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.

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.

When the Tank Seems Empty

People talk about following their dreams, living out their calling, saying that if you do what makes you happy then you’ll never work a day in your life. That all sounds nice but I’m not sure I believe it – at least not fully. It’s been five years this month since I left a full-time job in corporate marketing and communications to go full time with my business, Laugh to Live! Whenever I see people I know out and about, they will say, “That’s so great that you’re doing what you love.” or “That’s wonderful that you’re following your dreams.”  I smile and nod while my inner voice says “Love is a really strong word.  I mean, I don’t know if there’s nothing else in the world I would rather do.”  But my outside voice doesn’t communicate this.  I guess what I’m saying is that I feel like my tank is on empty many days and I’m not sure if I need more fuel or a completely different vehicle to travel in.

Do you ever feel that way? That what you enjoy, what you’ve publicly declared to be your calling, your “thing,” may or may not be all that and a bag of gluten free chips after all? Or, maybe the stress surrounding your “calling” has poked holes in your enthusiasm?  I know that I am passionate about writing and communicating with people. I do believe in the power of laughter and humor for the body, mind and soul with all of my heart. And I know how uplifted and rewarded I have felt after sharing laughter with an audience and hearing testimonials from people who simply needed those laughs because they were dealing with depression or caring for a sick relative and just about depleted of any positive emotions.  I just feel like my heart may not be in it 100 percent lately and I need to recalculate to back on course or blaze yet another new trail for myself to feel fulfilled and to fulfill my purpose in life.

This is less of a “Rah Rah, go have a laugh today” kind of blog and more of a confessional I suppose. If my life was the topic of a reality show, this would be the part of the show where I would be seated in front of a plain colored background talking directly into the camera. I have moments when I get on a roll where I am so full of ideas on ways to spread laughter and creativity that I feel euphoric and then I have days where the couch and TV remote are my best friends and we’re going to spend hours of quality time together binge watching “Criminal Minds” (that’s a good show but it’s the opposite of funny – rape, murder and the other violent crimes the team investigate are far from laughter-inducing).

On this sunny Monday in Northeast PA, I guess I just want to communicate that even people, like me, who promote laughter, need help staying positive so that we can impact the audiences we encounter in our business of being funny. If your tank is empty, know that you are not the only one.  And if your tank is full, use it to accomplish amazing things and influence people who are looking for role models, mentors, signs of hope and inspiration!

The Rabbit Died & Other Funny Stories

It was a packed house on Wednesday, July 9 at the Scranton Cultural Center for an appearance by comedian/actress/author Amy Sedaris as part of the Lackawanna County Library System’s speaker series. The first thing that struck me about Amy when she walked out on stage was how tiny she is. We’re not talking Thumbelina small like Kristin Chenoweth but Amy is small. Her legs were tone but very thin. Her red handbag and pumps designed by friend Sarah Jessica Parker were also eye-catching. She had a comical bounce to her entrance, with her head sort of bobbing back and forth.

For as wacky as the characters are that Amy portrays, she took this interview seriously. She seemed grounded and genuine. Mary Garm, the director of the library system, conducted the interview. Mary delivers what one might expect from a librarian. She doesn’t look like she’ s ever done E at a rave or has tried to get away with checking out 17 items in the “15 items or less” aisle at the supermarket. She looks more like someone who would be happy to sit next to Wilford Brimley on a porch swing enjoying an ice-cold glass of lemonade talking about how hot the summer has been. She and Amy made the perfect pair. My friend Stephanie made the comparison, at points throughout the interview, that Amy and Mary interacting was similar to the SNL sketch “Delicious Dish” (most talked about for Alec Baldwin’s appearance promoting Pete’s Schweddy balls, which were Christmas cookies, of course).  Mary dryly responded to Amy’s answers with “hmm, interesting” akin to Anna Gasteyer’s character Margaret Jo McCullen saying “good times.”

Amy Was Funny And Serious

Amy answered all questions seriously in her regular voice. There were no characters who came out on stage. But Amy was warm, engaging and entertaining as she told her stories. She apparently likes to keep her private life very private but she did reveal her love for cooking and entertaining people in her New York City apartment and she revealed something that I thought was meant to be a joke at first, but wasn’t. Amy is a rabbit whisperer. She goes to people’s homes to help them rabbit proof and ensure the best environment for the fluffy creature.  Amy told the sad story of her 11-year-old rabbit Dusty dying but with a hint of humor. She recalled how the rabbit cried horribly for hours and that she was tempted to move things along by smothering him because she was sure that he was in pain but the vet assured her that he was not in pain. Amy also got laughs when she told the audience how bossy her rabbit was.

