At my workshops, I talk about one of the ways to develop a humorous perspective, which is to ask yourself, if you’re in a crisis or embarrassing situation, how would someone else react if they were in your shoes (a favorite comedian, famous person, etc.). Who would be better to ask that question to than a master impressionist like Rich Little?
A few years ago I interviewed Rich for a feature article in my newsletter, and he recalled a time when he used his talent to avoid a potentially dangerous encounter: “Once I was confronted by a bunch of thugs who I thought were going to beat me up. It was in south Florida and I was pretty scared, but within 15 minutes I had them laughing. I was doing my whole act and they were applauding! So I turned that around, I don’t remember exactly how. I think I went into Louie Armstrong. But it was scary. They didn’t know who I was, but when I started doing the impressions they lost their incentive to beat me up.”
Today we are all afflicted to some degree with SDS (spontaneity deficiency syndrome). It is appalling in our society how much we miss merry-making opportunities by censoring our own spontaneity. “Well, I’m trying to find time to be spontaneous,” a harried business acquaintance once muttered.
Indigenous people tend to release their emotions and heal what ails them in the moment, through singing, dancing, chanting, and wearing wild costumes. How many of us would feel comfortable doing that in front of our families? We have largely suppressed or forgotten spontaneity in the maze of our busyness, our plans, our rational thinking, and our control mechanisms.
SDS is a major cause of stress in our world. When we are in a lot of physical pain it takes some strong medicine to get relief. Fun-induced laughter releases endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers, to quell the pain. A pattern interruption for mental anguish can help us refocus. If the pain is emotional, we often need a strong jolt to regain our perspective. A dose of silly nonsense may just do the trick to heal the hurts of the body, the mind, or the heart.
Much resistance can emerge when attempting to implement new company guidelines. An employee at a local department store generated an answer to this problem that not only reduced costly errors but showcased the talents of some store clerks. This person happened to be an aspiring singer, so she created a “compliance choir.”
They sang the new guidelines over the store’s sound speakers just prior to opening the store in the morning, and recorded the lyrics on cassette so each clerk would have one to listen to in the car or at home. Employees were not only hooked on the catchy tune, which they hummed throughout their work day, but they caught the message as well. The company estimated a savings of 15-20% with the musical tutorial.
…JEWISH PERSONAL ADS
Let’s try it for 8 days. Who knows? POB 43
Couch potato pancake in search of the right applesauce.
Divorced Jewish man seeks partner to attend synagogue, light Sabbath candles, celebrate holidays, build Sukkah together, attend brisses, bar mitzvahs. Religion not important. POB 658
Orthodox woman with money, seeks man who got money or can get money. Get it? I’ll show you mine if you show me yours. POB 72.
Sincere rabbinical student, 27, enjoys Yom Kippur, Tisha B’av, Taanis Esther, Tzom Gedalia, Asarah B’Teves, Shiva Asar b’Tammuz.
Seeks companion for living life in the ‘fast lane’. POB 90.
Torah scholar, long beard, sideburns. Seeks same in woman. POB 43.
Nice Jewish guy, 38. No skeletons. No baggage. No personality. POB 97
Female graduate student, studying Kaballah, Zohar, exorcism of dybbuks, seeks mensch. No weirdos please. POB 56.
Jewish businessman, 49, manufactures Sabbath candles, Chanukah candles, Havdallah candles,Yahrzeit candles. Seeks non-smoker. POB 787.
A friend told me she was very glum after her husband died. She was burned out, having thrown herself totally into the relationship and had nothing left to give to herself.
“I didn’t know what to do with myself,” she recalled. “I had spoken to my therapist and asked her if that is what I had been doing all my life, and she said yes. I was really in the pits. I felt like giving up, and seriously considered suicide. Then the phone rang. I picked up the receiver, and I suddenly burst out laughing, because I had this vision of myself lying in a coffin, the phone rings, and I say, `Just a minute, I can’t die yet. I have to answer the phone.’
“I shared this vision with the friend who was calling me, and she was in stitches. I realized how ludicrous the whole thing was. At that moment a life long pattern of nothing but giving, giving, giving changed because I gave myself the gift of laughter.”
In our time, the person most responsible for introducing humor’s healing power to the mainstream is Norman Cousins. The former editor of the Saturday Review and a UCLA professor, Cousins was diagnosed with a collagen disease that had never been cured before. The doctors gave him only six months to live. Rather than succumb to a state of gloom and resignation, he resolved to live gleefully in what appeared to be the abbreviated remainder of his life. At his request, people brought to his bedside funny books, tapes, cartoons, gag gifts, and anything that might provoke laughter. After just a few weeks of devouring a steady diet of comedy (with no other dietary or medicinal changes), his disease went into remission! And his sense of humor became a bit skewed.
One morning Norman Cousins was eating his breakfast when the nurse stepped into the room and handed him an empty specimen bottle, saying she’d return to collect it in a few minutes. After she left, he took the apple juice that came with his breakfast and emptied it into the specimen bottle. When the nurse returned she examined the sample and said, “It looks a little cloudy today, Mr. Cousins.” Norman picked up the bottle and shrieked, “By God nurse, you’re right. Let’s run it through again!” and proceeded to swig from the bottle. He stopped short, however, for concern that the nurse would pass out over the spectacle. .
The raucous laughter of Norman Cousins continually reverberated throughout the ward, which delighted the nurses but disturbed the patients. Hospital administration politely gave him the boot, so he checked into a hotel, which was far more environmentally friendly for outbursts of laughter. His life, which lasted for another 15 years, inspired many in search of pain relief and healing. I saw Norman Cousins receive a humanitarian award about three weeks before he passed away, a man who appeared to be vigorous and in good health. He must have died laughing.
“Mr. Potts, in the midst of poverty, ever laughing. It seems then, that happiness in this life rather depends on internals than externals…” – Ben Franklin
The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan coined the phrase “Gross National Happiness” as a way to define quality of life within a more holistic paradigm. Like most moral ideals, it is easier to state than to define. Nevertheless, it serves as a unifying vision for Bhutan’s planning process to balance material and spiritual development of its people, unlike Gross National Product, which only offers a materialistic construct of economic growth.
Gross National Happiness, or GNH, was created by King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1972, indicating his commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan’s unique culture, based on Buddhist spiritual values. The four pillars of GNH are the promotion of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance. More specifically, concerns have been identified as psychological well-being, health, education, good living standards, community vitality and ecological diversity.
“It is not antithetical to economic growth, but growth should reflect what people want,” states Karma Tshiteem, the head of Bhutan’s planning commission. “Environment, culture and tradition are the aspects that are important to Buddhist people.” Tshiteem lives in Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital nestled in the hills, which is devoid of high-rise buildings, traffic jams and smog.
Officials said they have already conducted a survey of around 1,000 people and drawn up a list of parameters for being happy — similar to the development index tracked by the United Nations. The main purpose of the index is to evaluate whether the plans, policies and programs of the government conform to the GNH concept. The pilot survey revealed that 68 percent of Bhutanese could be classified as being happy, though Tshiteem notes that “Bhutan is not utopia. We are also tempted by materialism.”
The challenge will be shielding Bhutan from what is perceived as the more negative aspects of growth being faced by Goliath neighbors India and China — social upheaval, delinquency, air and water pollution, rampant materialism and the steady erosion of age-old traditions.
Perhaps we in the U.S. need to undertake a similar values assessment. While the news media is trumpeting with regularity the gloomy economic news, there is an opportunity for deeper reflection for what is ultimately important. Happiness is a choice, not dependent upon external factors, but a desire as natural as breathing.