Living with Enthusiasm 
by Mary Marcdante



Day 12

 

Feel Deeply and Laugh Often

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When was last time you had a really good belly laugh that brought tears to your eyes?

  1. This is a ridiculous question. What’s the point?

  2. I can’t remember, maybe years ago.

  3. Last month on “Friends.”

  4. Just this morning! Good thing my legs were crossed so I didn’t wet my pants. Life is so funny sometimes I can’t help myself – I have to laugh.

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Emotions are the driving force of our lives. Anger, fear, sadness, embarrassment, shame, confusion, passion, joy, love, gratitude – take your pick – they lead us to choices and actions that shape both our daily lives and our destiny. Once we learn how to appreciate and work with these wild horses of the heart, they can enrich our lives and keep our spirits running free.

Every time I announce that we’re going to discuss the power of emotions in my stress management seminars, I notice a lot of chair movement, uncomfortable twitching and shifting of bodies, nervous smiles and cross talk. I purposefully point this out and ask the participants why they think this is happening. The answers range from “emotions mean I’m probably not going to like what’s coming” to “I was taught ‘think, don’t feel’” to “what are you talking about? I didn’t notice anything.”

Many of us grow up believing it’s wrong to get angry, childish to feel scared, painful to experience sadness and, in some families and classrooms, difficult to feel joy. So we put on a “happy face,” ignore what we’re really feeling, and then as adults wonder why fun is fleeting and deep joy elusive.


Those who don't know how to weep with their whole heart don't know how to laugh either. 
                                                                ~Golda Meir


            Once people realize that emotions are not right or wrong, that they are, in fact, natural mental states that result from the way we process information and can be helpful and even life-saving, then everyone breathes a sigh of relief. When we think of emotions as traffic “yield” signs telling us to slow down and pay attention to what we’re feeling, they work for us instead of controlling us.


If you haven’t had a really good laugh lately, ask yourself when was the last time you had a really good cry.
                                        ~Mary Marcdante

            The more willing you are to fully experience emotions as they come up, the easier they are to release and the more enthusiasm can flow into your life. Sometimes all it takes is venting with a friend or a good cry at the movies to tap into your feelings. (I have this urge to break out in song – “Feelings, nothing more than feelings…) But sometimes it’s difficult, if not impossible, to access certain emotions because they evoke pain. The bad news is that everything from a blue mood to depression can result. The good news is twofold: The right therapist can help you unearth those feelings and associated memories to cultivate personal growth. And the 21-Day Smile Diet can help you increase your joy and raise the volume on your laughter.

 

Ha-ha’s, Ho-ho’ s, Tee-hee’s and Guffaws

Many years ago at a humor workshop by Mark Therrien -- a gifted speaker and publisher of BananaNose Fun Times E-newsletter -- I discovered several different types of laughs including snorts, chuckles, giggles, ha-ha’s, ho-ho’s, tee-hee’s, hee-haws, and guffaws. I also discovered I didn’t have any of these types of laughs; I was a “silent” laugher. Mark suggested that, somewhere along the way growing up, I must have been repeatedly silenced for being too loud and drawing too much attention to myself. “As a result,” he said, “you didn’t just turn down your volume; you turned it off. And now you can turn it back on.”

            My homework was to stand in front of the bathroom mirror at home and practice “ha-ha-ing” – forcing air out of my lungs while smiling and saying ha-ha-ha-ha for as long as I could. The idea was that eventually I would retrain my brain to cough out “ha-ha’s” when I heard something funny.

I wish you could have seen me. Now YOU try it! I hope this makes you laugh. I remember feeling ridiculous at first, and then, because I felt so ridiculous, I started to laugh. One night, after several weeks of practice, I finally heard my natural laugh – my beautiful, loud and natural laugh – and I cried. Big wet tears of joy, tears of loss, tears of gratitude and tears of love. All those years of holding back came out of me like Niagara Falls. Today, my laughter makes my heart smile and is a welcome part of my life.


I have seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful.

                                                                ~BOB HOPE

 

            As my interest in laughter grew, I read about a study conducted by researchers at Loma Linda University. The research stated that one hour of induced laughter from watching comedies significantly decreased the bad stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) and significantly increased the good stress hormones (endorphins and neurotransmitters). But here’s the best and most fun news of all: Fake laughter is as effective as real laughter in managing stress.