You Know Amy; You’ve Seen Her in the Tide Commercials

Amy Sedaris is not a household name but people surely know her if you tell them, “She’s that blonde on the Tide commercials who acts bubbly and kind of cooky.” After listening to Mary mention all of Amy’s various projects, it seems that Amy does a bit of everything. She has written and performed plays with her famous humorist writer brother, David Sedaris. She has done sketch and other comedy on TV. She has small roles in movies. She does voice-over work on TV and in films. She has the whole rabbit thing going on. She has authored books: “I Like You, Hospitality Under the Influence,” which includes recipes and tips on entertaining and how to be a good party guest, “Wigfield,” which she co-authored with Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello and of course her latest book she is promoting, “Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People,” a funny book about how to create some off-beat craft projects.   She has created a line of quilt fabrics that are going to pop up on other household items like popcorn bowls. And she is of course the face and voice for funny Tide, Bounce and Downy commercials. I’m sure I’ve missed a few things but you get the point. She is prolific and her talents are varied.  With her upcoming break from projects she said she’d love to waitress again but she envisioned problems like other waitresses resenting her … specifically the ones who are doing it to earn a living. And the fact that people might recognize her could be problematic, she said. But she said she loves working with people and finds it so interesting to interact and observe others.

Forget All the World’s A Stage; It’s A Peek Backstage

Comedians need to people watch like we need breathe.  Anyone who writes humorous material must immerse themselves into the world with eyes and ears wide open so you don’t miss anything. (That is not a quote from Amy by the way. I’m saying it. It sounds good though right?)  As someone who has been writing for over 20 years and who has been writing stand-up comedy for about 10 of those years, humorous articles, my funny dating book, “He’s Not Prince Charming When…,” I know how much I owe to the fun observance of people and interpersonal experiences with people. Life is full of material for the next great comedy, sitcom, play, etc.  As Amy shared, her Greek grandmother was the inspiration for one of Amy’s first popular characters. Amy said “She was just so much fun to make fun of.”

What Makes Amy Laugh

When Mary asked Amy what she thinks is funny, she listed things like: people falling (at which point my friends Steph and Michelle looked at me because we witnessed some poor woman fall in the lobby that evening; while she wasn’t injured, none of us laughed because it wasn’t “that kind of fall”), wigs flying off. Eventually she said that she finds “everything” to be funny. She said she’ll laugh at a patch of mushrooms growing together.

As far as people she finds funny, that list includes her mother, Jonathan Winters, her brother David, her friend Stephen Colbert and others that I forget.

What about the Whole “Women Aren’t Funny” Thing?

Before I went to the event I wondered if I had a question that I wanted Amy to answer. I figured that the basics would be covered and beyond that I didn’t have too much I was dying to know. But I did want to hear Amy’s perspective on the whole “women aren’t funny” thing.  Even though I speak in front of audiences for my business, Laugh to Live, some times to groups of a few hundred people in size, I was nervous about raising my hand or shouting out a question. I never feel completely comfortable doing that.  Thankfully, mics were set up on both sides of the stage where Amy was seated so you just had to get in line and address her at the mic. So I did. I asked her what she thought of this whole notion or some-time buzz that women aren’t funny.

Her answer managed to surprise, disappoint and encourage me. It was as if I had asked her about a little-known restaurant down the street. Her response was like “Hmm? What is that?” It had not seemed to make any great impact on Amy’s career. She said that she enjoyed great female ensembles like the one on “Orange is the New Black” and that she worked with a lot of female actors and comedians, especially doing improv at Second City, and it was never an issue. She even asked back “Is that still a thing?” Her response disappointed me in a way because I kind of expected and wanted her to give some fire and brimstone speech about how hard her path had been but how she and other brave and strong funny women need to keep doing it to quiet all of the naysayers. But I was also inspired and encouraged that she was so unaffected by it and possibly even insulated from it. She has made a life and career making people laugh – and doing a host of humorous, creative projects – that is fulfilling to her without any gender angst. When I told her that not too long ago Adam Carolla created a bit of a stir by making comments about female comedy writers being less funny than men, she responded with “Who?” and then after a wry smile, “Oh, and we know how funny he is.” (I’ll make a note here to say that I have nothing against Carolla, not that if I did it would keep him awake at night or keep him from continuing to earn the fantastic living that he does, who am I? but I mentioned his comments because his were among the most recent that I could recall about women not being funny.) While I was at first disappointed by Amy’s nonchalant attitude about it, I am glad to hear that throughout her career she has not felt hindered or discriminated against for being a woman in the funny business and that the whole “women aren’t as funny as men” thing is not on her radar.  Amy strikes me as an explosive ball of creativity who is far too busy putting herself out there through her numerous projects and making people laugh to notice, or even care who is playing judge and jury to what or who should be considered funny!

Part Deux of 81 Things to Do

While stuck in traffic on Interstate 81 … or any highway or road for that matter.

Last week I shared the second half of my list of 81 things to do when you’re trapped in a traffic jam. Here’s the first and final part of that list of things to do!  Have fun. And remember, while you’re sweating the small stuff, you could be saving your energy for celebrating what matters!!  Make Life A Laughing Matter!!

 

1.Feel the wind in your hair.
2.Test how loud your speakers can be.
3. Do your happy dance.
4. Check out the guy in the car next to you.
5. Check out the girl in the car next to you. This is equal opportunity folks.
6. Sing…at the top of your lungs.
7. Read billboards.
8. See who is a good adoptive parent to their part of the highway. Scan the roadside for cups, bottles and food wrappers.
9. Laugh… Because you can.
10. Practice your speech, excuse why you’re late for work… again…, your marriage proposal, etc.
11. Pray. Say a few words to your higher power like, “Thank you,” “Help me,” or “Watch over my loved ones.”
12. Breathe.
13. Listen hard to hear the sounds of nature. Try to tune out the engine sounds.
14. Remember your first family vacation and why it was so much fun. (I have fond memories of Wild Wood Crest in NJ. Two words: sunburns and ice cream.)
15. Smile. Then think about who is the reason for your smile.
16. Dance in your seat.
17. Repeat.
18. Daydream about where you want to go if you could go anywhere and money was no object and there were no other barriers to stop you.
19. Be still.

