulcers, premature ageing, wrinkles, loss of concentration, heart disease, headaches, nervous breakdowns, high blood pressure, hair loss, and weakness of the immune system. Okay, not all of these are fatal, but it can’t be healthy to live like this. 60 per cent of doctor visits are due to stress related illness. Smile. We all have a choice to live our lives as we see fit. That’s where the answer lies—in the choices we make.

I once had part of a window on a plane fall into my lap just before lift off. Panicked, I called for an attendant. We were already taxiing down the runway. The attendants were prepared for takeoff. After several attempts to gain attention, I held the window over my head and yelled, “Hey, don’t go!” No one up front heard me. I quickly ran up the aisle, window in hand, yelling, “Hey! My window fell out!” Some passengers were laughing. Others were gasping. Two repairmen came aboard to fix the window. They said we could have flown safely without fixing it. I thought, “Hey, if the window falls out, what’s next? The wings?”

Several flights earlier, a man with a prosthetic leg was struggling to adjust it. I offered to help him, got on my knees and carefully adjusted the leg. He thanked me and asked if I were a nurse. I said, “No, I’m a comedian.” The rest of the passengers on the plane cracked up.

The attendant on the plane with the broken window recognised me and jokingly said, “You’re the gal who tried to rip that guy’s leg off on another flight!” He turned to the passengers and said, “Watch her, she’s trouble!”

Laughter is physically, physiologically and emotionally good for us. 16 major organs in your body are positively affected every time you laugh out loud. Can your mental outlook really influence your health? Laughter can’t replace exercise. However, researchers find that laughing for 10 minutes will burn 50 calories. You could lose five pounds a year, laughing. Norman Cousins, a pioneer in the study of laughter and health, used funny movies to help him recover from a degenerative auto-immune disease. He said, “Laughter is internal jogging.”

How much does the mind influence how the body functions? The question has prompted debate in recent years. Scientists realise that mental stress has a negative effect on the immune system, while a positive attitude and belly laughter benefits our health. It is the best antidote for stress, promotes good health, promotes teamwork, builds confidence, encourages problem-solving, prevents burn-out, reduces fear, stimulates creativity and helps us become more productive.

At 23 years, I was stricken with rheumatoid arthritis. Some days I hurt so much, I want to curl up in a ball and cry. Instead, I fight my pain with joy. I choose to find something to be happy about, and engage myself in something positive. When I get a flare-up, I reach for my stash of laughter-filled DVDs; Horrible Bosses, Bridesmaids and Airplane!.

A hearty chuckle stretches the muscles from the diaphragm all the way to the scalp and releases tension that causes fatigue, stress, and headaches, while giving a giant burst of energy. Laughing releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and mood-lifters.

Pain is inevitable, the suffering part is optional. If you want to be happy, act happy. Bill Cosby said, “You can turn painful situations around through laughter. If you can find the humour in anything, you can survive it.” The next time you have an ache or pain and are feeling blue, don’t whine. Find something joyful to do. Take a walk in the sunshine. Enjoy nature. Kiss your grandkids. Invite your funniest friend to lunch. Don’t just sit there—do something silly.

Look at your life and write a short essay about what happens to you in the course of a day. Take a humorous look at things, it helps put life in perspective and allows you to move forward, healthier.

I’m just not funny, you say?

Some people think you either have a sense of humour or you don’t, that you cannot teach someone to be funny. My intent isn’t to turn you into a stand-up comic. However, it is possible to awaken your funny bone. You don’t teach people to be funny; you merely give them permission.

In A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Scrooge was a miserable, hardhearted, old sort with no sense of humour. As the tale unfolds, his attitude changes. The spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future awaken the compassionate, charitable, happy heart that was there underneath all that selfishness and misery. Scrooge was able to find happiness only when he wanted it, by realising its value.

You don’t teach people to be funny; you merely give them permission

The same thing can occur with your sense of humour. If you really want to have more humour in your life, you can. We all have some element of pain or unmanageable times to go through in our lives. My mission is to show the value of humour. Think of it as a gradual awakening of the joys of laughter and an introduction to this wonderful vehicle that will help you through the difficult times and simply make the good times more meaningful.

I went to a building supply to buy a shed. Now shoes I know about, but sheds I know nothing. I was asking questions about how it goes together when I realised that men were piling up behind me with lumber and sheet rock. They were getting impatient with all my questions.

Three men were waiting to talk with the clerk who was finishing up my paperwork. They were shifting their weight from one foot to the other, taking deep breaths—all signs of being impatient, frustrated by the many questions I was asking. They were anxious to get their purchases and get on to work. Everyone was stressed.

