In my years of preaching the importance of humor in the workplace, I’ve been met with resistance because just as so much can go right, so much can go wrong. The goal of using humor is to uplift, add value, break the tension, release stress, and bring people together, but if it isn’t done right, humor can have the opposite effect. Here are three outcomes of using humor in the workplace that you want to avoid:
If you’re going through the loss of a loved one or you’ve been working hard all day and need respite, humor provides a welcome distraction and a jolt of perspective. If you can feel the tension rising between people, sometimes a well-timed one-liner or acknowledgement of incongruity can release that tension instantly. Humor is a fantastic tool when the goal is added perspective or tension release. If you’re using humor as a distraction or if you’re doing it all. the. time… you may be distracting yourself from the bigger picture. Humor is a means to an end, not the end itself, so if you’re noticing an incongruity — say there’s a blatant disregard for diversity — cracking a joke about it and not doing anything can be just as toxic as being openly bigoted. Note the problem, laugh about the fact that it’s a problem and your current actions aren’t solving it, then do something about it by trying something new.
Incorporating humor as a cornerstone of your culture may not connect with all audiences — and that’s okay. When people would rather work in serious mode, the last thing you want to do is form a roving band of jesters poking fun at those who won’t join in, or shutting off those who aren’t as funny. People are socially awkward, so if someone who was nervous about contributing humor fears being laughed at instead of laughed with, he or she will feel like an outsider. Even if their quip isn’t funny, laugh politely and avoid the desire to talk about that person once they’re out of earshot. Start from a place of appreciation, because even if that other person without a funny bone in their body feels welcome, your inclusivity will lead to them eventually surprising you with a perspective that has everyone rolling.
If humor is at the expense of someone, or it appears as an exclusive club to your less-funny employees, the benefits of it are nullified. Though witty takedowns and scathing comebacks are commonplace in comedy clubs, “comedian owns heckler” videos, and Comedy Central Roasts, chances are good your employees aren’t professional comedians, so replicating this style of humor is often toxic at work.
Humor at work is meant to be a means-to-an-end, inclusive, unifying, and uplifting. If the results are anything other than these three things, it’s time to course correct.
What an election cycle! It had it all: drama, comedy, and more information about every county in every swing state that any one human being can retain. Did CNN’s John King and MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki just have that overwhelming amount of knowledge swimming in their brains? Also, did either of them have time for bathroom breaks? Were they hooked up to catheters? Are they even human?
While these were the questions I had on election night between sips of double IPAs, there is a much bigger question that must be answered, regardless who won the presidency: what now?
If you’re anything like me, you probably want to talk about something — anything else, but I’m sure you’ve probably noticed there is much more work that needs to be done. The message we keep getting from politicians and media alike is that “we’re more divided than ever,” but because of the access to social media, we’re more connected than ever, so this is a bizarre paradox in which we find ourselves.
Just because we are connected doesn’t mean we have connected, and that — more than anything — must be first on our to-do list. No matter who won the election, I was going to write this particular blog post because, red or blue, the core problems that we’re facing are colorblind.
There are three things we must do as a nation in order to come together and come up with solutions that will help us thrive in the 21st century:
As a comedian, one of the first things I do once onstage is to make a connection with the audience. If I don’t connect and can’t get them to see from my P.O.V., my material isn’t going to land quite as hard. Connecting is about finding common ground, a common goal, or a common interest. Scan through any political “discussion” on social media — it’s two people trying to get their point of view across without anyone learning anything. When we go into a conversation with the goal of talking, there is no room for communication, as the key to communicating effectively is listening. This is a fundamental problem that transcends party lines, and it has ingrained itself to the point where too many people can’t even fathom why other people have differing perspectives. I’m guilty of it too. The course of action is to find common ground and/or agree on a common goal. What do all people, no matter their race, socioeconomic status, or ideology want? According to positive psychologist Martin Seligman, there are 5 pieces of the human well-being puzzle: positive emotion, engagement, meaning, accomplishment, and positive social relationships.
We all want these things, but we disagree on what it takes to ensure that each one of these needs are met, so instead of insisting on your rightness, ask open-ended questions. Find out their passions, stresses, pains, desires, and needs are. If we aren’t starting from common ground, it’ll be difficult — if not impossible — to reach a common goal.
At the very least, we all want to live in a better world, but we each have a different vision of how exactly we get there. The way our political system is set up creates a diametric opposition, so that those who think differently are wrong. Throughout the entirety of the election, Joe Biden’s message has been a consistent theme of unity, however, there are plenty of Democrats who refuse to even consider working to connect with Trump supporters.
This refusal to connect or work together is why we’re in this situation to begin with!