20. Make a note of how you feel.
21. Inhale.
22. Exhale.

23. Giggle like a little girl … that’s right fellas, give it a whirl.

24. Sing the alphabet to feel young again. It’s said that all we really need to know we learned in Kindergarten, right?

25. Think about someone you’ve hurt and plan to call them to say “I’m sorry.” (If traffic is completely stopped, call right then and there. Don’t put it off because you’ll find something else to do. That’s how life tends to be.)

26. Try to twerk while seated.

27. Look at the clouds to see what shapes they make. Do you see the face of a president? A headless horseman? A flower?

28. Think of someone who inspires you. How can you do something that would make them proud?

29. Breathe in.

30. Breathe out.

31. Breathe in.

32.  Breathe out but this time, make a “haaaaaa” sound when you exhale.

33. Smile at yourself in the mirror and say one thing you like about yourself. And it does not have to have anything to do with your appearance.

34. Tap your foot.

35. Channel your inner Bobby McFerrin. Start slapping yourself to make music. (Just don’t hurt yourself.)

36. Hum.

37. Imagine what your superhero power would be if you had one.

38. Imagine your costume. (I’m all about the power cuffs.)

39. Think of the first thing you would do with your superhero powers. (Remember, these powers were granted only for good so you can’t do anything evil … well, nothing illegal anyway.)

40. Practice the second language that you kind of know. (For me it’s French. I like to count in French sometimes; say the days of the week, the months, etc.)

41. Work on your elevator speech. What makes you/your business a hero, rather than a zero (shout out to Lori Greiner on ABC’s “Shark Tank”).

 

 

 

81 Things to Do While Stuck on I-81 (or any highway)

This is part I of a II-part blog of 81 things to do while stuck on Interstate 81 or on any highway across America. We begin with # 42.  Watch next week as I present numbers 1 through 41.   Before you take a road trip this summer or get in the car for a long ride to a business meeting or conference, print off this list. If there’s roadwork ahead, you may need it!  Off you go with a smile!

42. Breathe deeply.

43. Hop in your time machine (aka mental file cabinet of childhood memories) and think about what your favorite game was as a kid. Hopscotch? Freeze tag? Kick the can? Smell the thick air of those summer nights. Smile knowing you don’t have school in the morning.

44. Look at your hands. What stories do they tell?

45. Organize your CDs into the side pockets of your car or in your center console (assuming you still use CDs; I do thanks to my dear friend in upstate NY who sends me CDs every few months of great dance tunes to keep me smiling when I’m driving and stopped in traffic).

46. Drink water, it’s good for you and wonderful for your skin (unless the traffic is really backed up because if you have a small bladder then you’ll be looking to relieve yourself later…I really don’t want to add that to this list).

47. Sing the Star-Spangled Banner. While most of us recall how badly Roseanne Barr mangled it, it still takes courage to sing such a well-known and beloved song in front of millions. The least you can do is try it in your car. Come on.

48. Give yourself a hug. While you’re there, rub your neck to work out a knot or two that’s forming.

49. Entertain yourself with some different voices. Try an Italian accent. Maybe Russian. Nyet? Okay, how about a Southern accent. Hey y’all.

50. Think about the first time you fell in love…with anything. A person. A breathtaking sunset. A piece of chocolate cake.

51. Sing old TV theme songs like “Gilligan’s Island,” “The Brady Bunch,” “American Hero,” and remember the days when homework was your biggest concern.

52. See how many state capitals you can name. I’ll help you get started: Harrisburg is the capital of PA.

53. Consider taking an improv class. It will at the very least remind you of the importance of saying “Yes, and..” How can I support someone’s idea instead of block it or tear it down.

54. Plan your next physical challenge. Are you a runner? Think about what your next race will be. If you bike, plan your next bike route in your head. Visualize the road or trail. If you’re not active but want to become active, tell yourself that you WILL walk after dinner tonight. It will feel great after sitting so long in traffic.

55. Practice your auto tunes voice. You could be the next singing sensation. Why not? If the ladies of the Real Housewives franchise can do it, can’t anyone?!!

56. If you had the chance to meet any historical figure, who would it be? Susan B. Anthony? Benjamin Franklin? Ghandi? What would you ask them?

57. Clench your butt cheeks. It’s amazing what you can do for the appearance of your dupa while seated. Squeeze those buns!

58. Say your best traits aloud. For example, “I am kind. I am thoughtful. I am strong. I am a good dancer. I make great potato salad. I open doors for people.” Don’t feel conceited. You’re asked in job interviews what your best qualities are. So be prepared!

59. Okay now that you feel good and your chest is out, think about what you could improve about yourself. Don’t say “I hate my hips. Or, my thighs are too big.” Are you argumentative? Do you take things too personally? Do you give up too easily? Do you get angry really quickly? How can you work on these things.

