Laughing at Halloween Is A Treat

We all face stress every day of our lives. Much of that stress is caused by sources beyond our control so it doesn’t help to stress over that stress.

During this scary fun time of year, we can disguise ourselves for just a bit. Step out of our usual roles to become someone or something else, like a witch or a superhero or a princess or a pirate.  Halloween gives us an excuse to leave our everyday selves behind and explore new personalities and possibilities.

I encourage you to be creative; use your imagination; have fun and LAUGH!   Everything is made better with the treat of laughter.

Watch this short video message from me and learn how you can put more ha ha ha into your Ha-ppy Halloween!

Glad They Didn’t Serve Tomatoes

A Missed Call I Wanted to Return

Last week I received a phone call out of the blue. I saw this person’s name pop up on my phone after coming out of the shower. I knew him for years but not very well and I couldn’t imagine why I was getting a call at 8AM. After listening to his message I was pleasantly surprised to hear that he wanted to hire me to perform/speak to a group of seniors who were ending a week-long scholar program at a local university. The even better part was I had already presented programs at this university on about eight other occasions so I knew the concept of paying speakers for their time and talents was familiar to them. I also always enjoyed their vivacious audiences that had included hundreds of nuns, students, alumni and seniors. But for some reason, I was extra nervous on Friday. I will chalk that up to all of the anxiety that I am feeling lately in my personal and professional life for various reasons – all things that I am working to better manage.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

When I arrived Friday night the campus looked beautiful in the bright sun of late afternoon and smelled of freshly cut grass. I walked into the building where the dinner was being held and I saw just a few servers for the evening’s event, a few students and one or two seniors milling around. I did not see my contact so I sat down and wrote some notes about what jokes I would do and what laughter yoga exercises would follow. I am always a bit more cautious and concerned about jokes for seniors but I probably shouldn’t be because I tend to do very well with mature audiences who always give me smiles and rave reviews. When my contact did not appear and no other representative from the college approached me, I chose a table where I would sit for the dinner being served before my presentation. I introduced myself to the couple seated there as being the presenter for the evening. In a loud voice, the woman who we will call ‘Sue’ to protect her identity, asked “Oh, are you the comedian?” At that question my shoulders dropped a little as well as my head. I don’t do straight up comedy performances much anymore and I prefer not to be billed as a comedian. I do tell jokes or humorous stories, as I prefer to call them, before I talk about the value that humor and laughter add to our lives and before asking the audience to stand for interactive laughter yoga exercises but I’m not doing a full stand-up act.  I am a writer and an observant person who pays attention to details. I love words and I think they need to be used and interpreted correctly (keep in mind that I say correctly through the eyes of Jeannine, as in: correct grammar, accurate facts, descriptions and information being shared, proper details, etc). I am in the minority perhaps. While it is true that people will interpret as they want to and they will latch on to what they want to, it does make a difference how a message is communicated to determine how it is understood. When people hear that there is going to be a “comedian” after dinner, they prepare mentally to sit back, relax and be entertained. Because I want to engage them intellectually with information about research and anecdotes and I want them to participate physically, it is important to prepare them for what is expected. So I worried that they may not be into my program.

It’s Not the Piano That’s Out of Tune

As more seniors arrived and sat near me, I began to feel comfortable…that was until they ganged up on the poor piano man.  Sue had already commented once to her husband that the piano sounded like it needed to be tuned and they both shared their bad reviews of his playing with one another. Then as dinner went on, another woman, let’s call her Candi, responded to her friend’s question of “What song is he playing?” with “I don’t know but whatever it is, he stinks.” This was the confirmation that Sue needed. She now had her  ammunition to go ask another woman who had been helping with details of the conference all week to make the piano player stop playing. This other woman explained that it would be offensive to ask the piano man to stop playing but she would ask him to play softer to make Sue happy.  All the while an older woman seated to my right, had been commenting about how lovely the songs sounded, but she had a much more subtle presence at the dinner than Sue. As I sat there listening to them trash the piano player who was fine for my layman’s ears, fear rose up from my toes. I thought to myself “I’m glad there are no tomatoes around or they just might throw them.” I worried that they might look for a hook or get up and leave if they didn’t think I was funny.  I was roused from my daydream in which Sue was literally tossing me to the curb by Sue’s soothing statement of “I hope the others don’t mind that you’re not doing all comedy.”  I had thought the same thing but didn’t need Sue commenting on it as well. I told her that hopefully they would use humor to manage their disappointment since that was the point of my program.  Then, more reassurance came from Candi, “YOU are the comedian?” asked with such a degree of surprise that I wondered if I should be the one taking the microphone or if perhaps, Sue might be better suited for the gig. I foolishly began to explain that while I was going to tell some humorous stories, there was more to the program that would require audience participation. Then Candi persisted with “You mean we’re not gonna laugh?”  To that I wanted to answer, “Dear God, I hope you do,” but instead I said, “Yes, you will laugh, not to worry.”

And Now for Something Completely Different

A young, meek college student who had just explained the details of the survey that had been passed out and that the movie being shown after my program was going to be “Wild,” – a movie that Sue told us at dinner she had no interest in seeing – gave me an introduction like none I’ve received before. In her defense, she is inexperienced and was not given proper information or notice. She basically said, “You’re going to have a comedy and laughter program by Jeannine and she’s here with us tonight.” Then she walked away from the mic and all eyes – and bright cafeteria lights – were on me. I started off a little slowly and felt particularly nervous wondering what my table mates from dinner were going to think of me but then I kicked it into high gear and started getting laughs. I even saw Sue and her husband smile and laugh (controlled laughs) a few times. Candi looked like she might have preferred the piano player but that was okay with me because her friend to her right was beaming. Her eyes were laughing.

When it came time to do laughter yoga exercises, all but about four people stood to join me. And among those participating, all but a handful looked like they were into the practice and really enjoying it.  After my program I felt relieved, happy and less stressed. There is something to that feeling of satisfaction, knowing that you succeeded with an audience but there is also the fact that laughter really does work. It makes us feel good. That’s my message. And I am proof that I feel better after laughing and helping others to laugh.