Watch the presidential debates — they’re about who “wins” — but imagine if they were centered around who works together the best… it would change our political dynamic. The basic level of human collaboration is “yes, and.” That is, taking a problem, and presenting ideas in a way where the next idea adds to the previous idea, rather than proving why it won’t work, taking credit for the idea, or one-upping it. Working together like this will not only bridge the gap between ideologies, it has the power to bridge the gap between problems and solutions, and it focuses the conversation on ideas instead of problems. Think about how powerful it would be if, instead of dismantling the Affordable Care Act, we improved upon it. Do you work for a leader who, from your perspective, has awful ideas? What if, instead of resisting those ideas, you got to work to improve upon them? Whether the goal is to make the world or your workplace better, undercutting the other person or idea is energy that can be spent actually doing the third thing…
What set America apart from the rest of the world during the Industrial Revolution was the fact that we innovated and created so many new inventions and systems. Over the past 60 years, America went from being the world’s greatest creator to the world’s biggest consumer. Most Americans agree: if everyone who could work in the United States had a job, that’d be great. However, it’s 2020, and many of the jobs that brought the United States to the world stage in terms of innovation are now being done by robots and A.I. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but many of those computers and robots do those formerly human jobs way better and way faster than people. That’s why it’s vital that people of all ideologies connect and collaborate on creating new jobs for this new world, otherwise more and more jobs will disappear and we’ll be left with a bunch of angry, hungry, unemployed people feeling betrayed by the system. Demanding more jobs in manufacturing and fossil fuels would’ve been like demanding more blacksmiths and carriage manufacturers after guns and cars became commonplace. It’s urgent that we put our heads together and see what kinds of new jobs we can create in new, burgeoning industries — like creating a robot to break down the minute-by-minute, county-by-county election results so John King and Steve Kornacki can use the restroom in November of 2024.
Our common goal is to create a marketplace that works for everyone. Though I may joke about what separates us, I do it to point out how distracted we are by it. Our differences are a positive tool we can use to our advantage. Once we connect and see how much we really have in common, we can collaborate on creating a world worth living in. Reach out to someone who believes differently than you and tell them you’re grateful you have them in your life, then start asking questions to learn about them. All it takes is an open mind and a conversation, but if we wait for others to have the open mind first, we may be waiting forever.
This election doesn’t matter. There, I said it. Not only does this election not matter, this pandemic doesn’t matter, this blog post doesn’t matter, your ideas don’t matter, your opinions don’t matter, and you don’t matter either. But neither do I.
You are matter, but that doesn’t even matter.
“But David, you’re supposed to be a motivational speaker. You always talk about uplifting other people, and this isn’t uplifting.”
Well stick around, idiot, because you’re about to get uplifted.
When everything feels so important and it feels like the bad thing that’s happening is the worst possible thing that could ever happen in the history of the universe, remember: you’re on a rock hurtling through that universe, and that universe is expanding infinitely… but no one’s talking about that this election.
Where’s that question in the debates? Neither Biden nor Trump acknowledged the inevitable supernova of our Earth’s sun, black holes, or the fact that a particularly violent solar storm could wipe out electricity across the planet, the only planet (that we know of) that supports life. When the sun goes supernova, Earth will be vaporized like it never existed in the first place, in the meantime, sure, let’s argue about healthcare.
Everyone should have access.
Controversial? It shouldn’t be, but when money, a manmade construct, comes into play, the argument becomes not about doing what’s right, it turns into “Who’s going to pay for it?”
Making cities and technology green so that everyone can enjoy the fresh air and water that was a package deal with this planet? “We can’t afford it.”
Overhaul education so that human beings are engaged by learning, creating, and sharing new ideas to innovate new technologies that allow us to stop doing demotivating jobs and start engaging our brains with new occupations? “But we’ve never done it that way before.”
We’re on a rock hurtling through space.
Mathematically, the fact that we even exist is an anomaly, so the fact that we’re arguing about how certain things aren’t possible is laughable. Our schools educate the concepts of infinite possibility out of us at a young age, confining our imaginations to a system filled with manmade limits that is centuries old… in the middle of a universe that’s expanding infinitely. Yet, nobody has even brought up the education overhaul we so desperately need. I would argue that it’s the most pressing issue because it could literally solve all of our problems. For example:
Income inequality: teach students the concepts of creating wealth through altruism
Inequities (gender, racial, religious, socioeconomic, and cognitive): teach students the concepts of empathy, acceptance, and communication
Climate change: teach students the concepts of relevant ecology, innovation, and collaboration
That’s just the tip of the melting iceberg.
You know what doesn’t care about money? The sun. The only time we talk about the sun is when the president looks directly into it, but the worst day in the history of our planet pales in comparison to the day the sun explodes.
I know this particular blog post is pretty meta, and I’m bringing up some pretty out-there concepts, but somebody’s got to. I mean, for God’s sake, we’re arguing about wearing masks in the middle of a pandemic. Really? That’s the hill you want to die on? Because it’s a hill that’s hurtling through space in an infinitely expanding universe.
Infinity isn’t a concept that our simple, human brains can understand, I mean, our symbol for infinity is an eight that fell over. Think of it from the perspective of an ant. If you try to explain the human world to a single ant, it would probably just carry a grain of sand somewhere else because that’s what it knows. Compared to the complexities of the universe, your brain ain’t shit, but compared to that of an ant, it’s a Milky Way of molecules. Unlike ants, humans can look at where we are, learn from where we came, and plan for what’s to come. Looking back, humans have been arguing about things that don’t matter — politics, profits, and power, to name a few — instead of innovating to create things that do. If Earth were to be destroyed by a celestial body tomorrow, religion, economies, and political ideologies would be destroyed along with it, and the universe would remain unmoved by the devices of human imagination. Arguments over these imagined orders have driven some innovation, sure, but they’ve also created a stasis that challenges those who challenge said stasis instead of considering the validity of their ideas.