60. If you have a Sharpie or even a pen, draw a mustache on something in your car … a CD cover, your coffee cup or even your finger. Show to other trapped drivers for comic relief.

61. Breathe. Inhale. Exhale with a haaaaaaaaa sound.

62. Don’t think of anything specific. Let your mind wander without a chaperone. See where it goes.

63. Sing the song, “Everything is awesome” from the Legos movie. And BELIEVE it!

64. Snap your fingers. If you can’t, try anyway. See what kind of sound you can make.

65. Work your neck muscles (helps to defy aging ladies) by sticking your tongue out and bugging your eyes out, like you’re trying to make a lion face … if you’ve ever done laughter yoga, you know the lion laugh face. It’s not pretty but it’s fun and can help preserve your neck from aging prematurely.

66. Think of positive gestures that you can make with your hand to fellow drivers, instead of the usual bird; it’s so foul!

67. Add up the change you find in your car. If you’re at a complete stop, see what’s in the bottom of your purse. You might have enough for another cup of coffee or the parking meter. Maybe you can even pay for someone whose meter has expired. What a nice gesture. Good Karma!

68. If you’re completely stopped, close your eyes and take a really deep, cleansing breath. It will not only calm you but it’s good for you too.

69. Think of ways to spice up your sex life. A little Sriracha sauce anyone? Okay that might burn the bits a bit. Keep that in the kitchen for your eggs or sandwiches after sex.

70. Wiggle your nose like Tabitha from the TV show “Bewitched” to see if you can change something that’s bugging you … like traffic jams, the clothes your husband wears or the negative gossip that spews from your co-worker’s mouth every day. If that doesn’t work, laugh for now until you have a real solution!

71. Belt out the words to the song “Let it go” from “Frozen.” Then slap yourself for doing so. Please everyone, let this song go!

72. Keep calm and breathe on before you can drive on.

73. Think of five things that make you smile. Go. (I would say ice cream, junk TV, my parents, my boyfriend, my friends – not necessarily in that order.)

74. Do brow exercises to release tension from your head. Wrinkle your forehead. Cock your eyebrow.

75. Use your lipstick to apply red, rosy cheeks like you’re an old-fashioned doll or Raggedy Ann.

76. Imagine yourself marching in to see your boss and telling him/her all the reasons you deserve/demand a raise!  Smile.

77. If traffic is completely stopped: call a funny friend who can make you feel good while you wait.

78. Picture odd celebrity couples in your mind, like Fabio and Kristin Chenowith or Paul Reuben and Cher or Snooki and Pierce Morgan.

79. Make animal noises. Belt out your best bark or softest meoooow! This skill will serve you in scaring neighborhood strays and burglars and landing a date.

80. Breathe in. Exhale some ha ha ha’s. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

81. The ultimate: take a “stuck in traffic selfie.” Try to get the driver behind you in the picture, especially if she/he is doing something embarrassing.

Laugh in the Workplace for Serious Results

April is National Humor Month. It’s the ideal time for businesses and other organizations to put their proverbial foot in the humor waters to decrease stress of employees, potentially increase profits and unite to make great things happen!

When I worked at Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania, I tried to have a sense of humor about my job, if for no other reason than to help myself get through tough times, but I often helped ease the tension of others when I could get them to laugh too.  Sometimes the emails that flooded my Inbox would make me wonder if I worked at a health care company or was back in junior high. Let’s say that there was a lot of time wasted on communicating about ‘what ifs,’ “Oh no, the sky is falling,” and tales of who said what and whose job it was to do what should have been done.  I’m sure that many companies lose time on ineffective email communications and meetings that accomplish little, especially when you have managers who do not understand how to manage effectively and know even less about what it means to lead. When you consider that organizations waste time -and money- doing things that are camouflaged as important, it raises the question – at least in my mind – why not at least consider adding humor and laughter to the workplace? You might think that’s a waste of time or inappropriate but it can be just the opposite. Rather than employees bickering or having petty disputes, they could be bonding, getting closer while blowing off steam through laughter.

I didn’t leave my day job in health care marketing four years ago because my business was making a ton of money at the time, but I did leave because I believe that I can help to improve people’s lives and help organizations better succeed when they realize the potential that humor and laughter have. Through my business, Laugh to Live, LLC, I promote laughter and humor for wellness, stress relief and to help people feel empowered over their stressful situations rather than letting their stress make them feel powerless and overwhelmed.

If you’re sitting there saying, “Our business has more important and more urgent things to consider than laughter,” please indulge me for a few minutes and read why you should Make Work Life A Laughing Matter.

Q: The American Institute of Stress estimates that stress costs U.S. corporations over $300 billion annually. In addition, employers may be held liable if they do not offer programs designed to reduce stress in the workplace. It’s obvious that stress is a serious problem, so how can laughter help?

A: Research continues to show the value of laughter for health and wellness, especially when it comes to stress management. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter helps:
•Activate and relieve the stress response. A good laugh increases heart rate and blood pressure in the manner that exercise does. The result? A good, relaxed feeling and healthy blood flow.
•Soothe tension. Laughter can stimulate circulation and aid muscle
relaxation; both help reduce some physical symptoms of stress.
•Improve the immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical
reactions that can impact your body by increasing stress and decreasing your immunity. In contrast, positive thoughts help fight stress and potentially more serious illness.
•Relieve pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
•Increase personal satisfaction. Laughter can make it easier to cope
with difficult situations.
Q: Employees need to take their jobs seriously, so why should employers encourage humor and laughter at the workplace and what are some easy ideas?