I felt elated to hear comments like “That was just amazing how you got all those people up on their feet laughing because they… well some of them… are kind of glum.” And another woman added that she could not believe I got her husband to participate. More positive comments followed that made me feel very proud and pleased with my ability to be a conduit for laughter and a positive message. I didn’t see Candi after my presentation and Sue and her husband talked to one another while I gathered my belongings, but I know the truth. I saw them smiling. I saw them participating. And I saw them having such a good time that I don’t think they would have thrown tomatoes even if they had them. I’m not so sure about the poor piano man but he’ll have other gigs to play again. Friday night I was happy they were letting me sing my tune and happily singing along with me: Ho ho ho. Ha ha ha. Hee hee hee.

With Humor Fueling Our Steps, Let’s Trail Together

Trails are simple in nature but can lead to a robust lifetime of benefits for the community in the form of healthier residents, booming businesses and renewed pride. Here in northeastern Pennsylvania, we are fortunate to have The Lackawanna River Heritage Trail (LRHT), which is part of a 70-mile multi-purpose trail system that follows the Lackawanna River. The trails have grown in popularity with residents and that’s great! We have a place to exercise, enjoy nature and come together. As with any passageway that gets congested, we all need to follow some rules for safety and a good experience.  Consider these tips to get the most from your trail experience while letting others do the same.

 

• Group Think – Everybody’s Doing It: Having friends to walk with is helpful. They can keep you accountable. Just knowing that you’re supposed to meet for a walk helps to motivate you. And…it’s fun. You chit chat while you walk and time passes quickly. You don’t even realize you’re exercising. But, even if you feel like you’re joined at the hip with your friends, there are times when you need to separate … like walking on a trail. There’s simply not enough space for people to walk four or five-across when someone is running, walking or biking toward you. Be polite and tighten up to let the oncoming exerciser pass without having to run through foliage.

•Not A Place for Free-range Dogs or Kids: I do not currently have a pet and I am not a parent, but I am affected by the way pet owners and parents manage their charges. Please take no offense. I am not putting children in the same category as Chihuahuas. Those yappy dogs are much more obnoxious than children and much fussier about the sweaters they’ll wear. I’m kidding. Dogs will wear whatever sweater you put over their little heads. Seriously, children and dogs are equally delightful but in obviously different ways. And both can get in the way if they are not being supervised. Even if your child is the most well-behaved on the planet, and even if your dog is the calmest, most obedient pet on Earth, you are the adult humans in charge of both. Children are carefree, as they should be. That means they tend to run, bike and play as kids do – all over the place. When I’m out for a run or bike ride, I am prepared to stop as needed, but… my planned exercise is better when I don’t have to zigzag, stop short or brake so hard that I fly over my handlebars. Please exercise control over your children and your pets, which need to be on a leash – the pets that is.  Your cooperation and courtesy is appreciated.

•When Poop Happens, Clean it Up: It seems ridiculous that this would have to be said and yet my Berber carpet knows all too well that some people ignored the first memo about what to do when poop happens. These are folks like my careless, inconsiderate neighbor who lets her dog roam and conduct business on my property and other free-range pet owners who leave organic “gifts” along our trails. I don’t care if your dog is small enough to fit inside your Coach purse. If it poops, you clean it up. Unless you were nabbed and forced to take your dog for a walk by some odd healthy lifestyle kidnapper, you know when you are taking your dog for a walk, so plan accordingly. Carry a plastic bag with you. Remember that you are not the only one using the trail. My Berber carpet expects to be walked all over, but doesn’t like $hitty days any more than you do.

•Do Your Creepin At Home: The word leer is only appealing if it’s spelled lear and has jet after it. No woman feels comfortable with a man standing  along a trail oggling at her in her shorts and sports bra. I can tell you that I don’t take it as a compliment to see your tongue wagging while I’m trying to catch my breath on a run. And I don’t believe you are at the trail for a workout in your jeans, brown socks and polyester shirt. If it’s lap jollies you’re after, watch porn on your laptop like most other red-blooded American men.

•That’s Not An Angel Getting Its Wings – I have a bell on my bike. I like it because of its nostalgic feel and I get to save my voice for my business presentations. But when I use that bell, it’s not to communicate that an angel has gotten its wings as said in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” it’s my way of indicating that I’m behind you so stay alert. I usually add something like “on your left,” but I find that can add a new level of confusion for people who forget which is their left and their right. Those folks tend to scurry in all directions like cockroaches when the light’s turned on. Just keep in mind that you’re not alone on the trails so stay aware of your surroundings.

•The Eyes on the Back of My Head – I am not a grade-school teacher or a mom so eyes have not grown on the back of my head. That means that I cannot see behind me. Please be courteous and let me and other runners know when you are approaching. Say something like “excuse me,” “coming your way,” or how about something flattering like “looking good.” If you are a person of few words, simply cough or clear your throat loudly. Last week a man in his 50s whizzed by my left shoulder and had me spinning like a top.

Forgive me if I seem to be lecturing. I do have that “Bad dog…” tone when I write and talk some times. In my defense,  I studied under some of the best lecturers around – the Sisters of the IHM – as a grade school and high school student in Catholic schools.  Now, please follow these rules on the trail or you just might see me out there running with a ruler in my hand.

The Weekend of Saying, “Yes”

Most of us get up and go about our day without planning how much we will accept others’ ideas or determine how many times we will say, “yes.” It would probably feel odd to sit at the kitchen table early in the morning and write out how often you will agree with someone or support their ideas. Yet, we either do that throughout the course of a day or we don’t. And many times it’s human nature to: not even hear what someone has said because we’re tuning in to our own thoughts and concerns; hear what someone says but instantly say “no,” or “yes, but….” wasting no time to critique their idea and offer what we would do or say. That’s habit for many of us. This past weekend was all about saying “yes,” for me and the nearly 300 people I shared my message with.

