Laughter is truly the best medicine

In every seminar I do, I ask people to go through a belly laugh with me, to remind them what it feels like to really let go. I take them through the facial expressions; I tell them to open their eyes wide, to lift their eyebrows, grab hold of their bellies ( whichever section they like best), and on the count of three, to let fly a HA-HA-HA, which we do for thirty seconds.

When I announce that we’re going to do this, the moans and groans that escape most people’s lips would make outsiders listening in think these folks are about to be punished. Some people actually note the time before they start, to make sure they get it right—a sure sign of having the need to do things perfectly. Many individuals look around to see if anyone else is doing it, because, after all, there could be reporters in the room who are going to put them on the front page for acting silly. ( The word “silly” by the way, comes from the ancient English word “selig” which means “to be blessed.” Many a pompous court was lightened up by the court jester, who was considered to be a blessed fool.)

Several times I’ve had the opportunity to do this exercise with children. One incident in particular has stuck with me. My grandson who at the time was in third grade asked me to go to his classroom and share what I did for a living with them. After I did, I asked them to try the belly laugh for thirty seconds. Immediately they started shouting. “We  can do that for an hour!” Their unbridled laughter filled the room. They grabbed their stomachs without any coaching from me, and many of them literally doubled over or fell on the floor, completely capturing the moment. The more they laughed, the more they laughed.

However, it took only a minute or so before the teacher began to look worried. Before long she started saying, “Now boys and girls, we need to calm down and control ourselves.” Although I realize the need for control in the classroom and beyond is a necessary part of a civilized society, there is also a need to release and let go to allow for creative thinking.

Many adults say their faces hurt after they leave my workshops, or that their stomachs are killing them. Perhaps many of us are so used to being in control that giving into a burst of laughter is actually difficult and perhaps painful. Why is laughter causing us physical pain? I’ve never seen a group of four year olds who are laughing joyfully suddenly stop and report they are in pain.

Life becomes complicated and often difficult but please try to allow yourself to engage in laughter whenever possible. It truly is the best medicine!

“If everyone’s special, than no one is”

My mother and grandmother spent a lot of energy being martyrs. They liked suffering over situations that could have been handled in more pragmatic ways. Nonna Francesca would despair over not being able to find over-ripe tomatoes to make her favorite marinara sauce and my mother would begin wailing when I didn’t eat my peas. Most issues were handled the same whether they were serious or delirious.

They also spent a lot of time on self deprecation. Some were focused on making the family laugh but others were predicated on the fact that women of that era did not discuss themselves in positive ways. Which brings me to how far we have transitioned when it comes to how we discuss ourselves.

No one would turn to my mother or grandmother and tell them they needed to work on their self-esteem or become more empowered. They would have thought you had lost your mind since that would have fit into the category of arrogance. They were brought up to discuss themselves with humility, although their description of humility was not particularly accurate.

Over the years a plethora of self-help books have focused on the fact that you have to learn to love yourself in your entirety in order to be a happy, healthy person who lives a long life. The concept has grown exponentially through motivational talks, organizations, Utube and hundreds of posts on Facebook, and Instagram. The huge popularity of the Selfie enables the possibility of sharing whatever we’re doing in real time, no matter how trivial.

So, my question is one which I have been pondering for quite some time. Is loving yourself unconditionally no matter how you look, how you interact with others or what you value a good model? I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t. Do we enable individuals who are grossly overweight to accommodate to or even love themselves being overweight healthy for them? I am not advocating shaming, but gentle compassionate encouragement. Is allowing individuals who treat others with disrespect okay? Should a gang member feel in right relationship to themselves in the same way someone who is volunteering to extract people from the rubble of Aleppo? Do we continually foster telling children their special even though they may not be doing anything special. Isn’t that word meant to explain something unique, remarkable or outstanding.

I’m sure there are those who disagree, this is just one women’s opinion but I personally don’t love myself everyday. There are things about me that I want to work on, there are times when I didn’t like myself for days on end due to situations in my life when I wasn’t working with a full deck. I think honest self assessments are necessary for growth. And to quote the robot WALL.E, “If everyone’s special, than no one is”.