Provision #509: Laugh Out Loud

Laser Provision

Today’s Provision has three simple points: (1) if you don’t feel like laughing, do it anyway. Laughter is a healing balm that lifts the spirits and restores the soul. (2) if you feel like laughing, do it out loud. A quiet, inward chuckle has nowhere near the fitness benefits of loud, boisterous laughs. (3) if you want a fitness regimen, do it often. Young children laugh 400 times per day; adults laugh 17 times per day. So become like little children, and live!

LifeTrek Provision

This is a hard week to write about laughter, given the tragedy at Virginia Tech as well as the ongoing tragedies around the world (Iraq, for example, and the genocide in Darfur). Anyone who pays attention to the news must find little cause for laughter.

Unless, of course, it’s the news itself that drives us to laugh in order to renew our energy and recover our balance. That is the connection between current events and our current series on Optimal Fitness. As we have seen, fitness is not about exercising all the time. That wears down and eventually wears out the body. It does not lead to Optimal Fitness.

Fitness is about alternating rhythmically between times of exertion and times of recovery, with more time being spent in recovery than in exertion. That’s why we started our discussion of fitness with sleep, emphasizing the importance of sleeping more than 33% of every day. Between eight hours at night and an occasional afternoon nap (ideally, at least three days per week), even the most vigorous of endurance athletes spend more time sleeping than pushing themselves in competition or training. That’s just the way our bodies are made.

But sleep is not the only prescription for rest, recovery, and relaxation. Two weeks ago we reviewed the importance of deep, rhythmic breathing. Even short periods of such breathing can generate big results when it comes to health and wellness. 60 seconds, for example, can generate hours of reduced blood pressure throughout the day. That’s not much more time than it takes to fill a glass and swallow a pill, with no negative side effects. We would all do well to pause and breathe in this way at least twice a day.

Laughter is another one of those healing balms that we would do well to cultivate in good times and bad. Especially in bad times. Holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, notes that “humor is one of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation.” During the unspeakable ordeal of the holocaust, humor often made the difference between those who lived and those who died.

Laughing with other prisoners, singing songs, reciting poems, and telling jokes, helped people to forget their predicament. Laughing with prison guards created bonds that, on occasion, spared both hardships and executions. Frankl writes,

“The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of trick learned while mastering the art of living. Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent. A very trifling thing can cause the greatest of joys. Upon being taken to Dachau, for example, we were delighted to discover that we had arrived at a concentration camp without a crematorium. We laughed and cracked jokes about our camp not having a ‘chimney,’ unlike Auschwitz, even though we had to stand outside, frozen and soaked to the skin, all through the night and late into the next morning.”

So, too, when it comes to the tragedy at Virginia Tech. On Tuesday, the day after the shootings, Nikki Giovanni, Distinguished Professor of English and Black Studies at Virginia Tech, concluded a program of reflection and contemplation with the following remarks. “We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on. We are embracing our mourning. We are Virginia Tech. We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend and cry, and sad enough to know we must laugh again.”

She then said, in a very powerful voice:

We Are Virginia Tech.
We are the Hokies!
We will prevail!
We will prevail!

At which point the quiet crowd leapt to its feet as one in a spontaneous and repeated chanting of the school’s rallying cry, “Let’s go Hokies! Let’s go Hokies! Let’s go Hokies!“.

That is not just college pride or youthful enthusiasm. That is the transformational experience of those who remember to laugh and even to dance in the dragon’s jaws (to quote Ken Medema’s song and CD by the same name). Such laughter happens naturally, if we allow it to come, often when we least expect it.

One of my favorite memories of my father-in-law, who everyone called “Doc,” was of his contagious belly laughs. When something caught his fancy or struck his funny bone, he would laugh long and loud and hard. That laughter would soon get everyone within earshot  laughing too, until tears streamed down our faces and our bellies ached.

That laughter was cut short 25 years ago, when Doc died suddenly of a heart attack at age 59. The funeral was a sad, somber affair, with the church packed to overflowing with people whose lives he had touched. After the service, however, as family and friends gathered to comfort one another, one person after another began to tell stories of the zany things Doc had said and done over the years. Before long, tears of laughter and gratitude were once again streaming down our faces, replacing tears of grief.

Laughter is like that. It’s contagious! Can you remember a time, as a child, when you experienced a fit of uncontrollable giggles? It usually involved your siblings or friends and no amount of shushing by  parents or teachers was able to settle you down.

Whatever happened to such laughter? Young children laugh about 400 times a day; older adults laugh about 17 times a day. Life has a way of beating laughter out of people; but as Viktor Frankl, Nikki Giovanni, Ken Medema, “Doc” Moran, and many others know: we constrain laughter at great expense to our health and well being.

Laughter has been shown to reduce stress, to strengthen the immune system, to reduce food cravings, to lessen pain, and to promote healing. A good belly laugh is also good exercise for the abs, shoulders, chest, and heart, after which the muscles relax and recover (not to mention the emotions). Laughter also connects us with others, since it’s hard to get a really good laugh going all by ourselves.

That may be why there is a growing phenomenon of laughter clubs around the world: it takes two (or more) not only to tango, but also to laugh Click. Laughter clubs typically meet in the morning, at the start of the day, for about 20 minutes. They can involve as many as 100 people who laugh not at jokes but as a spiritual practice.