Next to the counter was a coffee pot. The man waiting next to me looked at the free coffee, then looked over at me and said in a sort of sexy way, “So... can I buy you a cup of coffee?” The men behind us laughed, I laughed, and the clerk laughed, and then he poured me a cup of coffee. It was just something silly he thought of and it totally relieved everyone’s stress. That is a perfect example of using your comic vision to turn an unpleasant moment into a pleasant one. Use your comic vision at work, in the car, with the kids, with the spouse, in the store or wherever you happen to be.

What if I don’t feel like laughing?

Penguin with dumbles
Did you ever go to the gym and exercise even though you really didn’t feel like it?

When we’re in a bad mood, the last thing we want to hear is ‘cheer up!’ It is great advice, but not always the appropriate thing to say in such a circumstance. Socrates went around giving people advice and they poisoned him. We can do something about the bad mood we’re in. Think of it as a cancer in your body. Left unattended, it spreads. If we don’t eliminate it, a bad mood can lead to depression and serious mental illness. Have an action plan.

Put together some steps to take whenever you feel sad, lonely, depressed, or just not yourself. Follow the plan. When I feel blue, I listen to a Bill Cosby CD and end up laughing. Sometimes taking a walk outside will do the trick. Did you ever go to the gym and exercise even though you really didn’t feel like it? You still got all the benefits of exercise, felt more energised, toned your muscles and burned calories. When you don’t feel like laughing, but laugh or smile anyway, you still get the benefits. Try it and see for yourself. When things are not the way you want them to be, people aren’t treating you the way you think they should, traffic isn’t flowing the way you’d like it to—force yourself to find the funny. Force that laugh and smile to come through. You’ll reap the benefits even if you don’t feel like laughing. I often go into my room, close the door and laugh hysterically for a good five minutes. It’s a great way to wake up if you’re sitting at the desk half asleep. It’s the greatest pick-me-up. You don’t have to have anything to laugh about. Think of it as exercise. It’s the same whether we’re at work, at home or in the grocery store. We can let our problems overtake us and allow depression to destroy us, or we can learn to cope by using a wonderful tool—our sense of humour.

The positive power of humour

A woman came up to me after a presentation and shared this story about the loss of her husband. She said, “My husband died last year. I cried non-stop. I was making myself sick, I cried so much. My heart was broken. He was my soul mate, my love. I didn’t know how to live without him. For a change of pace, my sister-in-law invited me to go to the Bahamas. I stopped crying and enjoyed the few days in the sun. On our last night, in a crowded restaurant, everyone was having a great time, the music was beautiful, the view of the ocean was lovely, the food was delicious and I thought... my husband would have just loved this. At that moment, I burst into uncontrollable tears. People stopped talking and looked over at me. The waitress came to the table with the check and sort of froze. My sister-in-law looked up at her and said, ‘She does this every time the check comes’. At that moment, I burst into laughter — uncontrollable laughter.” That is the positive power of humour.

Laugh. Laugh. Repeat.

Penguin driving a motor-cycle
My most stressful situation is driving. I’m always on a mission; everyone else is on vacation

Humour is a skill that requires daily repetition and practice. What’s the one thing we have control over? Our actions. The way in which we respond to a situation. We have the power of choice. We can either choose to use the skills or choose to find an excuse not to.

If you recognise what makes you laugh, how will that improve your humour skills? Easy. Open up your eyes, ears, nose, and all of your senses. Be ready to find the funny. Your sense of humour is simply your ability to see the absurdity in difficult situations. My most stressful situation is driving. I’m always on a mission; everyone else is on vacation. I get behind the guy who likes to slow down for the garage sale but never quite pulls over. To be careful that I don’t boil over when I’m stuck in a traffic jam, I keep my stress-buster in the glove compartment. While waiting for traffic to move, I put on my red clown nose and wait for the driver next to me to react. If I’m on the Garden State Parkway, it takes a while before anyone looks at me. When they do, some still don’t laugh, so I put on my Smile-on-a-Stick. That usually does the trick. It makes me laugh. It passes time without getting me all worked up. I have accomplished something. I’ve made someone laugh who probably was as stressed out as I was. It works.