In the scheme of the universe, the entire planet of Earth is a single electron on a single atom on a single grain of sand on a single nude beach. However, our individual problems, concerns, and ideas feel like the most important thing in our lives. The point of this particular blog post is to remind you that even though the election looms large, in the scheme of the universe, the ripple it causes is like a single ripple of water in the ocean — it’s meaningless… unless the conversation shifts to how we can come together to strive for infinite growth by reaching for our infinite potential.
We need to give people the tools they need to explore new ways of reaching the infinite possibilities the universe has in store, but if what you’re doing isn’t learning, growing, or expanding infinitely every day, make the shift by asking the questions:
How did I get better today? What did I learn?
How did I help others get better today? What did I learn?
How can I apply these things tomorrow?
These are just small ways to make infinity relevant to you.
Sometimes we all just need a reminder that WE’RE ON A ROCK HURTLING THROUGH SPACE! AND SPACE IS EXPANDING INFINITELY!
We gotta figure out ourselves, then we gotta figure out this rock, and then we gotta figure out space, because in front of us is infinite possibility, but like explaining capitalism to an ant, we can’t quite comprehend it… yet.
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
If you were looking for a definitive yes or no like the answer to “Did you take out the trash?” you’re in for a rude awakening. Since the news broke on Thursday that the president contracted COVID, I have seen so many social media posts, articles, and videos articulating why the president getting COVID is funny, but also why it’s not funny.
They’re both right.
And both wrong.
Human beings live our lives in search of certainty, but we live in a nuanced world where certainty is uncertain, and comedy explores that nuance. If you’re sure Donald Trump getting COVID is or is not funny, then I’m facing an uphill battle in convincing you otherwise. I have a podcast called You Can’t Laugh At That, and we interview comedians to explore why certain topics are funny, so I thought I’d do that here, starting with why it’s not funny.
Getting COVID isn’t funny
Coming from firsthand experience, COVID-19 sucks and I don’t wish for anyone to get it, but the thing itself isn’t usually what’s funny — it’s everything around the periphery. A door itself isn’t funny objectively, but if you have a story tied to the door about how someone pinched their fingers, or how the door was invented, or if there’s a quote about doors, etc., then there are any number of ways to find the humor in something so banal. That’s the nuance I want to share with you here. So no, the fact that the president has COVID is not funny, but there is so much more that is.
HOW he got COVID IS funny
Human beings are flawed creatures striving to be perfect in an imperfect world, and Donald Trump is a human being who won’t admit that he’s not perfect. We all know someone like this, and when they very clearly mess up, it’s extra funny. If you don’t know someone like this, it’s you. It’s okay to make mistakes, and when you, a world leader who serves as an example to so many, refuse to take the simple precautions of maintaining social distance and wearing a mask in public — two strategies proven to limit the spread of COVID (just ask Japan) — and you catch it? That’s funny. Not only that, but when you host a non-distanced gathering where the majority of people aren’t wearing masks, that’s even funnier. When I contracted it, I was extra cautious, quarantining with only my girlfriend and roommate. My roommate, on the other hand, decided he needed to get laid, so he went to a party, and two days later had a splitting headache. Two days after that, I had a splitting headache, and the rest is history. What’s funny about that? Dude didn’t even get laid.
The irony of him getting COVID IS funny
Irony is one of the most powerful forms of humor when the goal is to make a point, and the fact that he joked about Joe Biden wearing a mask in public two days before contracting COVID is the ultimate hubris. If you refuse to lock your front door, you brag about the fact that you don’t lock your front door, you post on social media about not having to lock your front door, you make fun of people who do lock their front doors, and someone steals your TV, that’s funny to everyone but you. Sure, chances are high someone isn’t going to try and come into your house, but when someone does and you’ve been bragging about not locking your door for over six months, it’s hard for everyone else not to laugh and say “Told ya so.”
What he did once he got COVID IS funny
If you know you’re HIV-positive and you have unprotected sex with someone without disclosing it, in most states, you can be charged with a felony. Following his positive diagnosis, the president engaged intimately with donors at his golf club in New Jersey, endangering people completely unaware of his condition. In comedy, much of the humor comes from the audience knowing something the characters don’t, one character knowing something the rest of the characters don’t, or most of the characters knowing something one character doesn’t. This is a textbook example of this tool at work. Another tool used by comedy writers is forcing characters into situations they can’t get out of, and President Trump forced his Secret Service into an SUV with him, so he could wave at his supporters. Now, these agents are at high risk of having the virus, which isn’t funny in itself, but the circumstances through which they were exposed to it — a very Michael Scott-like demand of to be paraded around — is cringe-funny. It’s like we’re all living on the set of a sitcom.
What WE did once he got COVID is funny
I took time out of my day to write this because I felt too many people were missing the point when discussing whether we should be laughing or not. That’s funny. If laughing helps you cope through the release of endorphins, then who am I to tell you to stop? If you’re laughing out of spite, I feel for you, because this sort of laughter doesn’t provide any of the benefits of endorphins, and can in fact make you feel more stressed. If you hate the idea of someone laughing to feel better, that’s like deriding someone for crying at a funeral. If you hate the idea of someone laughing at someone else’s misery, let them laugh — they have to live with the stress of spite.