Through my business, Laugh to Live!, I have the self-appointed pleasure of standing in front of people, sharing some humorous material about my life – like how I live next door to my parents who love me but don’t quite appreciate the disorganized state in which I keep my home, a method I like to call the poor woman’s security system because if someone breaks in they’re sure to think the place has already been ransacked and go right out the door – talking about the research that states how valuable laughter is for our well-being, and then leading the group in some laughter yoga exercises or some improvisation activities, depending upon the group and what I was hired to do.

Ladies Love to Laugh

This past weekend I was able to share laughs with nearly 300 people – 98% of which were women – in a 26-hour span of time. And once again, I can say to you, “Yes” laughter works and I can’t wait to share more with the next group –  a small club of retired women who gather monthly for lunch in a resort community – this Thursday.

Fear, anxiety, nervousness, doubt and self-scrutiny are the emotions I feel before I interact with a crowd and 9 out of 10 times, it’s satisfaction, pride, relief, affirmation, and joy that I feel after my encounters with participants.  Friday morning I had the pleasure of sharing some humorous stories and interactive laughter yoga with a group of nearly 200 child care workers at an end-of-year celebration. This group of mostly women came from four different counties to share in festivities at the Lackawanna County baseball stadium. Yes, we had a glorious view of the baseball field while sharing some “ho ho ho’s” and “ha ha ha’s.” While it took a little while to get everyone warmed up, by the end, I felt that the majority of participants were bound to feel better than before they started laughing – even if they did think these laughter exercises seemed a bit odd.  One woman made a point to tell me after the presentation that she really enjoyed it and even though she liked to talk a lot, she didn’t think she could get up and do what I do and seem so comfortable. She thanked me and gave me credit for what I do. That meant a lot to me and I told myself, “Yes” you do have skills and talent to share to help enrich people’s lives and it’s time that you truly believed that.

What Better Place to Laugh than Happy Valley?

Then I was on the road to State College to present at an IAAP Conference, which was a gathering of administrative professionals from across Pennsylvania. I presented to one chapter of IAAP last year and those women enjoyed it so much that I was asked to present something a bit different for the larger group. I was very excited to present my relatively new program: “Using Improvisation to Address the Three Cs: Communication, Conflict Resolution and Collaboration.” I was eager to share the golden rule of improv, “Yes, and…” with these women and to see what we could create together. I was equally excited to be back in Happy Valley. I am a 1993 graduate of Penn State University and have been back to visit about a dozen times but I never seem to have enough time to get fully reacquainted. What I do notice, is how much the campus continues to grow and change. I found myself feeling a bit like a stranger among modern, glass buildings for chemistry and science that clearly replaced something that I was familiar with back in the early 90s.

After settling in to our room at Tofftrees Resort where I would be presenting on Saturday, my boyfriend and I walked around the grounds, which had very green, finely manicured grass for the golfers and hosted an assortment of creatures from ducks to chipmunks and squirrels to a number of gophers. Yes, we talked about “Caddyshack” and Bill Murray. How could you walk on a golf course, see not one, but four go-pher go-phers running across the grass and not reference that classic movie? On our way back to our room we spotted an archway and rows of white chairs set up for a wedding the next day. Within minutes I had posted the picture to Facebook asking “Should I say, ‘I do’ in 15 hours, or run in 15 minutes?” I couldn’t resist putting that out there as a social experiment of sorts and fun. By Saturday there were mostly positive affirmations of congratulations and best wishes with a few women and men encouraging me to run. Even though my event Saturday was not to say “Yes” to getting married, I did say “Yes” to sharing the concept of improvisation with about 70 women who all experienced similar barriers or conflicts in their workplaces.

When We Say Yes, The Possibilities Are Endless

It’s interesting how we encourage children to try  different things that require bravery but adults tend to be quite scared to venture outside of our comfort zones. While everyone in the group did participate in the exercises I shared Saturday, very few volunteered later when I wanted to conduct an activity at the front of the room to further illustrate the value of listening, supporting and contributing. I eventually employed the teacher in me and “called on” a table of people who seemed to be good sports and were the closest to the front of the room. The women who volunteered on their own to play some “Yes, and…” games with me seemed to really come alive when they were forced outside of their comfort zones. And the group I volunteered to play something called the “Ad Game” with me, seemed to have a ball, especially when the audience showed their support of their work through laughs, applause and squeals of delight. Our group task was to reinvent adult diapers so we created Dignity Diapers that were purple and changed colors when wet. With Arnold Schwarzenegger and Caitlin Jenner as our designated celebrity spokes people, we were set to launch the product in Philadelphia to Elton John’s  “Philadelphia Freedom.” Yes, we were free. Free to share any idea no matter how silly or unrealistic it seemed. It was our job to brainstorm and to fully support one another.

Sure this was just an exercise, but it was a lesson to show the workshop participants how important and influential our individual roles can be in group dynamics. The quieter contributors were not always heard while the louder, more confident ones were. And some people talked over others. The game showed the value of listening, accepting and really supporting one another with an enthusiastic cheer of “yay, great idea” every time anyone said anything, the value of giving and taking and of all being on the same page. It was a great way to practice being in the moment, focusing on one shared goal rather than being distracted by the ticker that runs across our minds almost constantly each day, reminding us of both personal and professional “to-do lists.”

Be Not Afraid, Say Yes

As I told the group a few times throughout the afternoon, doing these exercises may not change anything substantial but if it gets you thinking a little differently – even for a little bit – especially about how we support one another in groups and relationships, then we’ve achieved success. I felt rewarded and validated when two women came to me after the workshop to ask about using “Yes, and…” in two completely different, yet equally valuable ways. One wanted to learn how to say “Yes, and…” to her kids because she was always telling them, “No,” while the other wanted to help the gentlemen she worked with learn to work better together using improv but she said it would require each of them tying up their alpha dog traits for a bit.

Do I believe that the rules of improvisation can teach everyone a thing or two about themselves and about working with others? Yes, and… I hope that people continue to be open to accepting it and sharing it with people in their offices and homes to make life more fun and productive!