A: Humor can be risky business but funny business can mean a bigger bottom line. Karyn Buxman, RN, MSN, CSP, CPAE runs a program called “When Funny Means Money: Humor as a Serious Business Strategy” to show businesses how profitable humor and play can be. Google offers employees game rooms with foosball, ping pong and pool tables where they can take breaks as needed and Google has landed on a number of “best companies to work for” lists for a number of years.
•Start a “Laughter” or “Reasons to Smile” Board. Dedicate a bulletin board for employees to post cartoons, funny pictures (think cats wearing sunglasses or dogs in dresses to keep it non-offensive), positive quotes. Get creative; celebrate “Throwback Thursday” by inviting employees to bring in pictures from college, high school, grade school, or preschool if they dare.
•Encourage laughter breaks. Some Indian companies are encouraging their employees to replace their coffee and cigarette breaks with 10 to 15-minute laughter yoga breaks. While laughter yoga was introduced in India by Dr. Madan Kataria, it has become a stress-relieving activity in over 62 countries, including states across America. Just find a conference room with thick walls or head out to the parking lot where employees can inhale and exhale, chant ho ho ha ha ha, and laugh! That’s what laughter yoga is all about.

Q: Besides managing stress, what else can laughter and humor do to improve the workplace and potentially your bottom line?
A: For companies who are interested in making a bigger commitment and investment, there are workshops and training programs that use comedy techniques to help employees flex their creative/brainstorming muscles, bond with fellow employees and learn to adapt to changes more easily, in addition to having fun.
•Steve Cody, co-founder of the New York-based public relations firm Peppercomm realized so many benefits from the stand-up comedy class he took that he pitched the idea of having all Peppercomm employees go through stand-up training to his senior management team. At first his idea was met with resistance, but soon Cody’s colleagues saw the potential benefits. Cody said the program “really comes in handy for companies that are having morale issues, departments that aren’t working together very well, or they’re in a post-merger/acquisition situation where there are two different cultures that are trying to get along.”
Read complete article here.

•Improvisation is known as a comedy art form but its basic concept of “Yes, and…”which is about accepting and supporting what someone else (or life) gives you, is valuable for every facet of life. In an interview with CNN, Robert Kulhan, an adjunct assistant professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and CEO of Business Improvisations said, “Improvisation isn’t about comedy, it’s about reacting — being focused and present in the moment at a very high level.” As well as teaching people to react and adapt, he said improvisation can teach creativity, innovation, communication, teamwork and leadership.
Read complete article here.
If you’re ready to enjoy the rippling effects that laughter and humor can have on your employees/at your workplace or organization, contact Jeannine for more ideas, articles and useful resources.

Using Humor Month to Reignite My Pilot Light

To say that it’s been a long winter makes about as much sense as saying “It’s been a long day” or ” Wow, the summer went by so quickly.” Time is time. It doesn’t change, ever. But our perspective can make a day feel like a week and a season, like winter, feel like an eternity … if it seems unpleasant to us and we want it to pass. And that’s how this past winter has been for me.  It seemed a bit too long, a bit too snowy (although snow is a faint, fluffy memory since it hasn’t snowed much in the past four weeks or so), a bit too cold, a bit too gray and not a bit inspiring.  I spent too much time on my couch. Too much time enveloped by negative, obsessive thinking. And too little time thinking positive, hopeful thoughts and being productive. As I said to a friend earlier this week, I feel like my pilot light went out this winter. And I need to reignite it, fast!

No need to worry. Spring IS here. We will have three or four consecutive days over 45 degrees very soon. I just know it. And so what if we don’t?  We cannot control the weather and the forecasters can rarely predict it correctly so let’s not focus too much on that.  It’s the promise and hope of spring that has already begun to awaken something in me. And more importantly, in just a few days, we begin the start of National Humor Month. And that celebrates something that we CAN control … how much we recognize and use humor in our lives. I’m not just talking about playing pranks using whoopee cushions or plastic vomit to get a few laughs on April Fool’s Day.  National Humor Month celebrates the amazing tool that is humor!  I mentioned before that a day can feel like a week and a season can feel like an eternity based on our perspective. Well when we use humor in our lives, we can gain a different perspective … one that is usually lighter and happier. It helps us to put a pin in our worries and live in a joyful, happy moment or if we’re lucky … a few moments, a day, a week.

I am hopeful during this month that celebrates humor and ushers in thoughts of tulips and green everywhere, I will reignite my pilot light so that I can really get cooking. For me, that means feeling content and joyful for myself again – something that seems to have frozen over this winter – and then putting that positive, bright vibe out to the masses so that others can get lit.  (Let me explain: I hope to share a light feeling so that others feel lit up with happiness, joy and levity. Wild Turkey and Jameson can get people lit but that’s not exactly what I mean. Although I am Irish and German so I’m not opposed to getting lit … just don’t drive, text or Facebook while under the influence.)