Through all of this, remember to be kind — it’s one of the most basic and most rewarding human behaviors. Though the hubris is evident in this situation (and I’ll enjoy the humor in that), I don’t wish harm to befall anyone. Let this whole situation be a lesson: whether you think it’s funny or not doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you put other people’s well-being first by wearing a mask and maintaining social distance. If you won’t do that, then don’t be upset when people say “Told ya so,” because humor can come from any situation, especially one resulting from our own choices.
If you were to go through my Twitter and Facebook feeds from ten years ago, not only would you notice how terrible my joke-writing was:
“If ranch dressing is made in a home with more than 1 floor, does that automatically make it house dressing?”
“Was walking by #Fraternity Row today and saw Kappa Kappa Kappa wasn’t one of them. Baffling.” — Why did I hashtag fraternity?
“Okay, a grim reaper costume wasn’t the best costume idea for our weekly visit to grandpa in hospice.” — I actually tagged Jimmy Fallon in this one, so I must’ve thought, “Yeah, this is the tweet that makes me famous.”
You’d also notice that I harbored completely different opinions about the world than I’ve shared recently on social media:
“Just saw a girl on campus wearing leather pants. the only time leather pants look good is never. No matter who u are,” — I emphatically retract this statement. Especially using “u” instead of the actual word.
“I LOVE carpet! Makes floors so much more tolerable.” — I live in a house that’s 90% hardwood floors and I LOVE it. It’s so much better for my tap dancing career.
“Mitt Romney keeps #poking me on Facebook. He’s got my #vote.” — I absolutely voted for Mitt in 2012, and it wasn’t because of all of the poking. At the time I was a staunch Republican, and there was nothing you could say to convince me otherwise.
Since then, I’ve gone back and deleted insensitive tweets — not to avoid one of my 225 raving fans seeing it and “cancelling” me, but because I’ve grown as a person and I actually care about people, so I’d rather not hurt anyone. Back then, I only cared about trying to be funny. I thought crossing the line when it came to jokes was the secret to funny, and if you were hurt, then you were being too sensitive. As “cancel culture” became more and more prevalent, I continued getting offended at other people’s offense until I came to the realization that if I want to make people feel good, I probably shouldn’t be writing jokes to offend them. Not only that, but I should probably learn to write better jokes.
Instead of saying, “I’m right, fuck off,” I opened myself up to new opinions, was able to see a bigger picture, and I’m now a much better comedy writer — not to mention I’m way happier because of it.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of people who don’t see conflicting opinions as opportunities for growth, but as personal attacks. The same goes for their past mistakes or being presented with new information that challenges their beliefs. It isn’t their fault — we’re wired to assign fixed orientations to objects, events, and ideas, so that when we’re taught to believe something, it becomes part of the core of who we are. In actuality, if our beliefs were more flexible, we’d be able to see a bigger picture, make more informed decisions, and have a higher chance of success and happiness. If we can simply be open to the idea that we may be wrong, we open ourselves up to unlimited possibilities.
The world is incredibly dynamic, and in order to keep up, we have to keep our minds agile and open to the potential of new thoughts, perspectives, and ideas.
Here are two simple self-talk techniques that psychologists recommend for resetting your perspective and opening yourself up to new possibility:
1. Say “for now”
Once my parents stopped telling me when to go to bed, I would stay up as late as possible and sleep until noon or later. I’d tell myself, “I’m a night owl” and “I’m not a morning person,” so every night, I’d find excuses as to why I had to stay up. Even on nights before I had to wake up early for an appointment, a meeting, or a speaking gig, I’d stay up until 3 AM, wake up at 7, wonder why I was tired, and be irritable the rest of the day. Then one day last year, I started saying, “I’m a night owl, for now,” and about a month into the pandemic this year, I began to go to bed before 2 AM and wake up before 8 AM. Now, it’s a daily habit, I’m way more productive, and I eat breakfast when it’s socially acceptable to eat breakfast. All it takes is the repetition of a simple, foreboding “for now,” to open your brain to the possibility of change, and you’ll be in bed by midnight and up before the sun comes up before you know it.
2. Ask “What else could be true?”
Over the last couple of days, my girlfriend has snapped at me over the littlest things: I asked a question during an unsolved mystery documentary about said documentary, I asked if she had taken the dog for a walk at all during the day, since he was bothering me to go outside. At first, all I wanted to do was focus on how irrational her yelling was, but once I pulled myself from the situation and asked “What else could be true?” I began to see a bigger picture. “What else could be true? Well first, asking questions about the same movie we’ve both been watching is annoying. Just watch the goddamn movie and let that answer your questions, David.” But by asking this question, I remembered that her job has been causing stress to the the point of anxiety, and I know that when I’m stressed, I get angry at the littlest things. Things that are no more responsible for my anxiety than my bed is responsible for the 3 hours of sleep I got after going to bed at 4 and waking up at 7. Because of this simple form of self-assessment, I avoided snapping back, I laughed to myself about my limiting thoughts, and now things are back to normal. (It also helps when you make her coffee and a breakfast sandwich).
