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!

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.

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!

Companies with a sense of humor get it! Profit that is!

Sure I’ve been saying it for a long time. Humor and laughter are valuable resources to help individuals and organizations succeed. But I drank the Kool-Aid a long time ago, so to speak. I believe in this so much that I left a secure, well-paying job in marketing communications to deliver the message and be my own boss. Convincing others can be a bit tough but I think that what SouthWest Airlines has achieved should get everyone’s attention. It may be time for you to get the pitcher of water out and mix in the flavor packet of your choice so you can drink too.

SouthWest Airlines closed out 2013 with record profits. The company must be doing a thing or two right, right?

I don’t know the airline’s whole story but the chapter I know involves having a sense of humor and not being afraid to empower employees so they are genuinely engaged and invested in the company’s success. Thanks to attending conferences through the years of the organization AATH (Association for Applied Therapeutic Humor), I heard about how successful companies were using humor from the top of their organizations down. One company that kept being mentioned was SouthWest Airlines. The president of the company has taken himself lightly enough to dress in drag and sure that’s good for a few laughs but he’s not just window dressing. He believes wholeheartedly in the value of creativity, imagination and humor and encourages it throughout the organization.

In fact, flight attendants are allowed to customize and inject humor in their pre-flight safety spiels. You know that time on most flights when people look at their phones, fluff their pillows, gaze out the window … basically tune out the boredom they’ve heard many times about buckling seat belts, floatation devices and emergency exits.  But when humor is added to this important information, people don’t just hear droning, they actually listen. They’re entertained. They’re engaged. Watch the magic on one of their flights.   Passengers will remember this flight and will most likely leave with a positive attitude about the company.


My question to you is: What is YOUR organization doing that’s memorable? Maybe a touch of humor could mean the difference from your organization being grounded or really taking flight. Why not buckle up and take off with humor?!!



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.