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!

Laughter Lifts Us When We ‘Fall’

The vibrancy of autumn in northeast PA can be done no justice by words. It must be seen. The color of fall leaves on a warm, sunny afternoon make a box of Crayola’s seem pale.  Add to that picture pumpkins, gourds, mums and every spice of the seasonal palate, and you suddenly feel warmth.  But fall also brings change. The lazy days of summer are soon forgotten while the often snowy and frigid days of winter loom on the horizon.  For some of us, that means a change in mood.  With less daylight, some folks start to feel a type of seasonal depression. With less daylight it’s important to keep your life lighter with more laughter.  Let me help with this video reminder from Laugh to Live!

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.

Laughter Yoga: No Mat Required

When people hear the word ‘yoga,’ they typically think of poses that require flexibility that are performed on a mat.  Of course there is the spiritual side of the practice as well as the physical fitness side that people understand. But when I tell people that I lead ‘laughter yoga,’ there is a misunderstanding. I can’t imagine trying to laugh while in the downward dog position, yet people think that laughter yoga is a combination of yoga poses and laughing. That is simply not the case.  Let me show you in this short video what laughter yoga really is.

Life has its challenges. Even with the best attitude, we sometimes feel overwhelmed and need to laugh more. Rather than waiting to hear a joke or watching a funny video online, we can also choose to laugh, just like we choose to go for a walk when we want fresh air and exercise. So give laughter yoga a try. Invite friends, family and co-workers and let the contagious laughter erupt!

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!

Yes, and… Five Rules of Improv Help in Work and Play

I used to get a knot in my stomach on Monday afternoons as I anticipated that evening’s comedy improv class about nine years ago. I wanted to be in the class and loved performing in the shows at the Comedy Dojo in Scranton (when people laughed at what I did on stage) but I was still a ball or nerves before class. I was doing the exact opposite of what improv represents. I was not being in the moment. I was worrying ahead of time about what I would say and do, what interesting choices I would make that night in class. But to quote my instructor at the time, Chris Barnes, (and I believe he was quoting someone else when he said this) “You have to walk through the fire to get to the cooling water.”

No matter if it’s an improv class or some other activity or event that takes us outside of our comfort zones, we need to get through the pain, discomfort, difficult stuff to get to the other side where we get to feel cool, calm, relaxed, even proud and let out an “ahhhhhh.”

As I prepare to present a workshop at a conference for administrative professionals using improvisation to address communication, conflict resolution and collaboration, I’m reminded of the valuable lessons the rules of improv can teach all of us… for life.