            Armed with this information and my new improved laugh, I started inviting audiences to practice fake laughing with me for 30 seconds at the end of my programs. Imagine a ballroom of 2,000 people fake laughing. It makes for such a fun three-ring circus, people can’t wait to try it with their families and coworkers…unless they’re humor-challenged. There are a few in this world, including type-A personalities like Sue whose story follows.

We have to laugh. Because laughter, we already know, is the first evidence of freedom.
                                                         ~Rosario Castellanos

 

Won’t You Just Try It With Me?

Sue came to my program along with several colleagues and their boss who had made their attendance mandatory. In the seminar business, we call these people hostages. They are not happy campers and make sure the speaker knows it. I reminded myself not to get caught in this particular woman’s negative web. I told myself she’d be gone in a few hours, and I’d never see her again. “Let it go,” I kept repeating. But I couldn’t.

Sue resisted all attempts at humor, sitting with her arms crossed and a scowl on her face for most of the seven hours we were together. The few times her expression changed, I noticed that she seemed to be gritting her teeth the way chimpanzees do when they’re agitated. During the 30-second laugh, I saw the person next to her elbow her and say, “Lighten up!” But she continued to resist.

At the end of the program, I made a point of thanking her for coming, hoping for a glimmer of acceptance. She looked away and said, “Yeah, sure. Whatever,” turned and walked on. Whew! I’ve seen a chip on a shoulder, but this was the Rock of Gibraltar and I wanted to crack it. So I approached her again and asked to speak privately with her. She rolled her eyes and reluctantly complied.

I hesitated, then quietly said, “You know, I don’t usually push like this. But I need to say that I see my former self in you. I didn’t know how much pain I was in. I just thought, ‘This is the way life has to be. I made these choices and now I have to live with them.’ That was a lie. We can make new choices. I chose to lighten up and even though it’s not always easy, I keep rechoosing that every day. I hope you will too. Thank you for staying as long as you did. I know it was hard to do.”

She didn’t smile. She didn’t say thank you. She just turned and walked away. I felt terrible. I knew I had overstepped my professional boundaries and went home wondering what had compelled me to act that way.

But sometimes, the heart knows what the mind can’t understand. Three weeks later, I received a call.

Mary, this is Sue, the woman in your stress program who blew you off a few weeks ago. I just had to call and tell you what has happened since then.

I went home after the program thinking about what you said about how painful it is to be serious. You’re so right. I fell asleep thinking about that and tossed and turned most of that night and the next.

On the following Saturday morning, I woke up thinking, “It wouldn’t hurt to give it a try.” So I got up while my husband was still sleeping. I stayed in my pajamas and went out to the living room. I turned on the TV to Saturday morning cartoons. I started the 30-second fake laugh and actually found myself laughing for real at how stupid I felt. And I felt good. And then I felt bad and started to cry. I realized I hadn’t laughed like that with my husband for the last ten years of our 20-year marriage.

After half an hour of cartoons and laughing and crying, I was feeling much better so I let out a really big hah-hah-hah. My husband David came stomping out of the bedroom and said, “What the hell are you doing?”

I said, “I went to this seminar the other day and this woman told us that we could all use more laughter in our lives. She said to fake laugh to get our brains thinking funny, kind of like jumpstarting a car to get it running. So that’s what I’m doing.”

He looked at me and said, “Whatever,” and turned around and started to walk out of the room.

I stopped him and said, “Wait. I just realized that you and I haven’t laughed really hard together in over ten years. Won’t you just come try it with me?”

            He said, “You’re nuts. I’m going back to bed.” He turned and started to walk back to the bedroom for the second time.

I was so embarrassed and hurt. But I remembered what you said about choices. So in this stupid nasal voice tone that I used to use with him when we first started dating, I said, “Please?”

            He started to laugh and then we were both laughing and he came down and sat on the floor next to me. We fake laughed in our pajamas and watched another cartoon show together. It was magic.

            Here’s the most important part, though. Two hours later, we got a phone call from David’s sister saying their father had died suddenly of a heart attack. Since then, it’s been really stressful. I know if we hadn’t had all that laughter, we would have never been able to get through his funeral and I don’t know if our marriage would have made it.

Feel deeply and laugh often, whenever you can. It will help fortify you when you face tough times.