While waiting for traffic to move, I put on my red clown nose and wait for the driver next to me to react. I make someone laugh who probably was as stressed out as I was

You may think this is not what normal people do. You’re right. But who wants to be normal? Only dead fish swim with the stream! Shakespeare said, “Things are neither good nor bad but thinking makes it so.” If you think acting a bit wacky will help you through the day, it will. You can be different. You can be creative. You can get wacky. You can go bananas. It works. Your humour skills allow you to take yourself lightly while taking your work seriously. Put a little zip in your step. Spread some joy around the office. Giggle; smile for no apparent reason; be happy.

I’d rather spend my time with someone who can find the silly side of life. I was walking into a shopping mall with a friend from Nashville. We passed this kid with dreadlocks—long, thick, twisted hair. She looked at him and then said in her southern twang, “You know, I washed a rug one time, came out the dryer looking like that.” Some people can just see humour everywhere and make you laugh. That’s the kind of person you want to be around—someone that can make you laugh and put all your troubles on hold for a few minutes. I think it’s important to be flexible and to be able to see the funny side of life.

The secret in your kid’s head

Do you snap the minute something goes wrong? Are you the first to panic when you’re late? Do you worry about things before they happen? It’s time to look for some relief by spending time with children. They can amuse, tickle and thrill themselves with a shoelace, three margarine tubs and a broken yo-yo, and so can you. Our world is filled with situations ripe for our pure enjoyment. Children are masters at finding that joy everywhere.

Author Ashley Montagu says, “By learning to act more like a child, human beings can revolutionise their lives becoming for the first time, perhaps, the kind of creatures their heritage has prepared them to be—youthful all the days of their lives.”

Adults oftentimes feel that giggles and guffaws are sort of like Starbucks—nice to have, but a luxury that not most of us can afford. We have bills to pay, goals to achieve, people to please. Simple pleasures of knock-knock jokes, amusing pratfalls and adeptly censored one-liners are frivolous and unnecessary, so we think. My niece and her husband were on their way back to New York after a vacation at Disney. Her four children were securely buckled into their seats when the plane came into rough weather. As the plane jumped through the air, passengers held on for dear life. Panic, fear and shock were prevalent throughout the cabin. Immediately, the kids began to raise their hands up over their heads and shout in unison, ‘Weeeeeeeee, Weeeeeeee!’ The tiny tots giggled and continued to raise their arms over their heads each time the plane hit an air pocket. The children decided to make the most of the situation, while the adults chose to be frightened. When the passengers noticed the children’s reaction, they too began to laugh. The more people laughed, the less stress there was in the cabin.

The same thing was happening to both, the children and the adults on the plane. They were all being rocked about due to the choppy weather. The difference was: the kids decided to enjoy the ride. It matters not what your circumstances are, you have the power to enjoy life right now, in this moment. Make a choice to find the funny side of life. Try to think like a child. The next time you get together for a family dinner, sit at the children’s table. It’s more fun there. Maintain your youthful enthusiasm all the days of your life; lighten up, you’ll live longer.

Transform your workplace one giggle at a time

Penguin holding filesAn ancient Chinese proverb states that, ‘A person without a smiling face must not open a shop’. That makes sense. We frequent places where people make us feel good, where people give us a smile, remember our name, may be even say something nice. I have my morning coffee at an adorable little café filled with the aroma of freshly baked pastries and dark brewed coffee. The coffee is so strong, I have to dilute it with water, and the pastries are a little too high in fat for me. I still love going there for one reason: the sweet Italian lady who works there. She hugs me and tells me I look beautiful. I need that more than coffee most mornings. She asks me what I’m up to, asks about my children, sisters and mom. I noticed she does this with everyone; however, I like to think I’m special and that she just really likes me. It’s a great way to begin my day.

Persist in your pursuit of humour

Penguin to start a painting
You can learn to paint and enjoy it just as easily as you can learn to relax and add more fun to your life. You have to want to do it and take action

If you think you either have a sense of humour or you don’t, I offer this logic: What if you wanted to learn to paint but found you weren’t good at it and quit? That would be the end of it. You’d never learn to paint. However, if you enrolled in an art class, checked out some books at the library, studied technique, went to galleries, art museums, would that have a positive effect on the way you painted? You can learn to paint and enjoy it just as easily as you can learn to relax and add more fun to your life. You have to want to do it and take action. Even if you’re the orneriest old goat, there’s still hope for you as long as you want humour in your life and do what’s necessary to make it so.

When my daughter Aubry was five years old, she wanted to be a singer. She was a terrible singer. I called her One-Note Lucy. Aubry sang at the top of her lungs, the dog left the room, the paint on the wall peeled, and some of my plants died. My only hope was that her yearning to be a singer would fade. Unfortunately, it just got stronger. She pleaded for singing lessons. I offered her anything and everything else. She took tap, ballet, and jazz lessons for several years and quit. Bass lessons lasted three weeks. I enrolled her in a modelling class. After the first fashion show, she quit. I bought her a trumpet. It became a decoration in her room. I tried to interest her in anything but singing. The kid couldn’t hold a tune.