10 Reasons Why the World Needs A Day to Laugh

If I haven’t gotten around to mentioning it (but I believe I have), I am a procrastinator.  This blog should have been written before May 3 but alas, it wasn’t. The annual celebration of World Laughter Day was held this year on May 3. As I do each year, my business, Laugh to Live! sponsors a free community event in Scranton where people in the area come out to sample laughter yoga, kids tell jokes and get prizes for their bravery and promotion of healthy laughter and we raise money for the nonprofit Humor Therapy Fund of the Scranton Area Foundation. I do this to promote therapeutic laughter and humor in Northeastern Pennsylvania to enrich the community where I live because I want to see people lead healthier and happier lives. Laughter can help people achieve that.

Here are 10 reasons I’ve come up with, why the world needs at least one designated day to laugh.

10. ISIS. When I attempted to write this blog last week I had trouble with WordPress. My web guy told me that there were major WordPress and Woocommerce security updates last month that were made to all sites because of ISIS hacking many U.S. websites. These updates caused a little conflict that prevented my blog platform from working. Who would have imagined such a day? I know that the word ISIS is not usually followed by laughter but this group is dedicated to hate and terror. What breaks down hate and comforts people in times of fear or uncertainty more than love and laughter?

9. Potholes. I’m sure that every state across this great nation has potholes but I can only speak to the ones I see and drive on every day in Scranton, PA. Let me tell you. We have some real doozies. On my third trip to the dentist last month, another one of my fillings was knocked loose. I love what this group is doing to help us use a positive attitude, humor and laughter to deal with these bumps in the road. Check back to see my submission. It’s going to be the most fun you’ve ever had with potholes.

8. Litter. I admit. I DO NOT laugh when I see litter everywhere in my community. And I’m definitely not laughing as I drive by a street that my boyfriend and I cleaned up only two weeks ago to see it now littered yet again. But it’s the ugly parts of people and the Earth that need more beauty. Laughter can help us bring that out. Get a group of friends, coffee, gloves and garbage bags and head out one weekend morning to clean up a messy lot or street where you live. Share a few but-gusting stories while you pick up someone else’s butts. Smile and be an example of the world you want to live in.

7. Dating and Relationships. When I was playing the field I met some really nice men and I met some men who were just, well, misguided? clueless? What woman really wants to be picked up for a date by some guy’s mom because he lost his license to a second DUI? Women appreciate a man who knows the value of a dollar but I don’t think they love it when he offers up his coupon to them to pay their half of the bill. Let’s say I had enough material like this to write a book called “He’s Not Prince Charming When…” Now that I’m in a serious relationship I need the follow-up book. The problem isn’t that I don’t have enough material, it’s finding the time to sort through it all.

6. Health Care. Not to get political or anything, but there’s a lot of red tape, waste and frustration in the health care industry. Just a few recent examples in my own life include:  having to call a dental insurance company five times about bills for a plan I was no longer enrolled in; having to call my doctor’s office at least three or four times and visit in person when no one answered or returned my calls about a bill that was to be paid through my auto insurance after I was hit by another vehicle seven months ago because the doctor’s office never submitted it to my auto insurance company and .. well, I could go on but we all have our examples of bills, phone calls, automated systems where you need to press 10 different buttons before you get the pleasure of speaking with a human.  I attempt a laugh after using every curse word I know and inventing several new ones. I guess that I should skip straight to the laughter and forget the cuss’n.

5. Summertime Noises. Some people don’t appreciate nature’s alarm clock – by which I mean the chirping sounds of birds. I love bird noises because it IS life to me and it means better weather. The summertime noises I need laughter to help me cope with include: the sound of dirt bikes that ride a 150-foot long dirt path back and forth and forth and back only 40 feet from my window and the chimey/crib mobile sound of the ice cream truck. I know. I know. I probably seem like Cruella Deville for not liking the sound of the ice cream truck (if it’s any consolation, I don’t wear fur) but it’s so repetitious that I just can’t take it after 15 minutes. I’d like to buy each child in the neighborhood a cone or frozen ice before I go all nutty buddy.

4. Rainy days. It’s a nice idea to advise people to not let things we cannot control – like the weather – affect our mood but it’s not realistic advice. For some people, weather has actual, physical affects on them. Let’s face it, thunderstorms can be fun to listen to and watch but most of us would much rather a sunny day than a rainy one. So the next time it rains, smell the wet concrete, remember that the grass and trees need to drink and then pop in a comedy with the lights off. Let laughter brighten up your room.

3. Facebook. You don’t need me to tell you why this provides many opportunities for laughter, right? Don’t get me wrong. I use it. I am addicted to it too. But it really is pretty amusing. People say some of the meanest things to other people that they would never have one ounce of courage to ever say to anyone’s face. It can be every coward’s best friend. And then there are those people who show you their cyber life, which tends to look nothing like their real life. Telling your husband how much you love and appreciate him in a post when he’s probably in the arm chair in the next room? Um, okay. I’m surprised you have time to type that…what with all of the love and fabulous stuff you have going on.

2. Politicians. Again, as with social media, I don’t need to point out why politics and laughter are such good friends. In fact, as we get further into the campaigning for the 2016 presidential election, number 3 and number 2 will form one giant powerhouse of a reason to laugh. Let the name-calling and unsolicited opinion sharing begin.  You like Hillary? What are you some tree-hugging, Communist, femi-Nazi? You vote Republican? You must drive a pick-up with a gun rack to church services and to your anti-Gay rallies.  You jerk.  Btw, see you at soccer practice. I’ll bring the flyers for the pasta dinner fundraiser for new uniforms.

1. YOU – you should be the number one reason to laugh.  Research by actual doctors – not just people congregating on street corners – shows that laughter is good for the mind, body and spirit. It helps with heart health, the immune system, cancer, diabetes, burning calories, an improved mood and more.  (Don’t you love the “and more”? No, I’m not throwing in an extra Ginsu knife if you laugh really hard but you should laugh really hard anyway).