 

Something special happens when people laugh together over something genuinely funny, and not hurtful to anyone. It's like a magic rain that showers down feelings of comfort, safety and belonging to a group.
                                          ~Mary Jane Belfie

 

TODAY’S ACTION STEP

Today involves two processes. If you’re in a funk or want some extra credit for personal growth (time for a 16-second smile!), do the first process. If you’re feeling great, go to the second process and remember to come back to the first process when you need it. This “Just For Now” process is one of the most powerful techniques I have ever used for identifying and releasing emotions. I suggest you write this out in your journal and read it out loud to yourself. The more senses you involve in the process, the easier it is to clear the negativity.

 

PROCESS 1:

1.             Ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” Mad? Sad? Scared? Hurt? Confused? Ashamed? Guilty? Embarrassed? Wistful? (See “What Are Your Emotions Trying To Tell You?” following Process Two for more detail.)

2.             Once you identify the feeling, write out five to ten sentences that begin with “I am feeling (describe whatever emotion you’re feeling – anger, fear, sadness, etc.) because…” Let your feelings work their way up. If you feel tears coming, let yourself cry. Breathe, breathe, breathe and stay self-aware. Here are some examples.

a.       I’m feeling sad because I’m getting older and can’t do as much.

b.      I’m feeling angry because my family doesn’t appreciate all the work I do.

c.       I’m feeling ashamed because I let my sister-in-law down.

3.             As you say the thought, bring your awareness to your heart and let yourself feel that uncomfortable feeling. Breathe slowly two to three times, exhaling the negativity. This is VERY important in releasing the emotion. When you feel the emotion lighten, breathe in a loving smile for yourself.

4.             Keep your awareness at your heart level. Take a deep breath and say, “I choose to let go of the (sadness, anger, fear) just for now.” (“Just for now” helps the resistant part of you accept the change in feelings more easily. If you want to push the envelope, change the words “just for now,” to “right now” throughout the exercise and watch your energy shift.)

5.             Keeping your awareness at your heart, take a deep breath and say, “What I want to feel is (happy, joyful, peaceful, calm, delighted, thrilled, ecstatic, grateful, etc.).

6.             Keeping your awareness at your heart, take a deep breath, smile a 16-second eye-crinkle smile, and say, “I can choose to feel (happy, joyful, peaceful, calm, delighted, thrilled, ecstatic, grateful) just for now.” Repeat these words: “I choose to feel…”

7.             One of the things I can do that will help me feel (happy, joyful, peaceful, calm, delighted, thrilled, ecstatic grateful) is (go for a walk, take a hot bath, deep breathe, journal, etc.).

8.             Now go DO IT.

 

PROCESS 2:

Fake laugh for 30-seconds at least three times today. Below are some suggested places to do it. If you come up with others, email me at mary@marymarcdante.com and I’ll add them to our online list and give you credit.

·      In the mirror to start your day

·      In the car driving to work (windows up if you’re shy, but once you’re a veteran laugher, try leaving the windows open at a stop light)

·      With your children (I love doing this in classrooms. One of my friends, Linda Flores, uses it as a reward with her first-grade students.)

·       With coworkers during a break

·       After a difficult phone call

·       Any time you feel low energy and want a boost

 

TIPS FOR CREATING MORE ENTHUSIASM

·        To loosen up, watch a movie that you know will make you cry and laugh, When you feel tears welling up, really let yourself wail. Let your body tell you when to stop. When you feel laughter coming on, exaggerate it and enjoy the feelings.

·        Get a group of friends and/or coworkers together and start a laughter club, take it to hospitals and senior centers. Visit www.worldlaughtertour.com for more ideas.

·        Memorize a funny story, joke, or one-liner that makes you laugh. Become known for it. When someone you love is having a bad day, all you have to say is, “Did you hear the one about…” and they’ll smile. So will you.

·        Create a laughter file, bulletin board (refrigerators work too) of funny stories, news clippings, cartoons, and funny things that happened to you. Add to it at least once a week. When you’re feeling down, go through the file or visit the bulletin board.

·        Buy fake animal noses or a clown’s red nose and keep them in your car. Wear them while driving or any other time you need a good laugh.

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF

·        Who and/or what have touched you deeply in the
          past year?

·        What is the most difficult emotion for you to feel? To express to others?

·        Whom do you love to laugh with?

·        What is one of the funniest things that has happened to you?

·        What are your family’s fun stories to tell? (Get them on audiotape or  videotape!) 

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 Living with Enthusiasm by Mary Marcdante  
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Copyright 2003 Mary Marcdante
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