Today, tonight during the presidential debate, or next week as you’re scrolling through the madness of social media, be open to expanding your perspective. Don’t be married to your ideas and stances, so that when you’re presented with new information or ideas, you stand in the way of your own growth. Heck, in ten years, I may use this blog post as an example for how much I’ll have changed, but what I do know for a fact is that I will always be open to applying new ideas to what I think I know. Also, don’t judge me on my joke writing from 2020… 2030 will be my year.
You wake up in the middle of the night – something’s not right. As your eyes adjust to the darkness and your brain comes to, you realize that it smells like something is burning.
You lay your head back down onto your pillow and hear the muffled chirps of what sounds like a smoke detector from the apartment next door.
SOMETHING IS BURNING!
You leap out of bed, suddenly completely aware of your surroundings – the stench of burning wood and plaster fills your nostrils.
The second you thrust open your door, smoke pours into your room. The bedroom door across the hall swings open – you lock eyes with your roommate, who is still in his pajamas too. There’s a fire and you have to do something fast.
“Where is the smoke coming from??”
“I don’t know!” You respond in a panic. “We’ve got to get out of here!”
“This isn’t my fault.”
“Don’t blame me for this.”
He crosses his arms and shakes his head, “It’s those stupid neighbors. I knew I didn’t like them, right from the moment they moved in.”
“Who cares? Let’s get out of here!”
“We gotta figure out what to do about those neighbors first.”
“Now??” He can’t be serious.
Your roommate presses a button on his phone and raises it to his ear.
“Oh, you’re calling 9-1-1.”
He raises his finger as if to shush you. You notice more smoke pouring into your apartment. It’s taking an unusually long time for the dispatcher to pick up.
“It went to voicemail.”
“9-1-1 WENT TO-?”
He holds up his finger again.
“Hi, this is your neighbor from next door. I’m just calling to say, ‘How dare you start a fire in the middle of the night like this! My roommate and I were both sleeping, so not only are we both going to be tired tomorrow, now neither of us are going to have a chance to save our stuff! You owe us an explanation and an apology. Also, we’re not leaving until you either put out the fire, or come get us out of here. Good. Bye!”
He hangs up the phone and gives you a nod like he solved the problem. Their smoke detector continues to beep. You look up at your own smoke detector, and see it hanging from the ceiling by its wires.
“Why aren’t there batteries in the smoke detector??”
Your roommate shrugs, “The people who lived here before weren’t ready for a fire.”
“There were batteries in there when we moved in!”
“Yeah, but I didn’t like the last tenants, so I took them out.”
“Wha-?? Come on, let’s get out-“ you make a move for the front door, but he puts a hand to your chest, stopping you in your tracks.
“What are you doing?”
“We didn’t start this. This is on the neighbors, so they should have to fix it.”
“THAT’S NOT HOW FIRES WORK!”
You start to cough. The smoke is becoming unbearable, you’re having trouble catching your breath, and you can barely see your roommate from just a few feet away. You get down onto your hands and knees.
“What are you doing?? Humans aren’t meant to crawl on all fours. Are you really giving up your freedom because of some stupid fire you didn’t even start?”
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING!? WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING!” You shout back up at him.
He bends down and forcefully lifts you back to your feet.
“Don’t worry,” the wall connecting your two apartments begins to glow orange, “I called the people from the building next door to let them know they can’t come into our building.”
“WHAT GOOD IS THAT GOING TO DO!?”
“Hey! This is the neighbors’ fault – you’re treating me unfairly! Here, put on this hospital mask.”
Your apartment door bursts into flame. At this point, you can’t even make out your roommate. You’re losing consciousness, so you stumble back into your bedroom, desperate to get to the window. Each step becomes more difficult than the last. The thick black smoke fills your lungs while your brain is screaming at you to breathe, but you can’t. You reach for the handle on the window, but don’t have the strength to open it. You fall to your knees, and just as you slip into the warm grasp of unconsciousness, you can hear your roommate gasp out the words, “It is what it is.”
What’s happening in the world may not be your fault, but finding a solution is your responsibility. I’m not saying that you can solve this pandemic, but I am saying that it is up to you to solve the problems that have impacted your life as a result.
Continuing to blame the “culprit,” may make you feel better in the short-term, but in order to really take control of an unfortunate situation, it is vital to ask, “What can I do now?” If the leader you’re working for, or even your elected official continues to ask, “Who’s to blame?” (I’m not naming any presidents’ names), take the initiative and do something – whether that’s approaching the person with ideas, moving on to another company, seeking out those who are actively searching for a solution, or working to elect someone else, you’ll at least feel more empowered. Starting from a state of empowerment and action is much more useful than starting from a state of victimhood. Complaining makes the problem loom larger, which actually perpetuates it, but accountability and action put you in the driver’s seat of your own life, and that’s a simple mental shift we all have the power to make.
When you ask yourself, “Who’s to blame?” What action can you take based off of that, other than blaming?
Now ask yourself, “What’s one step I can take?” or, “What’s one thing I can do?”