  • Yes, and… is the one unbreakable rule in improvisation. It means that we say “yes” to what our fellow actor has given us. We accept their words as a gift or treasure and we add “and,” which shows our commitment to contribute something just as valuable that will help us move forward.  Consider saying “Yes” in life more often. Imagine the possibilities. Too many times we disagree with ideas and just say “No.” Or, we want to appear agreeable so we say “Yes, but…” which is basically saying, “I hear what you’re saying but my way is better.”  So the next time your coworker asks “Are you looking forward to that meeting?” Instead of rolling your eyes and saying “No,” try smiling instead and say, “Yes, and I think I’ll suggest we start the meeting by each sharing something fun we did this weekend so we can start on a happy note.”
  • Make unusual or unexpected choices. This improv guideline isn’t something you can apply to every part of life. Attempting to pay your bills with magic beans is not likely to work but there are many instances in which you – and people around you – can benefit from a choice that is different from the status quo. Instead of complaining that it’s Monday and you’d rather be in your garden or on the golf course, CHOOSE to be happy that you are working and doing something that not only affects people’s lives but also allows you to buy that new driver you’ve been scoping out online.  Or, instead of putting in your headphones at your desk so you can tune out your loud, gossiping coworker in the cubicle next to you, listen! Maybe you can learn something that will help you improve your relationship. Take an opportunity to engage her in conversation about a movie, new local restaurant or any topic other than the number of different cars she sees in her neighbor’s driveway on the weekend.
  • Be in the moment. This popular advice is key to the success of improv performers on stage because the scene they create for their audience is so much more interesting when it happens right there and doesn’t reference a past that the audience cannot see or a future that has yet to unfold. Search through any list of self-help books and this theme appears. Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” effectively addresses the value and absolute necessity of living our lives in the present. It boggles my mind how simple an idea this is but one that eludes so many of us. It just makes sense that we can only live in the present moment but I can’t tell you how often I live in the past as thoughts in my head (usually negative) race around as if on a track like horses trying to win the Triple Crown. All those hooves galloping kick up quite a bit of mud. I am far, far away from mastering the concept of being in the moment. It takes effort to make sure you are in the moment. Practice it. If you’re like me, you can read a magazine article and not know the full meaning because your mind went somewhere else by the second paragraph. “I have to call to reschedule that doctor’s appointment. I wonder if the new “Orphan Black” is On Demand yet; I want to watch that tonight. Oh crap, I forgot to get gas last night, that means I have to leave the house early today so I’m not late for my meeting.” Practice being in the moment!
  • Show. Don’t Tell. When improv actors create a scene on stage, this is key to believability and much more interesting to the audience if they show activity rather than talk about. For example: Actor A says, “I am not going to walk toward you, place my hands around your neck and pretend to choke you.” Actor B responds, “I’ll stand here and wait for you to do that and as you approach I will bug my eyes out as if I have a look of fear on my face.”  The scene should just happen. If you see it, you will have a much better experience than if you hear about it.  In life this comes in handy when we communicate. Many of us have different communication styles and we may not get someone’s wordy explanation but if they show us how to do something we might have a better time understanding.  And at a higher, loftier, Ghandi-esque level, it’s a good idea to SHOW, not TELL in the manner in which we live our lives. It’s great to teach your children to be honest. It’s good to tell your employees to be productive and do their jobs with integrity but SHOW-ing your children what honesty looks like and SHOW-ing your coworkers what integrity looks like, are much more effective. Ghandi said it simply, “Be the change that y0u wish to see in the world.”
  • Bring something to the party. This is something that improv instructor Barnes used to say to us as we were about to enter a scene. He would remind us that we should bring something to the scene. Yes, it slightly contradicts the idea of not planning what you will do or say in an improv scene but it worked and made sense. He wanted us to think about what we were seeing on stage. What did our fellow actors create already in this scene and what could we bring to it to help it move forward?  When you are hosting a party and everyone brings chips and dip, your menu is going to need help. The next time you enter a room, whether at work or at a social gathering, see what you can add.  Is someone upset, recounting a story about her husband leaving her? Is someone consoling another person who just received bad news from his doctor about cancer? Is someone raising his voice at another person who just offended him?  Your attitude and words can help or hurt the people you are about to engage with. Be aware of other people’s feelings and the situation in front of you and bring something to this party that will help, not hurt or destroy it.

Am I happy that it’s Monday and it’s gray and rain is predicted for tonight when I run a 5K?  Yes, and… I won’t need to wear my sunglasses or worry about getting too hot while I run. The rain will feel refreshing.

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).

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.

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!!

 

 

 

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!

Procrastinators Rule…Once We Get Started

I think it all started in the womb (doesn’t everything?). It was Labor Day weekend and my mom’s doctor wasn’t about to have his holiday plans soiled by some pesky little baby girl, so he induced labor and delivered me on Friday afternoon.  That freed up his schedule so he could hit the links on Saturday morning, launch his pontoon boat in the Paupack, or attend a swingers’ convention (it was the early 70s after all).

Like a discovered fugitive forced out from the safety of his hiding place, I was dramatically removed from the comfort of my mother’s womb before I was ready. And I believe that ever since, I have been rebelling, through procrastination. (On a side note, please accept my apologies; this column was actually due last month.)  Nevertheless, I hope you can still appreciate the message here. Maybe some of your best friends are procrastinators; perhaps someone you love wears the scarlet P on his or her chest, or, the procrastinator, is you! If you’re like me, I forgive you for putting the paper down and not finishing this column for a few days. As long as you return soon, I’ll be happy.

The thing about procrastination is, it doesn’t keep us from being productive members of society.  Forgive me for bragging a bit, but I set some lofty goals and even though I take my time getting started, I do achieve them. I’ve written and published two books, ran my first marathon last fall, and left my day job to invest full time in my business: Laugh to Live! But I often wonder what else I could achieve if I didn’t put things off. I can only imagine the challenges I could conquer if I didn’t pause to watch hours of junk TV on Bravo. If Andy Cohen would produce the Real Housewives of Plains Township, I would watch it. The only differences I could imagine from the Real Housewives of New York or Orange County, would be the women in Plains doing their hair pulling and back stabbing at the church picnic instead of the Chanel store.  My name is Jeannine and I watch too much TV. (Here’s where you would say , as a group, “Hi Jeannine.”)