At 15, she befriended a young girl who happened to be the best singer at school. Aubry went with her friend to a voice lesson, sat on the couch, and listened intently. Her hunger to sing became stronger. This hunger, however, didn’t improve her ability. After quitting dance, guitar, modelling, and trumpet, I felt voice lessons would be throwing money away.

Determined, she found a way without me. She made a deal with the voice teacher. Aubry would tell her she had no talent and that would be the end of it. That was in 1987. Aubry never missed a voice lesson in 10 years. She now sings professionally. Her voice is like an angel’s. I cry when I hear her sing, partially because her voice is so beautiful, but mostly because I have such pride in this little girl who never gave up on her dream until it became a reality. She was focussed. She wanted it.

Becoming humorous is like becoming a great vocalist. You don’t wake up one morning and begin to laugh more

Becoming humorous is like becoming a great vocalist. You don’t wake up one morning and begin to laugh more. You have to take action. Be obsessive. Get fixed on the idea. Set a laugh-out-loud goal. ’Today, I’m going to laugh out loud three times before I go home.’ The next day, go for five times, then work your way up to 10 laughs a day. You’ve got to look for the funny. Keep a journal. Write down everything that makes you laugh. You’ll recognise your type of humour. There are many different types. Something that I find hysterical, you may not smile at, and vice versa. Identify your funny bone, then look for the kinds of things that make you laugh.

There’s FUN in DysFUNctional.

“Words with a ‘K’ sound in it are funny. ‘Cupcake’ is funny.
‘Tomato’ is not funny.”

Neil Simon, The Sunshine Boys

If we can change our mood, we can change our future. Living in the past is like driving into the future looking in the rear view mirror. This is helpful advice, but how do we take control of the situation with humour? How can we turn a difficult task into an easy one? This next story illustrates how a man turned an otherwise annoying situation into a great, funny story.

A speeding motorist caught by a roadside camera tried to play a little joke when the police sent him a speeding ticket. The notice included a photograph of the car, the date, the speed, and demanded payment of a fine. The motorist sent back a picture of a cheque.

The police responded with a photograph of handcuffs. The motorist got the message and mailed the real cheque. The story appeared in countless papers, bringing laughter to its readers.

When you’re in the middle of an upsetting situation, take a moment to find something funny about it. Laugh at the negative situations that happen.

I’m a pretty relaxed, down-to-earth person when I am at home, but when at these big conventions, I’m dealing with highly sophisticated, well... I call them big shots. I try hard not to say something stupid and act like an idiot. But no matter how hard I try to be sophisticated and polished, my true self always emerges. A woman that I’d been working with suggested we go get massages after the conference. This fancy spa is so relaxing with fountains, soft music, and scented candles. It’s beautiful. She introduces me to the masseuse and we go into our separate rooms. I lay down on the table, and this gal is doing such a great job that I fell asleep.

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She has to wake me to tell me to turn over. She lifts the sheet so that I could roll over, but I’m so disoriented because I just woke up that I roll away from, instead of towards her, and I fall off the table. She drops the sheet and grabs one of my feet and one of my arms to keep me from hitting the floor. She is quick. So here I am, hanging off the table, naked as a jaybird. How do you recover from that kind of humiliation? Laugh. She says, “Are you alright?” I say, “Oh, honey, this happens to me all the time. My life is a never-ending sitcom. Let’s just get back on the table and finish this up.” We get in the car to head back to the hotel and the woman that I was working with, after hearing all the commotion asks me, “What was that racket in there?” And I say, “Oh, that. That was my self-esteem falling off the table.”

7 steps to a humour-filled life

  • Make friends with the funniest person at work. Stay connected with funny friends.
  • Buy silly things that make you smile. Keep toys at the office. Have a clown nose on hand.
  • Start a humour library. Collect cartoons, DVDs and books that make you laugh.
  • Watch humorous movies and TV shows.
  • Attend fun-filled events. Start a humour night with neighbours, co-workers, or friends.
  • Create workplace fun. Hire a stand-up comic for a function. Post cartoons on a bulletin board.
  • Make other people happy. Dress up in a funny costume, surprise someone. Make it a goal to give out 20 smiles a day. Do something for someone. Expect nothing in return.

A version of article this was first published in the September 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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