2020 has been quite the human experiment, and based on the results, it’s plain to see that, well, people have some work to do. It’s plain to see where our shortcomings lie, but instead of ripping into humans for those, let’s take a moment to be grateful for them.
Beyond World War II, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought so many societal problems to the forefront, I’d start listing them, but I want you to feel better after reading this. We’ve gotten so good at pointing out and picking apart problems, that we don’t have the time and energy to solve them. That’s why this Thanksgiving weekend, I’m advocating for you to stop talking about the problems the world is facing and stop stressing out about things you can’t control. When you hear about mass, maskless gatherings, Trump refusing to concede, or an economic system not built to support everyone in an increasingly automated society, simply say, “GOOD. Something someone can do something about.” Take the thing you can’t control, and give it to the universe so you can take a break from worry and enjoy just one weekend. You deserve it.
Let’s be honest: chances are good that if you’re reading this, you’re not the president, a senior member of Congress, or a powerful lobbyist, so chances are good you can’t do something about it anyway. Don’t let something you can’t control stress you out or strain your relationships. And if you must discuss such issues, be sure to talk in terms of ideas and hope for the future.
Whether it’s “Trump was cheated” or “Trump cheated,” here’s how you respond to shift the focus away from events and people to sharing ideas:
“I understand why you think that, and I’m sure we both can agree that our elections should be free, fair, and easily accessible by anyone who wants to vote. What would this kind of election look like in a perfect world?”
Knowing the problems, or other people’s perceptions of the problems, is the first step to coming up with solutions, but an even more engaging way to approach it is to work together to paint a picture of a best-case-scenario future and go from there. If you can’t actually do anything about it, talk about how great it could be and keep vibes in the realm of gratitude.
Speaking of gratitude: in a year where it seems like there isn’t much to be grateful for, it’s more important to shift our focus on the things we do have, no matter how dark our worlds may seem. This year, I worked my last shift in an industry I loved, at a job I loved, with people I care about. I lost more than ten speaking gigs, caught COVID, had to fully rethink my business plan, and give up on doing what I love — performing stand-up comedy in front of a live audience — for more than half of the year. The moment I said, “Good. Something I can do something about,” was the moment I started doing something about it.
Remember, we live in an abundant universe, even though our brains are wired to notice scarcity. By focusing on what you can control, what you do have, and what you can do, the world — no matter how dour — feels just a little bit brighter.
If you’re feeling down this weekend, take a moment to yourself and ask yourself:
What’s one new thing I’m grateful for doing this year?
Who’s one person I’m grateful for meeting this year?
Who are the people who have been there for me the most?
What talents or skills have I tested and improved this year? (And yes, baking bread counts.)
What has been my favorite show, movie, or documentary I’ve seen this year?
What’s one thing I’ve learned about myself this year?
How have the adversities and challenges I’ve faced this year made me a better person?
What’s one action I can take to leverage my opportunities, skills, relationships, etc. to overcome those adversities and challenges next year?
So take a deep breath (after you swallow), find one thing to be grateful for, and have a Happy Thanksgiving.
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.
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.
With a last name like that, you naturally get picked on when you’re a kid, and I learned at a young age that because my last name was Horning, therefore, I must be “horny.”
I didn’t know what that meant.
I was in kindergarten, so there was no context for “horny.”
You don’t experience “horny” when you’re six, so I imagined a Viking helmet, a bull, or a trumpet, and I was none of those things, so I resisted the name-calling.
And instead of solving the problem, it made it worse.
And the more I resisted, the more I became an easy target.
Until one day, I decided that enough was enough.
I decided to lean into the bullies and it flipped the script completely.
They were like, “Your last name’s Horning, you must be horny,” and I was like, “I am.”
And it worked.
Because no one wants to pick on the horny kid.
The horny kid is unpredictable.
The moment I start dry humping pillows at your birthday, is the moment you stop calling me “Horny Dave.”
It solved my bullying problem.
Because if we get into a fight, I’ll defend myself, but if I get a boner and you win the fight, I win the fight.
That’s a risky proposition.
This taught me that when shit hits the fan, instead of resisting, lean into it.
Once you do that, you realize that even though you may be struggling at any given moment, there are an infinite number of other ways to examine the situation, discover new information, try something new, and overcome it.
This realization has the power to flip your mental script, not only making the shit more bearable, but making it exciting.
You can power through to the other side and do something about it because now, you see that another side exists.
When I leaned into my last name, I learned that leaning into the situation instead of pushing back took away the power that other people had over my happiness.
Leaning in and rolling with the punches life throws has gotten me through bad days, stress, anxiety, failure, heartbreak, loss, and even death (not mine).
The wave of relief that comes with the realization that there’s another side to any situation is a gift that laughing gives, and that’s why I do comedy.
It makes me feel good and I want to share that with you.
It’s why I speak.
It’s why I started a podcast.
It’s why I’m writing this.
No matter where you are and no matter what’s going on, know that somewhere, somehow, there’s something funny, and as soon as you’re ready, give yourself permission to find it and laugh.
Remember that you can laugh at that, and when you do, it makes you stronger and happier… even if you are a trumpet.
*Below is the first episode of my podcast “You Can’t Laugh at That” with fellow comedian Steve Mers. If you’re a comedian, a fan of comedy, or you’re looking for fresh perspectives on controversial or overplayed topics, there’s something for you in every episode. New episodes drop every Monday, and we dive in headfirst with our first where Steve and I break down transgender jokes, exploring what’s funny, what’s not, why, and how to find fresh angles that prove you CAN laugh at that.*
If you enjoy, follow on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Libsyn.