I don’t know why I put things off. Every time I begin a project days before it’s due or I wait until hours before a business presentation to prepare my notes, I seem surprised by my own behavior as if it was beyond my control. I tend to get nervous and worry if I’ll succeed. Well it’s time that I learn to embrace the procrastinator in me and feel confident about what I will accomplish.  The procrastinator in me needs love too. She may be a little tardy for the figurative party (I am actually a very punctual person so I’m rarely late for the literal party) but when she arrives, she’s fierce. The only alternative to accepting and loving the procrastinator in me is to change my behavior, or at least curb it.  I’m not sure how soon I see that happening. I bought a book once about how to change my procrastinating ways, but I only read the first two chapters. That was 10 years ago.  I may not have finished that book, but I’ve completed a number of important chapters in the story of my life.

Laughing Nuns Generate Catholic Flashback to Plaid & Patent Leather

For a long time now I’ve been telling people that I’m either an introverted extrovert or an extroverted introvert because I can get up in front of hundreds of people to talk about the power of laughter and humor and I can perform stand-up or improv comedy. But when I’m at a business mixer by myself it’s a real challenge to approach a stranger and introduce myself. And if I’m in an audience I will never raise my hand to volunteer or ask a question.  After taking an online quiz -and we know how accurate those are – I have determined to my satisfaction that I am an introvert.

When I was in kindergarten I had some serious social anxiety. It got to the point where my kindergarten teacher called in the big guns. She had the first-grade teacher, Sister Ann Marie, speak to me in the presence of my mother. I won’t forget sitting on the curb in Holy Rosary School’s driveway as Sister told me, “We don’t take cry babies in first grade you know.” If I was a child today hearing that message, my mom could post on Facebook that I was bullied. I’m not so sure I think that it was that serious but it was kind of harsh. But it worked. I entered first grade and I was a champion. I no longer cried. When I donned my plaid jumper and patent leather shoes (alternated with saddle shoes) I became the good Stepford Child. “Yes sister.” “No sister.”  “The answer is …” I was even the kid that was asked to stand in front of the class to keep the peace, so to speak, when sister had to step out into the hall. It didn’t make me popular with the other kids but it did put me in Sister’s favor and I still had lots of friends so I was fine.

Fast forward about 35 years and put me in front of an audience of nearly 400 nuns. That was the scene about two weeks ago when I spoke at a conference for sisters gathered for two days at Misericordia University. I was there to share my message about the power and value of laughter and humor and to lead them in some laughter yoga. Now I had presented to conferences for Sisters there twice before but it had been about three years or more and for some reason I felt extra nervous this time. I felt unprepared and just didn’t have a great feeling in my stomach. I think part of that had to do with some personal things on my mind but I can usually separate that from my business.

When I saw the huge dining hall where the nuns had just eaten I got more nervous because I wondered if all the Sisters would be able to see me and if I would engage them enough.  I heard a few of the women talking in the lobby and one asked “So what’s next? The laughter lady..what’s that about?” And the other woman said, “I have no idea.” At first that made me worry but then I thought, “Hmm, if they don’t know what to expect then I can’t really fail to meet their expectations, right?”

After being introduced I had some technical difficulties with the lavalier mic but fortunately the handheld mic was given to me within a minute or two. I had my index cards and some other papers on the table near me – I tend to use these as a safety net although I rarely ever look at them during a presentation – but I got comfortable early in the presentation and just talked. I started off okay and when I saw the smiling faces of the Sisters and received the warm response from so many of them, something happened that rarely happens.  I relaxed enough to speak from the heart confidently and comfortably. The core of my message is always about the same: laughter is powerful and we need to use it more because it’s good for us. Scientists tell us that and real people validate how good we feel after laughing. And my laughter yoga exercises are usually about the same. But the part of the presentation around that, where I want to engage them and keep their interest with some humorous stories that are about my experiences, changes. This time it felt spot on because the Sisters were connecting and loving it… and I felt truly at ease, in my element.  I told them about my kindergarten order to lose the cry baby thing and they all seemed to go “oh….” with disapproval. I told them how I don’t really attend church these days and added, “I can’t help it, with so many nuns staring at me, I feel the need to unburden myself.”  And they laughed loudly. My personal favorite moment was when I said I earned a Masters of Communication Arts from Marywood University in Scranton and they politely and playfully booed. I laughed and told them I didn’t realize there was this “east coast versus west coast thing” going on between the orders of Sisters at Misericordia and Marywood. I wasn’t sure if they would get the reference but they laughed.

The Sisters were all good sports about getting on their feet and laughing with me and doing chants of “ho ho ho, ha ha ha and hee hee hee.” Many participants came up to me after the presentation to tell me how much they enjoyed it and how important it is to laugh, saying that the work I’m doing is important and necessary.  I felt more than relief. I felt pleased and proud. I felt like these Sisters were my peeps! When I got home I almost slipped into my plaid skirt but decided to just dress myself in the memories of a good evening of laughs and fellowship shared!