Saturday, January 23, 2010

Habitual Happiness, Part 1

Happiness is a practice and it can develop into a habit. Habitual happiness!

After watching Patch Adams (again), it's clear that excessive habitual happiness can be edgy and can make others a tad uncomfortable.

There's an unspoken social code hanging in the air and it's a moving target. As children we learn early on how to navigate the code by watching and reading the adults around us. Our parents are the primary code managers, they are the first to show us how to act in private and in public, what is acceptable and what is not, who to defer to, who to follow, who is important to please, who can be disregarded, and most of this social code training is done subtly and most often without awareness, using body language and facial expressions.

Children are born joyful! They have a marvelous capacity to burst forth with enthusiasm, laughter, friendliness, silliness, and constant movement. Watch a child waiting in line at the grocery store --- they are all over the place! While the parent guards the cart, the child or children explore the millions of details surrounding them. They are open to details.

As adults, we've learned to tune out the details. Of the thousands of sensory opportunities available in each moment, we notice or process just a few. Children can run circles around us processing details and they do.

And that's were social code training comes in. The core messages in social code training are: Fit in --- Don't make waves --- Don't stand out --- Don't make anyone uncomfortable. With this training we learn to stand still, sit down, and be quiet, all at the expense of joy. We learn to hand our power over to social conditions and then we quickly learn to let external conditions become our gauge for how we feel inside. The natural outcome of social code training for many of us is repression of emotions and habitually looking to external events and situations to define our internal states.

Television, computers and video games have grown in popularity for this reason. They give us constant external feedback which hooks us emotionally, thus reinforcing the habit of handing our emotional power over to a source outside ourselves. The challenge becomes creating enough external stimulation to compensate for all those repressed authentic emotions and thoughts. Let there be a lull and boredom sets in quickly. Oh, can't have that! What shall we do? Who will talk to us? Who will entertain us? Who will make us laugh-think-feel? What activity will provide enough stimulation and forced focus to keep us fully engaged with external stimuli because it's a sure bet that, at this point, we are practically incapable of actually hearing our own thoughts or feeling what's going on in our own bodies!

The world is running faster and faster, the pace has to keep up with our constant need to be stimulated. Movies, news and TV programing have gotten outrageously explosive, riveting us to the screens. So what's the solution? How does one go about unplugging from the programing of a lifetime and begin to create an authentic internal life?

In Part 2, we'll explore some ideas about how to go about reprogramming ourselves. Please, you're invited to add your comments here so that they can be included in the discussion!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Listen to Laughs!

Since the research has shown that listening to the sounds of laughter causes the body to respond as if you laughed, it's a good idea to surround yourself with laughter as much as possible on a daily basis to counteract stress and depression.

The physical benefits of laughter include opening of the blood vessels, reduced blood pressure, increased oxygenation of the brain and internal organs, all of this leading to greater relaxation and feelings of well-being.

Here's a Laugh-a-Long video to get you started. I created it this week using some favorite photos and the laughter sound track from the Practice Happiness! CD

Get your year off to a good start by increasing your laughter and listening to laughter as often as possible!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

How My Dad Got Funny

It happened one day in November of 2003, just after I had returned home from the hospital after having my appendix removed. It was an unplanned surgery, as you can imagine, and my parents had driven the 125 miles from their house to mine to help me for a few days.

The appendix attack was perfectly timed to interfere with a major move to another city the following week. I hadn't even started packing but I had saved my boxes from the last move and Mom and Dad had to get them out and pack them. It took them four days and all I could do was encourage and direct. And laugh!

Somehow, starting with his grousing about my coffee maker the first morning, Dad became the funniest man on earth. I had to hang onto the counter and my tummy so I wouldn't hurt myself laughing! Almost everything he said and did for the next four days was hysterically funny. I was a laughter casualty, roaring, slapping my legs, dropping to the floor and asking, "How did it happen? When did you get so funny? And how did I manage to not notice this my whole life?!"

The transformation in my dour, practical, dry dad was amazing. Turns out he totally enjoyed being thought of as Funny Guy after a lifetime of Serious Guy. We all knew that my laughter attacks had everything to do with recovery from anesthesia and nothing to do with actual humor and yet we all had so much fun with it!

Funny Guy stayed with us for several years after that and we loved him and laughed at him and, in the end, he gave us all something to remember and talk about during that last painful year before he died.

This story goes to show that we all have a terrifically funny person inside us and sometimes all we need is for someone else to come along and release them. It's never too late to stop and laugh and it almost never requires anesthesia.