Happiness is a lot like baseball: you remember it from last year, you’re waiting for it to happen this year, and the further into 2020 we get, you start thinking that maybe it isn’t going to happen at all. But unlike baseball, you have the power to determine when your happiness season begins.
When you see a genuinely happy person, they make it look easy, but just like baseball, this perceived ease actually takes a lot of work. You can’t pick up a bat and glove and expect to be great at baseball on your first try. Also, why are you holding a bat and a glove at the same time? I’m starting to think you don’t even know what baseball is.
Happiness is a muscle, and with all that’s going on in the world, it doesn’t take an umpire to see why it would atrophy. With consistent daily practice of simple actions, you can finally get the hang of swinging that happiness bat without shying away from the curveballs life continually throws. (Sorry, but not sorry for all the baseball references. I miss it.) Some of these actions aren’t for you, and that’s fine. Just like it wouldn’t make sense for a pitcher to practice being a catcher, you know which actions will work in making yourself happy.
Here are 7 things you can do every day to improve your happiness levels and your mood:
If you’re not good at meditation or if you’re like me when I first started doing it, (I fell asleep EVERY time and my mind would start to wander like, “Argh, baseball is on. I wonder who’s winning? It doesn’t matter – you can watch baseball any time you want, it’s time to meditate.”
Meditation grows your left prefrontal cortex; the part of the brain responsible for making you happy. So if you meditate, you give yourself a little brain boner and you start feeling good. If you’re not sure how to meditate, there are guided meditations on Spotify and YouTube or meditation apps that’ll guide you through. Put in some earbuds undisturbed for around 20 minutes tops – you don’t want to do much longer than that, otherwise, it’s a nap.
2. Find something to look forward to
Granted, this is a little more difficult… now… but get creative with it!
Look forward to your birthday.
Look forward to the next Marvel movie.
Look forward to the next time you’re going to get laid.
Look forward to the 4th of July… 2021.
Look forward to Halloween.
Look forward to getting laid.
Just find things to look forward to!
Schedule a phone call with some friends that you haven’t talked to in a long time, and be sure to put whatever it is on your calendar as a reminder. Sometimes, the anticipation is as good as – if not better than – the actual event.
3. Commit conscious acts of kindness
Altruism decreases your stress levels and contributes to enhanced mental health. If you want to reap the psychological benefits from committing kindnesses for other people, do it deliberately and consciously; not to make yourself feel better. Do it because you ACTUALLY want to help other people. There’s a reason I’m doing this blog post, and it’s not just to entertain myself (it’s just to entertain myself). It has nothing to do with entertaining myself (it has everything to do with entertaining myself). It’s 100% not – I’m FINE. EVERYTHING’S FINE! (It’s not).
4. Infuse positivity into your surroundings
Okay, we don’t necessarily have control over ALL of our surroundings, but we can infuse them with a little positivity and some elements that make us happy. Make your desk at work more fun – whatever that means for you. Pictures of your family? Pictures of someone else’s family? Pictures of your favorite porn star? (When people come to your desk and say, “Oh, I recognize her. Why do you have HER on your desk?” You can respond, “That’s my SISTER! …My STEPsister.” That’s fun, right?) Put lots of plants in your house – make it feel like the Rainforest Café and install misters and strobe lights so it feels like a thunderstorm a few times an hour. Put “Live, laugh, love” on the wall, just so you can remind yourself to do those things. Remember what you do have control over, and adapt those things to your liking.
Run, walk – I dunno – climb a tree? Do some physical activity to get your heart pumping and get endorphins flowing through your body. Are you familiar with the feeling of runner’s high? Those are endorphins, which are a great momentum booster for your day… or so I’m told (I vowed never to work out until baseball comes back).
6. Spend money (but not on stuff)
Spend money on experiences for yourself, or if you want to magnify the effect, use that money to share experiences with people that you care about.
7. Practice signature strengths
Visit viacharacter.org/character-strengths, figure out what YOUR strengths are, and think about all of the ways you’ve used them recently. Think about all of the ways you CAN use them right now. Humor is one of mine, for example. I find the funny in EVERYTHING – almost too many things. I have a podcast (You Can’t Laugh At That) based around it, I perform stand-up, so I’m always writing new jokes, and I do a keynote speaking program based around the power of humor in the workplace. Find ways to use YOUR signature strength.
Just like with baseball, continued practice at happiness makes us better at being happy, so pick just one of the seven things from above and find a way to infuse that into your day. Once you do it with one, do it with a second, and a third, and so on, until you’re so happy that you forget that it’s July and the baseball season still hasn’t started.
Many of my posts begin with anecdotes about how I once was reprimanded for “acting out.” Admittedly, it’s a great starting point because through this discipline, I realized many of the absurd, stuffy, and unnatural standards humans are meant to abide by. Society states that we must behave a certain way, or else we’ll be treated differently, and God forbid we let down other people’s expectations of us (insert eye roll emoji). Remember being told to “ACT YOUR AGE” as a kid? What I wouldn’t give up to be told to “ACT LIKE A KID” again. Why? Human beings have an innate desire to explore, try new things, and make discoveries, and there is no better time in our lives to do this than when we’re children. Our curiosity peaks when we’re young because the older we get, the more we are told by adults to “stop acting so childish.” The unintended result of this is that we lose our biological desire to explore for fear of consequence. This creates a pattern of stagnation that stifles our childlike wonder to a place that makes us uncomfortable with new ideas.