Another sideways glance and furrowed brow from a presentation attendee around 25 years my senior after another presentation about how humor makes better leaders: “I get where you’re coming from, but I don’t see why I should change what I’ve always done.” I’m used to this response by now, but at first, it was hard not to snap back, “WERE YOU LISTENING AT ALL!?” Then came the realization that I was tucking a fake mustache and a papal mitre into a suitcase while this sharply dressed, more-successful-than-me executive questioned my credibility. I get it. When you picture a successful business executive, what do you see? How do they carry themselves? Dignified? With importance? Are they stern? Some Mad Men-esque Don Draper figure pops into many minds, but with a little bit of humor and a loosening of the tie, leaders can take an already successful enterprise away from renting a Bentley from Enterprise to blasting off into the cosmos on the Starship Enterprise. A little bit of humor coming from the top can unlock maximum potential in your people, and here are three reasons why:
1. Makes you more approachable
A warm smile and a hearty laugh go a long way to make you appear approachable to the people who call you “boss.” When we’re able to laugh, especially at our own mistakes, it makes you more human, thus more relatable, by communicating to those who may be too shy to come to you with ideas. I hear the platitude, “My office is always open,” from many managers, but just because it’s open, doesn’t mean people feel comfortable coming in. By having the vulnerability to be able to laugh and be open to others laughing at you it makes others actually want to see you succeed as a leader, as long as you’re open to their ideas.
2. Sparks creativity and trust
When people genuinely laugh, it’s when they’re at their most authentic, and seeing someone in a leadership position so open to being real creates a natural sense of trust. When we trust our leaders are authentic, it gives us an intrinsic motivation to want to help them overcome challenges and difficulties or come up with new ideas. If you’ve ever had a boss you’ve loved, you know that feeling of wanting to overdeliver for them. By laughing and being real about your own mistakes, it communicates that your employees don’t have to be perfect. Think about it, would you rather be around someone minding their Ps and Qs and calculating what they’re saying or someone who is real?
3. Reduces sick days
What? How do you reduce sick days by laughing? I don’t want to dive too deep into the biology of what happens when we laugh, but at the very least, it increases blood flow, reduces muscle tension, and massages internal organs. That’s not something a chair at Brookstone or a masseuse at your local strip mall can do. All of these unintended results of laughter being a core part of work allow your employees’ blood pressure to go down so they’re feeling better, taking less time off, and working with a renewed energy.
If what you’ve been doing as a leader all of these years is working, by all means, stick with it! I’m not saying you should overhaul the way you run manage, but you should definitely find more reasons to laugh, especially if it’s at your own mistakes. We’re all human; communicate that it’s okay to be more human to your team and you’ll unlock even more of their potential than you even dreamed.
When a close relative of yours gets murdered, it shakes the foundation of your existence; it can send you on a downward spiral of depression, dependency, and regret. One of the toughest moments of my life was learning of the passing of my aunt, Kristie, at the hands of her own daughter – my cousin Taylor. I was lying in bed around 7 AM after a late night of shock and questioning reality – we had already known Kristie had been killed, but when we went to bed, we didn’t know the culprit – when my dad burst into my room with hate in his voice, declaring, “Taylor did it.”
My first thought was, “Christmas is going to be awkward this year.” I stopped myself from laughing: “This isn’t the time to make jokes.” The next few weeks were miserable – every day we learned more and more gruesome details about the murder. If you were to drive by our house, it would’ve been the one with the black cloud hovering above it. You always hear people say things like, “That kind of stuff happens on the news, it doesn’t happen to us,” so none of us really knew how to cope. We spend a lot of time together, consoling and comforting one another. In college at the time, I confronted my vulnerability by skipping two straight weeks of class – the only percentage I got was the .09 I blew into a breathalyzer. Needless to say, none of the family could find a way out of the black hole we were stuck in… until the funeral. That’s when I finally gave in to the humor of the whole situation.
During the eulogy, the minister said, “This is a celebration of life!” I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “celebration,” I think “party,” and not one person was partying. Besides, if you were to invite me to a party, then inform me it’s at a church, everyone would be crying, and the DJ would be bagpipes, I’d politely decline. And one more thing: he called it a “celebration of life…” with a dead body in the middle of the room – you couldn’t get more contradictory. That’s like having an open bar at a sobriety party. I had to laugh – and the moment I did, it was like a weight was lifted off of my chest. I began to notice even more incongruities: the first three letters in ‘funeral’ are ‘F-U-N,’ Kristie found joy in the happiness of others and, ironically enough, EVERYONE THERE WAS CRYING, and a stranger no one there had ever met sobbed uncontrollably into the microphone for five minutes, blubbering on about how he wished more people had known Kristie, while we wondered who the hell knew who that guy was.
In the face of tragedy was the moment I realized the power laughter has over our fears, stress, and sadness. But it shouldn’t come as such a shock: science has known this for some time now
A study from the University of Berkeley, bereaved widows and widowers able to laugh about their loss were observed to be happier, better equipped to deal with distress, and better socially adapted.
A study done at Kent State and reported in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care revealed that humor was present in 85 percent of 132 observed nurse based visits. Amazingly, they found that 70 percent of the humor was initiated by the patient.
Humor provides us with relief, not by washing away bad feelings, but by activating them, along with positive ones, so that we can enjoy a complex emotional experience. Tragic circumstances are an effective breeding ground for humor because they provide the same release as horror movies, allowing the participants to confront their emotions head-on. –Scott Weems (author of Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why)
How have you used humor in the face of tragedy? How have you helped others experiencing tragedy, trauma, or even just a bad day smile?
Each of us has had a “Christmas is going to be awkward this year,” lean into it and let yourself laugh.