What I look forward to in the coming month specifically to help me reignite my light is:

•Teaching an 8-week improv class at The Vintage Theater in Scranton. I’m excited about sharing this art form with other like-minded, creative, imaginative people. I look forward to introducing them to improv games and techniques that will have them laughing and helping others to laugh, but more importantly the techniques will teach them to be more comfortable thinking on their feet; listening to others’ ideas; accepting others’ ideas; building something as a team; and being free to think, act and explore their creativity from toe to head.

•Warmer weather that will make it more comfortable and fun to run outdoors with more smiles and less clothing. It has not been easy or fun training for the Scranton Half Marathon that I will run on April 6. Although I ran my first full marathon in October, it feels like all of that training has been erased with a few months of hibernation.

•Flowers. I especially like the smell of lilacs because they remind me of childhood when I would take flowers from our lilac bush, put them in a cup in front of my Blessed Mother statue to pay tribute to her during the month of May (it’s a Catholic thing that is about showing honor and respect to the Virgin Mary, Jesus’ mom).

• Birds chirping outside my window. Although it’s sure to mean the return of my nemesis, the pesky squirrel, I will  break out the ladder to start my routine of filling the “squirrel-proof” bird feeder (yeah right, they treat it like it’s a jungle gym and they’re rehearsing for Squirrels’ Cirque du Soleil the way they swing on it, reaching inside the feeder with their dirty little paws). I love hearing and seeing all of the birds gathering in the tree that’s easy to view from the window in my kitchen, TV room and office upstairs.

•Possibilities. I have two comedy shows scheduled in April and May. I have speaking engagements scheduled for April, May, June, July and August and I’m excited about other prospects that came about recently and that I know will increase as I get cooking by getting out networking more,  making calls and planning meetings. What my winter lacked, I am hopeful my spring and summer will make up for two or three-fold.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

I have this nasty habit of writing about myself when all of the tips I read from professional speakers and writers is that people don’t care about me. You don’t want to hear about me. You want to read something that helps YOU. That makes YOUR LIFE better.  I can only hope that my writing is at least entertaining enough to make you laugh and/or think. But wait, there’s more!

HOW CAN YOU ADD HUMOR TO YOUR LIFE TO MAKE YOUR LIGHT SHINE BRIGHTER?

1. Take opportunities to turn crap into comedic material. When you spill coffee on your blouse and have no time to change, laugh it off. Tell people that you’re a fashion designer in training and you’ve just created a new way to dye your blouse that’s aromatic and eco-friendly. When you step in crap from your neighbor’s dog who seems really fond of your front yard, laugh it off (this one might be tougher). Just think, you can always make a care package for your neighbor to get your point across. Or, when you circle the shopping center parking lot for 15 minutes before finding your car, don’t freak out, laugh it off.  Consider walking in circles looking for your car part of your new exercise program. Just think of the calories you’ve already burned. None of these situations described are life and death so breathe in, breathe out and laugh.

2. Take a break before you break. Whether it’s a tense situation at work, at home or in the check-out line of the grocery store, we all have our breaking point (it’s not the same for everyone, thankfully, but it’s there). Before you lose your cool and say or do something out of character or you get your emotions spiraling into a negative ball of ick, breathe in, breathe out and laugh. Do you see a pattern here (there’s a lot of that in comedy by the way)? Humor can help you feel better and it can also remind you that you are not powerless to the stressful situation you are in. Use humor to gain control and power over the stress and negativity. Show it who’s boss! You will not have a crappy night. You will remain calm. You will feel happy*.   *Don’t misunderstand my advice. If your boss is being unfair to you, going to the ladies room or outside for fresh air and a good laugh will not make things better for the long haul. You will need to think about how to fix that problem or move on to another job where you will be more respected. But … humor can help you get through a particular situation, help you keep your composure and maintain the strength you need to find a long-term solution.

3. Forget Hammer Time. Schedule Humor Time. It may sound silly to actually schedule time to laugh but it shouldn’t You plan everything else. Your kids’ appointments, soccer game, football practice. Doctors’ appointments. PTA meetings.  Laughter and humor are important for your well-being. Stress leads to chronic illness. It’s important you have a way to cope with stress that is a healthy one. I prescribe more humor and laughter! So plan a night of funny movies or playing fun board games or charades with your friends and/or family. If you’re crying from laughing by the end of the night, you’re all winners!

Change doesn’t happen overnight. This has been a mantra of mine during my relationship over the past year. I tend to forget that as adults we don’t change easily or quickly, or sometimes ever, but I’m hopeful. And you should be hopeful too…as well as hopeless, as in hopelessly devoted to huuuuu-mor.

Lift Your Heart with Laughter

There are face lifts, butt lifts and boob lifts. And they all require an expensive surgery and a fair amount of recovery time while wrapped in bandages. What I propose is of much greater value. Seriously.  A heart lift, compliments of laughter!

February is American Heart Month. Yes, I’m aware that there are just a few days left in the month but since the message about a healthy heart and how laughter can help is relevant all year long, I don’t feel too terrible about my procrastination to write this blog. Besides, you’ve probably seen your fair share of signs of red all month long so let’s close the month out seeing pink in our cheeks as we get laughing!