Regaining this quality is vital in the workplace today. With so many jobs being outsourced to machines, simply working to color inside the lines and meet quotas is becoming an outdated way to work. Modern companies need their teams to think outside of the box, but our childhood conditioning taps us on the shoulder to tell us not to rock the boat for fear of consequence, and too many people listen.
It’s up to you to make the conscious decision to revisit what makes you human. There’s a reason when you would fall as a kid, you would get back up and get right back to what you were doing – it’s our natural instinct. Now, with fear of failure instilled into our psyches by our parents, teachers, and bosses, we’re far less likely to try that new way of doing things that may be the solution to whatever challenges we’re facing. One strategy I use as a comedian to add depth to a joke is to ask myself:
“What would a child think about this?”
“What would a child do in this situation?”
I’m not advocating you act with reckless abandon and use the airplane seat in front of you as a punching bag, but I am advocating you:
Try one new way of doing a rote task at work this week
If it doesn’t work, take stock of what worked and what didn’t
Adapt your gameplan
Try the updated way of doing things
In hindsight, one of the worst things you can do is “act your age.” Because deep down, no matter how old you are, you are a child that needs to explore your world and find new ways to do things that are exciting, interesting, and fun. How can you use this natural curiosity to make your workday better?
The other night, I sat down to take care of my 2019 taxes. Armed with my 2018 tax forms and an IRS-sponsored how-to as a reference, I was fairly confident I’d finish up within an hour. Four hours of frustration and stress later, I leaned back in my chair, signed the final dotted line, and sighed, “I wish we learned how to do this in school,” out loud.
Whodathunk that teaching a useful tool for adulthood at some point during elementary, middle, and high school might be a good way to spend some of that 13 years?
Filing taxes isn’t the only skill our education system can teach that would make the world a better place. Sift through Twitter, Facebook, or the comments on YouTube videos for a few minutes. Turn on the news and watch talking heads argue with one another about one person sitting in a certain white house for hours on end.
Perhaps teaching our fragile-minded youth a thing or two about skills they’ll use EVERY DAY like empathy, communication, collaboration, emotional intelligence, and creativity would do them better than learning how to classify species of primates, a skill they’ll never use… unless they become a biologist.
Imagine students graduating college and entering the workforce with the abilities to diffuse conflicts before they even start, to turn disagreement into collaboration, to share the talents they’ve been honing for over a decade in a way that contributes to society.
Or we could keep teaching them cursive.
Kids need to engage their brains, explore, and discover what they’re passionate about, and how to work with other people to share their passions. It’s silly that the system forces children to work alone on tests, projects, and various busy work, while ranking them individually. Then, once they graduate, they have to suddenly work together in groups with others who don’t think like them, and no one has the skillset to collaborate efficiently.
HOW IS NO ONE TALKING ABOUT THIS!?
In episode five of the You Can’t Laugh at That podcast, the topic of discussion is school shootings. As comedians, one of our jobs is to point out absurdities and injustices in ways that make people laugh. The fact that younger generations have to go to school worried about a potential shooting is absurd. Yet, nothing is being done about it. Sure, lawmakers are attempting to pass legislation to restrict the purchase of firearms, but an overhaul of our massively outdated education system – a system that was created to control the population during the Industrial Revolution – reaches the core (not Common Core) of the problem.
Shootings are the symptoms of a much larger problem:
Kids aren’t being taught actual life skills like how to get along with others who aren’t like them. They’re taught how to fall in line and fit within a societal construct.
Children need to collaborate, explore, and be creative, and that need is being stifled in favor of robotic, state-mandated curriculum and standardized tests.
Children are punished for their eccentricities and displaying their talents in ways that don’t fit an outdated system.
Do you think there’d be a school shooting problem if students actually looked forward to going to school? No one has ever said, “I love going to school!” Then proceeded to go on a shooting rampage.
What can we do? It’s not like our education system is going to be overhauled overnight. We can:
Push our school districts to put more money into art and mental health programs
Lobby for schools to push more collaborative classroom learning experiences
Vote the legislators out of office who support standardized testing
If you have children, support their creative exploration and let them make mistakes. Besides, you’ve made mistakes too. It’s okay to not know all the answers all the time, and your children need you to support them as they search for the answers to their questions. That’s the real education
START A CLASS THAT TEACHES KIDS HOW TO DO THEIR TAXES
It takes several small changes, starting in your home and in your community, for any real and lasting change to occur. After a quick glance at our world today, there is a deep need for growth in how we condition our children, and rather than just alleviating the symptoms, it’s time to get to the root of it all.
Also, WHY ARE WE EVEN TEACHING CURSIVE!?
You Can’t Laugh at That episode 4: School Shootings
Life is full of ups and downs. Without the ebbs, we wouldn’t appreciate the flows, and when things are down, they can seem really down. In the face of tragedy and trauma, sometimes the last thing we want to do is laugh, but sometimes, that’s the jolt we need to shake ourselves out of a slump. At the end of the opening monologue for the first episode of Saturday Night Live after 9/11, executive producer Lorne Michaels asked Rudy Giuliani, “Can we be funny?” Giuliani quipped back, “Why start now?” which immediately broke the tension and heaviness that hung in the air. Collectively, it seemed as though America breathed a sigh of relief.