Give Humor A Job in Your Office: Five Roles Humor Can Fill

When most people think work, they don’t think fun. That’s why terms like rat race and daily grind are commonly used to refer to the office. Of course, I have also heard people use terms like circus and zoo to occasionally describe where they work and those are fun places to visit, but usually when someone says it was a real zoo or circus at the office, it refers to some kind of chaos that is not enjoyable. What I’m using probably too many words to say is that when we think of work, we don’t think of fun when perhaps we should. And I can’t think of a better time for this topic to be considered than April, which is National Humor Month.

I can tell you someone who didn’t have enough laughs at work. Jack Torrance. He moved his wife and son to the Overlook Hotel in the remote mountains of Colorado to be a caretaker for the desolate winter season in the movie “The Shining.” If you aren’t familiar with his film, the bottom line is Jack typed “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy,” and by “dull” he meant violent, angry and nearly insane. I’m not saying that if you don’t laugh enough that you’ll become anything like Jack Nicholson’s character in this movie but I do agree that all work and no play tends to make us not only dull, but stressed out and less than what we can be.  Play, laughter and humor are great resources to help adults recharge, to awaken their creativity and work through stress toward healthier living.

Let Humor be the “new guy” in your office. Here are five roles that humor can fill at the workplace.

#1 The Mediator –  When there’s tension, discord, or personality clashes, a little dose of humor can work as mediator to get people talking. A good laugh can cut the tension and help people feel better physically and mentally.

#2 The Entertainer – There’s no law – at least none of which I am aware – that says it’s illegal to have fun for fun’s sake at the workplace. Employees who work hard deserve to be rewarded with a little entertainment. While it’s true that humor can be risky because some jokes are considered offensive and everyone has a different sense of humor, laughter and fun do have a place at the office. There’s no harm in telling a clean joke, reading the comics or watching a funny youtube clip. It makes for a healthier break to clear your head than having a cigarette or drinking your fifth cup of coffee.

#3 The “Empower”er – Humor isn’t just the class clown. Humor is a warrior of sorts, a survivor. When traffic is stopped, when the computer shuts down and you haven’t hit save in a hour, when the lid on your large coffee isn’t tight and it spills on your new pants …when all of these things happen, you might scream or curse. But then what happens? Do you stay in a bad mood? Do you pass that negative energy on to the next person you see? Humor doesn’t change what just happened but it does give you strength to deal with it and change your perspective. You don’t have to be a victim. You can be in charge. Feel empowered. Make a joke about your misfortune, clumsiness, life happening that happens to everyone and acknowledge that you are safe and will survive this small hiccup. People have used humor to survive much bigger challenges. People like author and psychologist Viktor Frankl tapped into the power of humor during his time in a Concentration Camp. He wrote, “It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.”

 #4 The Connector – Humor bonds people. When we laugh at a joke with someone, we share an experience that brings us closer together. Camaraderie at work can help to boost morale, strengthen team work and ultimately help a company’s bottom line.  Experts say that humor can help couples in a relationship work through their issues and some of the same principles apply to other relationships like the ones in a workplace. Let’s face it, you spend a lot of time at work.

#5 The Communicator – Humor can be used to open the door to delivering difficult news but it must be done carefully. I’m not suggesting that you break really bad news through humor but humor can help ease tensions and get people talking. Humor puts people on the same playing ground or level.

Wherever you gather at your business, whether it’s near the water cooler or Keurig coffee maker, or in the board room, be sure to give the new guy, Humor, a chance. Don’t dismiss Humor until you’ve given him a fair shot around the office. Humor has great value. Put Humor on the job!

Painting Nails, Pillow Fights? No, but We Laugh!

Last weekend I hosted a “big girls” sleepover. And by that I mean an overnight gathering of grown women. That is not a reference to body shape in any weigh, I mean way. Not that size has anything to do with my blog today. It’s about connecting with people who matter to us.

The children of one of my friends teased her that she was going on a “sleep over” at her age. I believe her son even ribbed, “How old are you?” We are women in our 40s who still make time to spend with one another to reminisce about the 26 years we’ve known one another, to talk about our lives today – or at least as much as each of us can get out before the topic swings in another direction- and we laugh!

We didn’t tell secrets, braid each other’s hair or engage in pillow fights (sorry to break the perpetuated stereotype that some guys like to imagine of feathers flying and tickle fights as Jerry Seinfeld indicated in “The Pool Guy” episode of “Seinfeld” in response to Elaine’s comment about doing “girlie stuff”) but we did do some of the same things that young girls do. We shared stories about the “boys” in our lives. We ate junk food. We watched a movie. We stayed up past our bed time (which is probably earlier than many kids these days – kids lead pretty mature lives with all of their extracurricular activities and texting to all hours of the morning). We shared more serious stories about personal health concerns, financial issues and relationship struggles. We connected. That’s what people do. At least that’s what people used to do…more often than we do these days.

I don’t want to sound like the stereotypical crotchety grandpa sitting in a rocking chair telling his grandchildren how in “his” day he walked to school uphill both ways in thread-bare shoes in the snow, but I am developing that “things aren’t how they used to be” mindset. When I went back to school to take my first graduate class at Marywood University in 2000, while working full time, I was required to read “The Naked Sun” by Isaac Asimov. It’s not the type of book I would have selected for myself but I enjoyed it and found it to be relatively easy to read. Although this book was published in 1956, the author had a pretty good vision for what the future would become with technology.  More emotionally disconnected for one.

There’s no doubt that we are now more connected with people around the world but have we lost the deepest connections in our lives? Do we value intimacy with close friends and lovers as much as we did in the past? Or… has that always been an illusion? A fairytale for leather-bound books and movies? I don’t have the answer. But I do know that we need to continue to work hard to stay connected with people who matter to us. A little handheld computer may be able to show you the temperature, time, texts from friends, sports scores and pictures of what your co-worker ate for lunch all on one screen at the same time, but can it do for your heart and soul? Will it ever make you feel alive the way that a hug or kiss can?  The way that holding hands or having your arm caressed can? Can it physically lift your mood the way a booming laugh that fills your stomach and lungs and then bursts out into the air can? I’m sorry but I don’t believe that any app can ever do that!

