#362 from Innovative Leader Volume 7, Number 9          September 1998

When Things Can’t Get Any Worse
by Anne Durrum Robinson

Ms. Robinson is a human resource consultant in Austin, Texas (phone 512-472-4412), helping organizations implement creativity.  She recently produced a video, Bad Times Made Verse, from which this article is adapted. www.io.com/~stellar/adr/anne.html

For many of us, these days, life seems to be tied to zero-based budgeting.  Thanks to downsizing, outsourcing, political incorrectness or some other form of commercial negativity, our personal elevators are in the basement and the “up” buttons just don’t seem to work.

This distressing state of affairs can be brought on by many life situations.  You could be the manager whose job calls for constant travel, but your spouse is ailing and your kids are scattered all over the country.  You could be an up-and-comer who’s been offered a challenging overseas job, but the country’s climate isn’t compatible with your severe allergies.  You could have a plum of a new assignment but, for some unfathomable reason, you can’t grasp its fundamentals.  You could simply have a boss who is pure poison; his day isn’t made until he’s chewed you out at least once.  For the first time, your executive is a woman, and you’re not sure how to handle this situation.

For whatever reason, you’re feeling stuck.  You’re all but buying stock in Tums.  When your head doesn’t ache, your stomach does.  You feel listless all week, and dread Mondays.  Your drive is gone.  Even folks who don’t know you well keep asking anxiously, “Are you OK?”

A Laughing Matter

Whatever the reason for your continued despondency, nothing you’ve ever tried seems to work.  Well, I have a suggestion for you—one I can already hear you turning down or ridiculing.  Because it’s unbelievably simple.  Seek laughter.  In any way you can.  In any amount you can manage:  a chuckle, a giggle, a guffaw.  Any form of wholesome, self-enjoyed laughter.  Not a self-deprecating, “Ha ha.”  Not sarcastic, smirking amusement.  Not raucous, drunken roars.  Just laughter that’s fun to do and fun to hear.

You’ve probably heard of Dr. Norman Cousins, who cured himself of a life-threatening disease by looking at funny movies and reading funny books.  Actually you don’t even have to get out the joke manuals or rent hilarious videos.  You can just laugh.  A really good belly-laugh is like inner jogging.  It is said that fifteen minutes of laughter give you the relaxing effect of an eight-hour meditation.  Ten minutes of laughter promise you the relaxing effect of two hours of sleep.  Supposedly this works through the release of the healing elements of the body, endorphins.

Hear the One About Crushed Bones?

Believe me, I’m not speaking from only what I’ve read or heard.  I’ve personally come through one of those mired-in-the-mud times, myself.  I’ve been a consultant for twenty enjoyable years, teaching creative thinking, accelerated learning, Mind Mapping, creative problem solving, intuition and humor in the workplace.  I’ve worked with companies, government agencies and universities—worldwide.  I loved my work and was at the apex of my career.  I was on the boards of international organizations and was the recipient of some prestigious awards.  I’m not boasting.  Just want you to see where I fell from.

In 1996, the day before I was to fly abroad to teach a workshop, I fell and broke my right leg in four places.  A year later, I was progressing quite well and could still manage my training and speaking engagements.  Additional therapy was prescribed, but turned out to be the wrong kind—it collapsed my other hip and I was back in the wheelchair.

I tried water therapy, and just as I was approaching a measure of independence, I had a hemorrhage from a bleeding ulcer.  Wham!  After lengthy hospitalization, I was permanently in the wheelchair, but this time with severe arthritis and unable to take anti-inflammatory drugs because of the ulcer.

No Need to Feel Sorry for Me

Naturally, clients disappeared.  My consulting income went to nearly nothing.  I had to remind myself that I was still phenomenally lucky that the work I loved had lasted until I was nearly 85.  But this was the Cold Comfort Department speaking.  I was still mentally able, but physically I was a no-show. (My situation was probably worse than yours, even if you’ve ended up, through downsizing, in a position you hate.)

I allowed myself some grieving time.  Then I put my creative hat on.  I decided I needed to go the humor-laughter route.  That’s what I recommended to many of my clients over the years.  So I designed a presentation that could be done in a wheelchair.  I found a few rhymed comedy skits my twin and I used to do, and built around them an exhortation to folks to use laughter to turn misery into merriment, hopelessness into hilarity, groans into grins.  I used amusing hats and headpieces.

Almost immediately, I was signed up for three performances.  The first two were encouragingly successful; the third was a smash!  In fact, it seemed to do so many people so much good that I decided to make it into a video that recently has been completed.

One of the props I use is a laughter tape, in which a single individual’s laughter quickly spreads, and in no time at all everyone in the auditorium is loudly convulsing.

With this example in mind, I often tell audiences that the right kind of laughter is the only commodity I know that is both highly contagious and wonderfully healing.

I’m not saying that laughter will remove all your obstacles.  But, like dog-paddling, it will help you keep your discouraged head above the surface in deep water.  It certainly has been a god-send to me.  And it’s fun to share.

At my video “shoot,” I gave the sixty people there a small, spiral-bound book titled, “Lasso Laughter.”  On the cover it had a small cowboy with a lariat and the subtitle, “So You Can Rope and Tie the Funnies You Run Across While You’re Ridin’ the Range.”  Inside are blank pages titled, “Funny Things I’ve Heard,”  “Funny Things I’ve Said,”  “Funny Things I’ve Seen,”  “Funny Things I’ve Dreamed,” etc.  This is to encourage awareness of humorous things around you (even if your boss acts like a real jerk).

Two caveats if you go the laughter route.  It must be real mirth, not hollow or sarcastic.  And it must always be with and not at.

I’m not encouraging you to sweep your cares and problems under the rug.  They, for the most part, are real and must be faced and dealt with.  But you’ll find the facing more courageous and the dealing more creative if you add some hearty laughter to all of your days.

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