After an initial warm up, the group runs through a series of laughter patterns that eventually give way to an epidemic of spontaneous giggles, chuckles, and guffaws. Participants report feeling refreshed, relaxed, revitalized, and rejuvenated by the experience. You can watch a short report on the Laughter Yoga Club in Denver, and perhaps enjoy a few laughs of your own, by going to YouTube.

The point here is threefold. First, laugh anyway, even when you’re not in the mood to laugh. Fake it until you make it. The laugher will do you good. Second, laugh out loud. It’s not enough to chuckle inwardly at a joke or cartoon, we have to get our bodies involved in order to experience the fitness benefits of laughter. Third, laugh often. The more we become like little children, laughing frequently throughout the day, the more health we will enjoy.

What makes you laugh out loud? Whatever it is, do it! If you enjoy comedians or funny movies, then be sure to get your fill. If you have friends who make you laugh, then be sure to spend time with them. If you need to lighten up and to change your perspective on life, then remember Rule Number 6. “What’s that?” you ask. Roz and Ben Zander tell the story this way:

Two prime ministers were sitting in a room discussing affairs of state. Suddenly a man bursts in, apoplectic with fury, shouting and stamping and banging his fist on the desk. The resident prime minister admonishes him: “Peter,” he says, “kindly remember Rule Number 6,” whereupon Peter is instantly restored to complete calm, apologizes, and withdraws.

The politicians returned to their conversation, only to be interrupted yet again twenty minutes later by an hysterical woman gesticulating wildly, her hair flying. Again the intruder is greeted with the words: “Marie, please remember Rule Number 6.” Complete calm descends once more, and she too withdraws with a bow and an apology.

When the scene is repeated for a third time, the visiting prime minister addresses his colleague: “My dear friend, I’ve seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Would you be willing to share with me the secret of Rule Number 6?” “Very simple,” replies the resident prime minister. “Rule Number 6 is: Don’t take yourself so darn seriously.”

“Ah,” says his visitor, “that is a fine rule.” After a moment of pondering, he inquires, “And what, may I ask, are the other rules?”

“There aren’t any.”

That is, indeed, a fine rule that applies not only to ourselves but also to all of life. If we take life so seriously that we never find time or reason to laugh, then we will not enjoy the health benefits that come from rest, relaxation, and recovery. It’s time to get out and laugh.

Coaching Inquiries: How often do you smile and laugh? How could you do it more often? Who makes you laugh? How could you spend more time with them? What permissions or practices do you need to adopt in order to lighten up for life?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob..

What a beautiful poem by Robert Frost! I love the word illustrations referring to the weather in the third paragraph and on. My husband  and I were just discussing how amusing the weather fluctuations have been this month. Your Provision last weekend was great to read as we too were enjoying the blooms through the snow.

This poem “hit home” with me and is making me explore even deeper what it is I want to spend my days doing. Your question at the end, “Who do you know who does this well?” has me stumped. Unfortunately, I can’t think of anyone in my •circle• of friends or family. Another inquiry that comes to mind would be “How could you surround yourself with more people that integrate their avocations with their vocations?” “Where can you find these people to have as role models?”

Your Provisions are great thought provokers and the fact that you are living your life with integrated avocations and vocations gives me inspiration.

Good morning! I hope you are well! I want to take a moment and thank you for the Provision you sent out on Easter. It was so powerful to me! For me it read like poetry • the imagery of the snow on the Cherry blossoms and your other vivid descriptions really made my heart sing!!

I also very much valued the connection of the day of Easter as a time for rebirth and unexpected miracles • given all we have going on around us (especially in Virginia) it seems all the more necessary to be open and aware of the miracles we are blessed with each day. Thank you for doing what you do and filling my Sundays with joy!!

Your readers might be interested in the “Four Levels of Happiness.” They sure fit with LifeTrek Provisions.

Level 1: Immediate Gratification.
We all know about this one. “You’re worth it! Get it now! Why wait, you deserve it.” The benefit to Level 1 happiness is that it usually works … for a while. When the good feelings wear off, though, we can often find ourselves emptier than before. If we’re honest, we usually “live” at Level 1 when we are trying to feel better about ourselves or to avoid or subdue our fears. It’s a pretty shallow happiness. 

Level 2: Gratification Through Achievement.
This one is less self-centered than Level 1. We are using our talents to achieve goals, to accomplish something good. There will be some short-term gain and we can experience a sense of success. If we remain here, though, we can become fearful of failure, isolated, jealous, and cynical. Happiness becomes something to be worked at endlessly. After years of this, the burden can become overwhelming. 

Level 3: Gratification through contribution.
In this level we take our eyes off ourselves and begin serving others, helping to meet their needs. The benefits of this kind of living can far outweigh more self-centered tendencies. We begin to see ourselves as part of a community, able to make a real difference in the lives of others. Our own happiness increases as we stop grasping for it. And finally … 

Level 4: Transcendent Gratification.
We are now living for a purpose that is larger than us, something truly worthy of a life, worthy of our life. We seek the happiness and joy of others by giving our energy to justice, peace, beauty, love. We are living for something that will outlast us, something that will contribute to many, many lives, not simply our own.

We call it “transcendent” because it gets us in touch with that which is beyond us. Those who are happiest become the kind of people that naturally use their signature strengths, in a virtuous fashion to make a contribution. I commonly see people who gain power, control and money in their business lives thinking this will make them happy. Most of them will tell you it’s an illusion. Those who don’t, haven’t thought about it.

I’m so glad someone else kvetched! I’ve hated the small type but didn’t want to be a complainer. Now I can, because its fixed 🙂 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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