Let’s stay connected. Let’s laugh today and every day, no matter how many versions we have iEverything!

An apple a day is healthy but laughter throughout your day can be transformational.

An apple a day is healthy but laughter throughout your day can be transformational.

Love and Laughter Are the Couple to Admire

In the public relations class I’ve been teaching, we’ve talked about doing what’s called a SWOT analysis on businesses/organizations so you understand their Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats before formulating a message or messages to an audience. We also talked about how it can be beneficial for us as individuals to do a SWOT analysis on ourselves – in preparation for a job interview, before making big life decisions and just to do some self-reflection. I can tell you with absolute confidence that I am a procrastinator. I am someone who loves to write but who hasn’t written a blog in several weeks. I’m hoping that my strength of good writing will entice you to read on about why we should pair love and laughter this month … and every day really.

February is chock full of celebrations and fun characters,  from Phil, the beloved groundhog who “predicts” our weather, to cupid who spreads the spirit and message of love from one person to another. Wait that sounded almost creepy, like a virus.  Let me try again. February is about celebrating love – the love we have for those who are special to us and the love we have for ourselves by taking healthy actions to keep our hearts strong and healthy. That’s right, in addition to celebrating Valentine’s Day, February also recognizes National Heart Month. While it’s important to be concerned about heart health – and health overall – every day, it is nice to have a month in which we wear red to raise awareness and remind people of things like the fact that heart disease kills more women than breast cancer, than lung cancer and other diseases. No, it’s not a competition. But it is important to be educated on the facts and to be informed so we know how we can live healthier and how we can help the ones we love lead healthier lives. That’s what February celebrates.

One thing you can do for your heart, is to laugh. Research shows that people who laugh are less likely to have a heart attack (yes there are always other factors like family history, etc., but a laugh is good for this organ) and that laughter helps our heart perform better. Dr. Michael Miller of the University of Maryland did this important research. To read all the details click here.

Over the years, laughter has been the subject of much research and the findings are great. We don’t need a prescription from our doctor. We don’t need to worry about side effects like loose stools, fatigue or loss of appetite.  You may suffer from wet undies if you are one of those laughers with a sensitive bladder, but otherwise, it’s a safe activity and healthy resource.

I’d like to close this blog with a tribute to my uncle Bob Johnson who died two weeks ago today. He was buried last Monday. He had an illness that was associated with his heart but I know he doesn’t want us to think of him in terms of his illness or a “bad heart.” He lived nearly 87 years of a wonderful, happy life. And his heart was one of the best you’d ever want to encounter. He would always greet me with his infectious smile, bright blue eyes and a warm greeting like “Hey darlin…” He was my opponent in our ongoing verbal chess match of politics where there were only winners because of the time we spent together and the enriching encounter we shared. I believe it was laughter and his great attitude that contributed to the full life that he lived.

Always smiling, blue eyes always twinkling... he was my political discussion and wine buddy!

Always smiling, blue eyes always twinkling… he was my political discussion and wine buddy!

I had the honor of writing the story of his life in his obituary that I share here.

Many of you didn’t know my Uncle Bob but I know that you each have an Uncle Bob (or Tom, or Saul, or Sam or Aunt Sue or Aunt Kathy or Nana Maria or Grandpa Rick or… ) in your life who embodies joy and laughter. Whether they are with you here physically on Earth or are here in spirit, celebrate them with some laughter.  Honor your love for them and do a kind act for your heart and those around you who share in the laughs!  Laugh to Live …. happier, healthier and in the moment!

Yes Sophia, There Is A Santa Clause!

One December afternoon I was writing an article about my life as a woman over 40 without child. To summarize: society is geared toward families and children, especially in smaller cities that still hold traditional and some antiquated ideas about gender in high regard. I do flourish in my life as a single woman, without so much as a baby cactus in my home, yet some people might not fully believe that. I have a wonderful family, boyfriend, circle of friends and extended reach through my business, Laugh to Live! I connect in a special way with people when I lead laughter yoga that is quite fulfilling.  But I digress.  As I was writing that article, I received a call from my friend Jean who was upset about something that transpired recently with her granddaughter, Sophia.  Sophia’s heart was broken when her CCD teacher told the class that Santa Claus does not exist.

As Jean relayed the story and spoke of the tears that followed from Sophia and a few other children in the class who still believed in Santa, a light bulb, or should I say a string of Christmas lights, turned on in my head.  This had to be the subject for my next blog.

I don’t recall when I stopped believing in Santa. Fortunately no traumatic memory of someone tearing down my belief in the jolly old Saint Nick comes to mind. I’m not a parent (as I stated above) so I don’t know what the norm is or what the handbooks or Dr. Phil says you’re “supposed to do” when it comes to talking to your child about Santa Claus but I do know a thing or two about the spirit of Santa that still enlivens me at 43 years old. Let’s call it the Santa Clause – an agreement we have with one another that we’ll embody every magical trait of kindness, generosity and warmth that has been talked about in storybooks for centuries.

Every year my eyes and heart are filled with joy when I sit silently at night staring at my lit up Christmas tree.  And while it should be more than one time of year, I also know the warm feeling I get when I witness people being nicer, kinder and more generous to one another at this time of year. And let’s not forget the presents. I look forward to the feeling I get when I give a present to someone that I carefully picked based on their likes and interests. My reward is the smile that covers their face. And when I unwrap a present I receive, I have a similar feeling to what I had as a child turning the handle on my Winnie The Pooh Jack in the Box. I’m a bit anxious. I’m definitely filled with anticipation and an excited curiosity. Just today I was fortunate enough to experience that when I received a package from my friend Marie in France. (I was sure the large white envelope was a present for Christmas and sure enough … it was. I was thrilled to see a fuchsia leather-bound journal to hold my creative writing in 2015.)