Dr. Michael Miller at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine has researched the value of laughter and a healthy sense of humor for heart health and his findings give us reasons to love laughing. “Using laughter-provoking movies to gauge the effect of emotions on cardiovascular health, researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore have shown for the first time that laughter is linked to healthy function of blood vessels.”*

Let’s take that one step further and there’s more good news. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, “Laughter, along with an active sense of humor, may help protect you against a heart attack,” according to the study by cardiologists. “The study, which is the first to indicate that laughter may help prevent heart disease, was presented at the American Heart Association’s 73rd Scientific Sessions in New Orleans. The researchers found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease.”**

Okay so now that I’ve quoted the experts, let me tell you from the mouth of a lay person, laughter is good stuff! I can’t tell you that it helps to keep my ticker healthy because I don’t know that with medical or scientific certainty, but I can tell you that I laugh a lot and I have a good heart. I also run so I’m sure that helps keep my heart healthy too. My diet could use some cleaning up so I won’t even pull that into the conversation. The bottom line is that laughter is fun and it does make us feel good. That much I DO know.

One of the services I offer through my business, Laugh to Live, is laughter yoga at interactive workshops and conferences. When I lead a laughter yoga session, I see the smiles on people’s faces and I see their shoulders drop. Their bodies just relax and they tell me how good they fell after the session. I know how relaxed I feel after leading a session of laughter exercises. And when I do stand-up comedy and people laugh after hearing my jokes, I feel even better. That laughter is connected to humor that they must process in their minds and then laugh so it’s less of a practice (as laughter yoga is) and more of a response. And I like that so I feel especially happy. (By the same token, when I tell jokes and no one laughs I feel disappointed but that’s the beauty of a sense of humor, it varies from person to person and audience to audience so I am working on not taking it personally. But this blog isn’t about my fragile ego so I apologize for getting off track.)

One of the many great things about laughter is that you don’t need special equipment or attire to do it. You don’t need to buy anything to just laugh. And laughter triggers are everywhere. What are these triggers you might ask? Here are a few:

Funny friends who share comical stories or even knock-knock jokes (avoid the Debbie Downers and Frownie Freds who only want to tell you about the biggest pothole that knocked their tires out of alignment or the snow storm bringing record amounts; unless they lighten up they’ll drain the life out of you after a while).

Sitcoms and movies that you can watch when you have time. With Netflix, Redbox, Youtube, and DVD rentals at your local library, you should have no excuse not to watch the occasional comedy. I own every episode of “Seinfeld” and watch it in reruns too because it’s guaranteed laughs for me. There are a number of other funny shows and movies out there. Find what you like and press “Play.”

Youtube sensations seem to make people chuckle. I can’t say that I totally understand how a cat grabbing a dog’s tail is worthy of 1 million views but maybe I’m just bitter because I haven’t topped 500 views on any of my stand-up comedy videos yet. (Did I mention that I’m a human being who must think to create that material? Eh, maybe I’ll just rescue a cat and set up a nanny cam to record it all day.)

Life is a wonderful opportunity for laughter. Sit and sip coffee somewhere. Listen in on people’s conversations. Watch through the window as people scamper back and forth through their busy lives. I’m not saying to mock or be mean. Just observe for a bit. Soak it up. Life is full of chances to laugh. And what’s even better than watching others, is to laugh at yourself. Instead of cursing that coffee spill on your pants or rip in your jacket from getting stuck on a door handle, accept that it’s one little tear in life and you are the one in control of finding it funny or infuriating.

Laughter yoga is still not a household word but it should be. Started in the mid 1990s by medical doctor Madan Kataria in India, it is the simple practice of choosing to laugh. Don’t wait to hear a joke or watch a video, breathe in deeply and let out a haaaaa, hoooo and a heeeee. Clap your hands. Chant ho ho ha ha ha. LAUGH because you CAN! Because you choose to breathe in life and exhale with laughs.

I’m sure you can think of many other triggers to get your laughing started: your children, blowing bubbles, reading comic books, etc.  As long as you’re not making fun of others, go ahead and laugh, loudly! Your heart will thank you by pumping stronger and giving you another day to repeat that exercise.

Laugh. Lift your heart. And if you still feel the need to lift your face, butt or boobs, that’s your business. I’m sure the experience will give you more material to laugh about!

“Life is way too beautiful to give in so easily.”

Shane Burcaw, 20, a junior at Moravian College in PA, has spinal muscular atrophy and has been in a wheelchair since the age of 2. He has never walked or even crawled and will lose more and more mobility because of his disease. He says that eventually he won’t be able to feed himself, hold his head up or talk. He says that his disease will kill him. “The worst part,” he says, “is I have no control over any of this; it’s terrifying.” And yet, Shane also says,  “I love to laugh; my life is pretty funny.”  He says that if he’s learned one thing, it’s that “The human mind is extraordinary. I have complete control over my thoughts, my feelings, my dreams and that’s one thing someone will never be able to take away from me.”