In the age of social media, when tragedy strikes, comedians, wannabe comedians, and basically anyone with access to a smart phone take to Twitter to joke about it. Many are in poor taste, many are cringeworthy, and very few actually do what the Giuliani did on that night in 2001. As he was flanked by first responders, he cut the tension with one punchline (whereas now, he creates tension every time he appears on a TV screen).
Which begs the question: how soon is too soon to joke about something?
The answer to this question has been debated for forever, and it can’t measured in days, months, or years. Whether a joke is too soon is determined on a case-by-case basis.
Too soon can be better measured by combination of the teller’s intent, the target audience, the trust built with that audience, the framing of the joke, and the target of the punch line. Whether you’re a comedian on stage, a random person tweeting about a tragedy, or searching for a way to console a friend or coworker, these are the questions you should ask yourself:
What is the intent of your joke?
A comedian’s job is to make people laugh. Even though sometimes it may seem to be to shock, offend, or gross out an audience, the goal of these jokes is always laughter, and through a trial and error process at open mics and bar shows with very few laughs, the goal of funny is either reached, or the joke is abandoned. For me, the biggest reward of getting a laugh is the fact that I have succeeded in making a connection with others. I’ve shown them that funny does exist, even in the darkest corners of life, and that from that darkness can come release. If the goal is simply to offend, shock, or disgust, think twice about opening your mouth or hitting “send.”
Who is the audience?
If you want to make your audience laugh, you first have to know who your audience is, whether you’re speaking to a room full of people, or saying something in jest to one person.
One of my first speaking gigs was for a group in Richmond, Indiana. In that presentation, I had a joke about the negative spirals our brains can take us down when we’re stressed, and the joke ends with me joining a cult because “I can never turn down free Kool Aid,” which almost always gets a laugh. In this case, the audience stared back with nary a smile, and I had no idea why until we reached the Q&A portion of the program. A woman’s hand shot up in the air, and with a quiver of subdued anger in her voice, she scolded me: “Jim Jones is from Richmond. Some of us in this room lost loved ones in the Jonestown Massacre.” I had no idea. My face turned fruit punch red;
Since then, you better believe I read the room and adjust my material accordingly before I get on stage. A few weeks ago, I spoke at a luncheon, and as the meeting was about to start, the meeting planner made me aware of a table of nuns seated in the front of the room. Instead of powering through the program, I switched out a few of the more PG-13 punchlines and had a great presentation without alienating anyone. I even snuck in a double entendre at the end that made the table of nuns double over in laughter. Why? Because before I told the joke, I asked the question:
Have you built trust with the audience?
I could spend 1000 words talking about how building trust with someone is more important than the content of your funny line, but I’ll boil it down to just a couple of points.
Communicate that you empathize with your audience. See where they’re coming from before you share where you’re coming from. This is vital whether you’re performing at a comedy show, or just having a 1-on-1 interaction.
Be sure to approach them from equal footing – if you make it seem like you’re preaching or talking down, it makes it harder for the two of you to see from the same angle.
Do they know you’re funny? If I’m in front of an audience, I never start with the edgy material until we’ve all shared a laugh at my own expense or at the absurdity of everyday life, so we’re now on the same page. If you barely know someone and you find out they’re going through a rough patch, even if you want to make them laugh, it’s abrasive to just introduce yourself, then go right into your jokes.
How are you framing the joke?
Again, your goal is to make your audience laugh, but the tragedy or trauma in itself isn’t funny. It rarely is, even if there is humor to be found. For example, Giuliani’s joke wouldn’t have worked if it weren’t for such a heavy tragedy. Without explicitly mentioning 9/11 in the setup or punchline, though it was implied, that way, when the punch came at the expense of Michaels and SNL, everyone exhaled deeply. More recently, Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash along with eight others. Since then, I’ve been using that tragedy as the vehicle of a joke about my mom always calling me to deliver bad news. The joke isn’t framed to make light of the tragedy, the tragedy is framed to make light of my experience of it.
Who is the target of the punchline?
The intent of the above Kobe joke is to make people laugh, I perform it in front of audiences who want to laugh, I place the joke at the end of my set so that the audience already trusts that I’m funny, I use the tragedy as a vehicle to get to the punchline, and the punchline never comes at the expense of the victim. It takes the tension and releases it in a way that makes the audience feel better for having laughed. After my Aunt Kristie was killed in 2009, I was able to make light of the situation, not by making light of the tragedy or by poking fun at her, but by making light of the weird ceremonies we have to mourn the dead, by making light of the idiocy of her murderers, and about how I don’t have the tact to make people laugh in the face of tough times.
You don’t have to be a comedian to practice these tips. The next time you want to break the tension after a tough meeting, someone’s hard day, or after a tragedy, ask yourself the above questions and help make the world a better place by making one person smile at a time.
Hear more on the topic and listen to the above Kobe joke in this bonus episode of “You Can’t Laugh At That” on Spotify. If you enjoy, follow the podcast on Spotify – we post new episodes every Monday.