As someone who was raised Catholic, attended Catholic school from Kindergarten through 12th grade and who attended church every Sunday until a few years ago, I know that Christmas is about the birth of Christ and not just a character named Santa.  We celebrate baby Jesus’ birthday. There’s no cake or pin the tail on the jackass because it’s a much more reverent celebration, but it is a party nonetheless.  It’s a festive time to share love and fellowship.  And guess what? That’s what Santa represents too.

I’m not sure if that CCD teacher got confused and changed the letters around in his head, but Santa does not mean Satan.  He should not be viewed as a threat or distraction to the true meaning of the holiday. Quite frankly, I think the church could use the help reinforcing their message of Christianity. (Although I believe that Pope Francis has been making a difference, moving the Church in the right direction. He is a man of the people.)  Santa can help spread cheer and the concept of goodwill toward our fellow man. I don’t think we can hear or see examples of that enough. And, we can pretend all we want but let’s face it, many Catholics only attend Mass at holidays so children are probably much better acquainted with Santa than their parish’s priest.

I don’t want to get too heavy. I’d like to keep this light, like the season. My point is this. Why destroy a child’s (or adult’s for that matter) belief in Santa?  Isn’t religion, like Catholicism, based on faith after all? We don’t see Jesus or God physically sitting at our dinner tables reaching for a second helping of mashed potatoes and gravy but we feel their presence in the sunshine on our faces, the trees that blow in the wind and in choices we make – how we live our lives.

Santa is here too. We feel his presence when we see the glimmer of lights reflect with a shimmer off new fallen snow. We are filled with a desire to warm up our cold night by holding someone’s hand or giving a hug.  When a child squeals with delight opening a present, we feel his presence. And when a family is decked out in new pajamas and slippers sitting around their living room being a family, expressing their love for one another and drinking hot cocoa, Santa is there too.

And when I look at my many postcards received throughout the year from my friend Marie in France and then her thoughtful Christmas gift each year, I think back to the October day more than 10 years ago when I met her on a train outside of Paris. That may not have been the Polar Express but I believe that the same spirit that embodies Santa was in the air and on the tracks that day. Because I have been blessed with a global friendship that has been one of the best gifts of my life.

Yes Sophia, there is a Santa Clause.

 

 

Laugh. Then, Let it go. Let it go.

On Thanksgiving Eve I was watching the news feeling pretty content. I was safe and warm in my home and we had about seven inches of snow on the ground in Northeast Pennsylvania. I was happy about seeing extended family on Thanksgiving and felt a little extra joy seeing the twinkle of Christmas lights reflecting off the first real snow of the season. Then my glimmer faded as I heard a news story about a new “illness” or “problem” we have here in America.  I’m going to paraphrase. It’s basically Envy Caused by Social Media Posts.  I know what you’re thinking.  “Really Jeannine? You couldn’t think of a clever acronym for it? You’re a writer and a comedian. Ugh!”  I know. I desperately wanted to create an acronym that I believe fits the new disorder.  I was thinking of something like PUHLEASE,  UKIDDN or REALE, to express some things I was loudly saying to the TV screen when this story aired on ABC.

The story basically reported that women are feeling extra pressure these days and feeling financial envy because of posts to Facebook and other social media sites by women showing how “happy” they are and showing all of their great vacations, toys they buy for their children, etc.  Yes, “experts” were interviewed.  I believe the one woman interviewed was a psychologist who said that women are feeling incredible pressure when their 6-year-old wants to know why mommy can’t afford what other kids’ mothers are buying.  I was a bit thrown by this because I couldn’t for the life of me understand why a 6-year-old is seeing Facebook posts. Isn’t it enough that young children see so much reality on TV and in life around them. They  need to see the drivel that gets posted online too?

Then I got to thinking.  I believe that what’s at the heart of the matter is that grown women are seeing happy posts by their peers and feeling pressure to keep up and fear that if  they “fail,” they will become outcasts.  I’m sorry if I offend anyone here because let’s face it, I couldn’t possibly understand what they must be going through – you know, not being a mom and all, I never feel pressure to compete or feel less than or feel rejected, not good enough, unloved, etc., uh huh – but how is this any different than feeling like an insecure child at the lunch table in grade school or high school? I understand that there may be more deep-seated issues at work but trying to “keep up with the Joneses” is nothing new.  It was a challenge long before the Jones family could post pictures of their trip to Disney World or videos of their daughter draped in Elsa garb belting out tunes from “Frozen.”

Here are a few tips I have to help moms (and dads) who might be “suffering” from any feelings of financial envy or pressure to not only get the best seats for the Frozen on Ice show but to also post pictures the minute they’re in those hot seats to show everyone what good parents they are and how happy their child is:

•Imagine your child’s face when you tell her she is not going to see Elsa and the gang. Sad right? Now imagine her face if she had to go to bed hungry or if she was turning the light out from a hospital bed.  Some children struggle to see another day, never mind a theatrical show.  Does it add any perspective?

•Imagine a world without Facebook and Instagram. Think of times when you only showed people pictures of your children on your phone. Or think back even further to a time when you only shared pictures of your family with those who visited your home and could see them hanging on your walls. That’s a more intimate, meaningful world isn’t it? Do you really need a “like” from the Crossing Guard at your niece’s school in another state? Do you really care that the barista from Starbucks loves the costume you made for your child? Or doesn’t, because he made a better adult size Olaf costume with beads and glitter?

•Tune out people who are out of your circle of family and friends so you can actually tune in to people IN your family and circle of friends.  Spend time with real people. Don’t POST to their timeline; rearrange those letters and STOP by their house or workplace to say “Hi.”  Make plans and KEEP THOSE PLANS to have coffee, a glass of wine, a walk around the neighborhood, a play date.  Be with real people and BE IN THAT MOMENT. Don’t share the moment online.

•Know that your children (and others) learn more about you by spending time with you than from anything you post.  At the end of the day, your children will be more influenced by your actions than any nice lessons that Elsa or Anna impart through their show tunes.