I don’t write this blog to shame anyone into feeling guilty or bad about your life – your challenges, thoughts or feelings about them, your choices or your behaviors. Although, I must say that after watching Shane’s video, I did feel some guilt and shame for all of the little things that I curse over and get angry about – things that Shane cannot even experience –  like traffic jams, bad drivers and blisters from running. I’m talking about Shane because he made me stop in my tracks. A friend who knows that my business is all about promoting laughter, shared a link on my facebook page about Shane. His story made me look at the things I call challenges and lower my head for a few minutes, but his story also, more importantly, gives me hope and fills me with a renewed sense of purpose about promoting laughter and humor. Shane reminds me that my work and the work of others out there touting the benefits and value of laughter, must continue. We cannot stop. Shane is the best company to be in to spread this positive message. How many of us would look at Shane or people like him and want to give him pity or wonder what he might have to laugh at? We would be so wrong! Listen to Shane tell you in his own words that he doesn’t want or need pity. He wants others to join him in laughing because it’s our choice to do so. He’s chosen to do so.

Shane, along with his dad and cousin, has started a non-profit named “Laughing At My Nightmare, Inc.” that borrows its name from Shane’s blog. The purpose of his charity is to raise funds for research into spinal muscular atrophy treatments and to spread the message of laughter and positivity.

I’m so glad that my friend shared the link about Shane. April is National Humor Month and World Laughter Day is just a little over three weeks away on May 5. I’m waist-deep in the planning and promotion of the Scranton celebration of World Laughter Day. Seeing Shane’s great attitude and hearing his determination remind me that it really is a choice to laugh. We have that freedom and should never let our challenges imprison us. No matter where you are on the map or where you are in your life right now, take some time to laugh. Give some thought to the possible humor in your struggles. It really is there if you look for it. And when you choose to find the humor in a difficult situation, you don’t have to be a victim. You’re the hero in your own life. And let’s face it, who among us hasn’t dreamed one time or another of sporting a cape or gold cuffs and saving the day?!

The next time you’re having a bad day and you want to just say “Laugh? Yeah right. That’s easy for you to say. Piss off!” Let Shane’s words ring in your ears, “Life is way too beautiful to give in so easily.”

All the Emotions that Are Fit to Predict

I know that we’ve all seen the self-help gurus out there on the talk show circuit telling us that we can choose our emotions.  No one “makes us feel” one way or another.  I remind myself of this when I’m having a crappy day that I’m blaming on someone’s slow driving, the potholes, watching numerous people throughout the day commit what I consider a heinous act: tossing their cigarette butts on the ground and out the windows of their moving vehicles. I’m really quick to tell people like my mom or other friends that they are responsible for their own moods and that they shouldn’t let the actions or in-actions of others set the tone for their day. Naturally it’s much easier to preach than to practice. But with all of that said, I had my ah-ha ha moment last week when I read a tweet from a local newspaper. The tweet contained the title of a ‘news’ article. The title was, “PennDot Projects to Cause Commuting Headaches.” It caused me to pause. This news headline was in essence telling people how they were going to feel. I didn’t know that news reporters were in the psychology or sociology business.

This isn’t the first instance I’ve noticed nor the first infraction, I’ll call it, by the media to tell us the viewers and readers how something should make us feel. I often shout at the television in the morning when a reporter (and I use that word lightly) on Good Morning America will shake her head after a story is reported and say something like “unbelievable” or, “that’s outrageous.” I guess it’s not enough to give us the facts and let us draw our own conclusions and feel what we feel (what I learned while earning my BA in Journalism at Penn State) it’s now important that the reporters cut out the middle man (that being the viewer’s brain, set of core values, etc.) and get straight to what we should be feeling.

When I read the title of the news story “PennDot Projects to Cause Commuting Headaches” I had to say something. I posted it on my Laugh to Live facebook page because I wanted to share and remind people that just because it’s the norm or expected reaction, we shouldn’t be told that we will feel that or that it’s our only choice of response.  I mean even sugar packets don’t like to draw definite conclusions or at least they didn’t (I don’t use sugar so I haven’t read a packet recently). As far as I know, those packets stated something like “May cause cancer in lab rats.” But the reporter, or at least copywriter, of the news headline was quite sure that the roadwork would lead to headaches – as if it was akin to the salty lunch meats that lead to migraines.

I understand that roadwork causes delays and people don’t like delays because they wreak havoc with our schedules and plans, but what if the headline, instead of reading “Cause Commuting Headaches,” stated something like, “PennDot Projects to Create More Time for You in Your Cars to Listen to Your Favorite Music, to Chair Dance, to People Watch, to Wave and Smile to the People in the Cars Next to You”? What would happen if that were the headline? Would it be any less factual or accurate about the dreaded roadwork? I think the headline itself would have received a few smiles and chuckles. Instead, the reported the news as usual with a little something extra – a prediction about, or declaration of, how you will respond.

What happened to us being able to choose our own emotions, attitudes and responses to events and people? What if we choose to be patient while being “stuck” in traffic? What if we use that time while we creep along to do some soul searching, or meditation? Or we look out the window and connect with other people or nature? I won’t toot my horn and say that I always do this or that I often do this, but I will remind you the reader that we DO have the ability to choose our mood and response. We are in control of how we respond to events and to people. I challenge you and me this summer to respond to roadwork by spending that time doing something other than curse so loud that we risk an aneurysm. Let’s try breathing, smiling and even laughing. The people in cars next to us may think we’re weird but they also have the choice to smile and laugh back or at least laugh at us laughing. I like that idea better than seeing more red-faced people yelling expletives!