Research may not [yet] show the benefits of good belly laughs, but plenty of experts on combatting depression and finding happiness, support the importance of social connections and laughter. But what about really laughing something that you have done? The photo in the Belly Laughs post just prior to this (bear with me as I learn how to use this blogging tool) shows one new Kindergarten parent (and clearly the only one) willing to go under the dunking bucket at the back-to-school bash. And why not? I laughed so hard and cooled off at the same time. Seeing my son’s face and hearing his laughter and all of the laughter of the kids, only made me laugh more and feel good.
How about the embarrassing situations? I remember once when I was in my early 30s and had just flown back from seeing friends in London. I deluded myself into thinking that I could work the very next day. Well, that day, a client called me and asked that I join him for business drinks that evening. I knew that I should have said no because my motor skills, not to mention my conversational skills, dwindle the evening after a flight abroad. Common sense was not on my side and so I went to meet him at one of those wood-paneled conservative bars at The Jefferson Hotel in Washington, DC. I’m laughing as I write this. Imagine sitting in the semi-darkness with the requisite glass table, silver bowl of nuts, and candles burning in glass votive vases. Yes, you know where this is going. At some point, when drinks were over and we were getting up to leave, I turned and caught my bag on the bottom of the glass table—which technically was just a glass top balanced on a small, short base. In my defense, not the most stable surface. Well, let’s just say, I pulled a bit of a Bridget Jones and tipped the table, the nuts, burning candle, the whole deal and at that point, I was sleep-deprived and punchy, and yes, I just laughed. And then I helped to clean up the nuts as my client tried to help place the glass top back on its sorry little base.
Or what about the time when I was six months pregnant and was leading a group of 400 people in a call and response “rah-rah” let’s get excited moment at the end of a three-day meeting where I had put in 14-hour days and by that point, after three times saying, “The Power of Three!” and listening to the audience respond, I suddenly had this out-of-body exhausted experience and forgot what I was saying. All 400 people were looking at me and waiting for to chant back at me and I was looking at them like, “What are you guys waiting for?” After laughing at myself, I remembered to shout, “The Power of Three!” one last time.
These times of laughter are so important. And remembering that we are not perfect and we were not meant to be perfect. Take my mother’s kitchen shelf. I will not be posting a picture of that in this blog. I will however tell you that we have the best collection of unattractive funny family photos on that shelf. You know the ones. From Christmas morning, crazy hair, awkward expressions. From passport photos. Hideous fashion choices. Well, whenever my mom feels down (and yes, she includes pictures of herself on this shelf), she just looks at us and starts laughing. I actually carried one of my favorites of myself with me in my day planner—very unattractive shot—when I was rather overly excited on Christmas morning about the Scrabble game that my brother had bought me. You would have thought I just won a car on Oprah. Another fantastic tradition that I highly recommend is to send bed head photos of yourself to your closest friends. One friend of mine will just sporadically send a winner early in the morning and it’s such a pick-me-up to see the sculpture that is her hair.
What are the memories of laughter that you are creating in your life? Recently I had some friends over for dinner and the kids all dressed up like superheroes. Maya used my homemade Wonder Woman accessories and she came to me, sweaty and breathing heavily and said, “Tia Becca, my headband keeps falling down!” And I said, “Don’t worry honey, I can fix it.” And I made a little loop of masking tape and taped it to her head. Her mother and I broke down laughing and I said, “You know these are the memories she will have that will make her feel so happy when she is older.” I have that feeling in the deepest parts of my heart for the “Connie kids.” They are my six cousins who helped to take care of me when my mom was a single mom and their mom was a single mom. They were like a pack of loving wolves and I was the youngest. No one ever bothered me when I was with my cousins. We ran barefoot many times outside and played football and wall ball on the streets of Philly. When I slept over I could stay up late and watch TV with them because my favorite Aunt Connie often worked late as a bartender. And in the morning, since there were six of them, they had tons of different cereals and I could mix and match as many as I wanted in one bowl. (Right now is the point where my Aunt Connie would tell you about the time I was a toddler and she left me alone in the kitchen for just a few minutes and I ate an entire block of cream cheese without crackers by myself.) These moments are the ones that make me know that I can see my cousins at any time and in my heart, go back to that kitchen, or to their basement where we did shows, or to the dining room where I got hold of children’s scissors and cut my bangs as short as Frankenstein’s because I couldn’t get them in a straight line. These are the cousins that gave me my own song, “Tra la la la la la, Rebecca’s comin’ here to stay!”
Thanks to my husband’s curiosity on our Netflix instant download account, I recently watched the movie Happy. Promise yourself that by the end of the year, you will see that movie. It’s a documentary from around the world with research-based information on the study of happiness. You’ll see what’s happened to countries like Japan who have, in an effort to rebuild itself, concentrated heavily on extrinsic goals like money, image and status (the U.S. is quite close to this) and that country has faced increased deaths from stress and exhaustion. Focusing on intrinsic goals like personal growth, relationships and the desire to help has proven to increase happiness. Volunteering is one of the most powerful ways that you can feel alive and healthy.
So what makes you happy? When was the last time you belly laughed? I hope it was while reading this blog. Sending you superhero powers to find the joy in some part of your day.