I know this is easier said than done. I care what people think too. I post pictures and updates like most red blooded Americans do.  I love when people like what I post and it means something to me when they make a nice comment. But let’s not get carried away.  I have a hard time feeling empathy for someone who has a bad case of  “financial envy” because of what she sees on Facebook. Everyone could be suffering from something.  Think of women who desperately want to be mothers and maybe after years of trying fertilization procedures, can’t. What kind of envy do you think they might have when they scroll through Facebook? I’ve more or less chosen to be childless so no one is going to cry for me Argentina, but it does make an impact on me from time to time when I see every mom post every imaginable moment day after day.  Thankfully I know that I have the choice to sign out from Facebook, look only once in a while or just look, but choose to not let it mean more to me than it should.

So I say, let yourself get worked up with envy (or whatever you feel after looking at social media sites) for a few minutes (or a week), and then, LAUGH at your silliness, count your true blessings and let it go, let it go!!

 

 

 

Five Tips to Keep Things Light This Thanksgiving

Sitcoms, movies and comedians have long cooked up jokes about the holidays – especially Thanksgiving – because we gather with family we typically do not see much throughout the year, often by choice.  At least that is what the jokes imply.  Case in point: Jim Gaffigan’s take on Thanksgiving. We see cards and clever napkins with depictions of people stuffing themselves, plying themselves with wine and then passing out on the couch in front of the TV, only to ignore the very family they’re visiting.  So what gives?

I don’t think people should ever feel obligated to gather family for dinner just because it’s an American tradition.  They should be with people they love … and genuinely like. I happen to love, and like, my family so it is fun to see them at the holidays (and throughout the year). And yes, I some times drink too much wine, but it’s not because I don’t like my family. It’s because I happen to really like wine.  But some families can become like an infected cut or inflamed sore.  Wine + long-held grudges = trouble. And some family members don’t help things by reopening old wounds.  One never knows what will come out around the Thanksgiving table.

So here are a few tips for you to digest to help you keep things light this Thanksgiving.

#5 If it seems like cousin Tom just can’t quit his habit of ‘playfully’ harassing uncle Frank about his beloved Eagles, don’t let it escalate to the point of them each giving the other the bird.  Swoop in with a picture on your phone of Kim Kardashian’s latest, slippery photo shoot. Then she’s the only ass you’re looking at.

#4 Help keep your mom from getting upset when Aunt Louise slanders her stuffing, saying it’s too dry, by having a water balloon at the ready. Offer a solution to your aunt’s problem that will probably help her to get over it and may amuse your mom.

#3 Everyone eats too much at Thanksgiving dinner and most people complain about it afterward with regretful words like, “I can’t believe I had that third helping of mashed potatoes and gravy. I’ll have to hit the gym five times tomorrow just to burn those calories off, and I don’t even have a gym membership.”  Help everyone avoid the discomfort of  that tight/ready-to-explode feeling by passing out sweat pants with an elastic waist band before dinner.   Just think, if you all wear a pair, then you can share a special bond and even look like a sloppy gang ready to hit the aisles of Walmart.

#2 I love good conversation. Art. Pop culture. Religion. Politics. News. Style. Home decor. You name it and I love to share my opinion on it …and even listen to other opinions on occasion. But be careful at holiday dinners. Think of the rules you would follow on a first date: no talk of religion, politics or other potentially controversial topics. Let the turkey be the only thing that gets burned on this holiday. If Uncle Fred or Aunt Wilma share their views on gun control or immigration and you disagree, just smile and nod. Let your ego take a nap early. You don’t need to share your opposite view or to ‘school’ anyone on the ‘right’ way to think. Instead, start a debate about which flavor ice cream is the best to serve on the apple pie. That way, there’s no real winner… or loser.

#1 No matter how you spend Thanksgiving – whether you have to work, you choose to be alone or with only a few people, or you visit lots of family – remember that there is no amount of laughter that is too big to serve. Laughter not only doesn’t contain calories, it helps to burn calories. And anyone who doesn’t like to laugh is … well…I hate to say it, but a real turkey!

Spread Laughter, Better than Ebola

As news of terror groups’ influence spreads like the Ebola virus in west Africa, the need for lighter, laughter-filled moments is obvious. Those who wonder how or why we should laugh while stories of beheaded reporters and deadly viruses top our news, should take a moment to consider a few things.

What happens when the laughter stops? We’re left in darkness. Life can be very serious. It can be sad. It can be challenging, and at times seem hopeless. But we need to make life a laughing matter in order to face the laugh-less times and matters. Robin Willams knew this. Joan Rivers did too. Both of their lights have been extinguished, making  American life -specifically the world of entertainment and pop culture- a bit darker. That makes me sad and a bit worried. The world needs more leaders of laughter and hope to help combat the leaders of terror and dread.

I don’t want to sound dramatic but I fear what will happen in a society with less laughter. Imagine a dark field filled with people just sitting, waiting, wondering, feeling scared, confused and growing more worried.  Now imagine one person lighting a candle and turning to light the candle of the person next to her. She lights the candle of the person to her right and he does the same. This continues until the field is illuminated and people feel safe, warm and comforted to see and talk with the people around them. This is what laughter does. It lights the way, making it easier to see potential pitfalls. It doesn’t remove all of life’s bad stuff but it does help us to deal with it better; it reinvigorates us, giving us the hope and strength to continue to fight whatever battle we are waging.

It disappoints me when people, especially those in power, who are decision makers in organizations, don’t see the light that humor and laughter provide. They question how laughter can be introduced to people who are depressed or to families coping with the wounds created by the suicide of a loved one. These people who do not see laughter as a beacon, seem to almost fear it, like it can do further harm. I think that belief is one that stems from fear, antiquated beliefs and/or a closed mind. It is true that laughter has power and that it can create change. We just have to be open to the idea. It doesn’t require a prescription or a House vote or a platinum credit card. Laughter is within each and everyone of us. And once we let it out, it can and will spread like a virus. But this one is the kind you won’t be infected with. You’ll be effected…for good!