Humor and Grief: Putting the ‘FUN’ in Funerals

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.

 

Let Loss Propel You Forward

In our lives, we experience love and loss – it’s inevitable. What isn’t inevitable is the growth that can come from even the worst of times. It isn’t about suppressing our emotions when something unexpected happens, it’s about leaning into those emotions and using the momentum to find ways to learn and grow from the loss. I’ve recently experienced loss, and I thought I would share what I’ve had to go through to become a better person because of it.

My JBL Bluetooth speaker is gone.
It wasn’t by my choice, although I suppose my choices led up to the moment it was taken from me.
And now I can’t get over this feeling of loss…
Of despair…
Of regret…
Sure, I could’ve left it locked away in the trunk of my car, but a speaker with that depth of sound quality deserves to be free, to experience the world as it was meant to be experienced.
It deserved to left on top of my car to experience the feeling of wind, the warmth of the sun, the chill of the rain.
Something that beautiful should never be locked away.
You were small, but your sound… your sound was enough to fill a room.
And you played it all without question… because music was your life.
I want to hear you sing again.
To tell jokes again.
Hell, I want you to turn off on your own when I need you during a presentation again – you had a real habit of doing that.
But you can’t.
I just… I just want to feel your cylindrical  shape in my hand again.
I want to be in one end of my house with you in the other, singing away, making it feel like you’re right beside me.
I want to see “JBL Flip 2” appear on my list of Bluetooth options and know that my Macbook will connect to you since you’re within range.
You were unlike any Bluetooth speaker I had ever owned, because I had never owned another Bluetooth speaker.
You were the one – it wasn’t supposed to end like this.
But you were taken.
Stolen.
Who knows where you are now, or if you’ll even get this, but I miss you.
I stopped listening to music altogether.
When I hear other speakers, they just make me think about what we had, and I weep.
Dad says I’ll be okay.
He says you were “just a speaker.”
To some, sure.
But to me, you were more than “just a speaker.”
You were a part of my life.
And you know you never forget your first.
It’ll take time.
I’m not ready to get out there and try other speakers, so I just ordered a cheap Chinese replacement.
My mail order speaker should be arriving soon, but it won’t be the same.
I hope I’ll learn to listen again – and soon.
Listen, I know I’m better because of you and I should focus on that.
What you taught me in all of those audiobooks and podcasts… you’ve made me grow.
I learned so goddamn much from you, and for that, I’m incredibly grateful.
You’ll live on through me.
And together, with my new Chinese partner, our story will be told, and the world will be better because you were in it.

I’ll make sure of it.

Stop Stressing: 6 Ways to Eliminate Stress

“I’m so stressed out right now.”
“Do you like being stressed out?
“No.”
“Then don’t be.”

If only it were that simple…

But guess what? It is.

I know you’re thinking, “He doesn’t know what I’m thinking.” You’re probably also thinking: “What does he mean, ‘It’s simple to not be stressed out??’ I call bullish!t.” I thought the same thing until I put techniques into practice that I learned by studying spiritual teachers, psychologists, and neurologists who have mastered inner-peace. Right now, I am working on all facets of launching my own business while working a second job. The to-do list is constantly growing, no matter how hard I work, so it should be easy to slip into some serious stress. But I don’t because I like having fun, and being stressed out isn’t fun. My guess is you like having fun too. Have you ever noticed that when you’re feeling stressed, your heart rate quickens, you break out into cold sweats, your vision blurs, you can’t think straight, your breath shortens, your head starts pounding, you’re constantly on the brink of tears, and you’re tempted to punch the next person who says, “You don’t look so good”? These are some of the instantaneous effects of cortisol, the chemical our brains release when we get stressed, and these are the furthest things from fun. Some of the long term effects of the continual release of cortisol include heartburn, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, random aches and pains, lethargy, acne, ulcers, depression, an underachieving immune system, heart attack, stroke, cancer, diabetes, memory loss, infertility, irregular periods, commas, and semicolons, and most importantly, erectile dysfunction. Yeesh! This blog is a call to action. Nobody wants to have a mental meltdown, heart attack, or erectile dysfunction (unless you’re on stage wearing sweatpants), so what can you do about stress? These are the six steps I take on a daily basis to catch stress before it has a chance to affect my penis. (Note: there are many techniques that are out there, just waiting for you to discover them. What works for one person, may not work for everyone.) You can turn your life around by kicking stress in the mouth and then replacing it with joy, inner-peace, and mental freedom. Here’s how:

1. Change the way you talk to yourself

If you have read any of my previous writings, attended any of my presentations, or engaged in a deep conversation about life with me, this is always my first step. Why? Because we’re driven by our programming, and we become programmed by what we tell ourselves over and over and over and… You get the picture. If we tell ourselves “This thing is really stressing me out!” a ton of times, our brain acts on this command. The more we tell ourselves we’re stressed out in certain situations, the easier it is for our brains to oblige. The more our brains oblige, the thought becomes lodged in our subconscious, and before we know it, we become stressed without even having the time to say, “This situation is stressing me out.” It’s like typing ‘f’ in your internet browser’s search bar and being taken to Facebook without having to press more than 2 keys. When we start to hear the toxic words or feel the negative emotions, all we have to do is listen to the words we’re saying to ourselves, question them (Is it really true that this thing is the worst ever? Is this thought helping me or hurting me? What’s are the best-case, worst-case, and realistic scenarios here? Etc.), and replace them with thoughts that don’t stress us out.

“I’m getting this done in time and my audience is going to love it.”
“Every step I take is bringing me closer and closer to my goal.”
“If this situation were to turn out in my favor, what would it look like?”
“What step can I take right now to get from where I am to where I want to be?”

Since I’ve trained my brain to think these thoughts to replace the stressful ones, they always bring about an inner calm and a sense of excitement – definitely better than breaking out into a cold sweat, especially if I have to shake someone’s hand.

2. Look at the situation from a different perspective

You’ve been hit by the stress bus (ouch), but there’s still a chance to save yourself! Quick, change the camera angle through which you see the situation! There are two ways to do this:

A.) Realize it’s not the situation, but your thoughts about the
situation that are causing you stress.
B.) See the stress as an opportunity to grow.

A.) Realize it’s not the situation
I recently had a projector malfunction on the morning of a presentation. The first thoughts that went through my head included, “This is bullsh*t! How could this happen to me!?” “I’m going to have to wing it, it’s going to be terrible, and I’m never going to get to speak again!” “I’m going to be so late – they’re going to hate me!” Once we have thoughts like these, our actions follow. In this case, I proceeded to barrel through the house, knocking things over, forgetting the whiteboard I was going to use in place of the slideshow, and cussing my way down the highway at 90 miles an hour (even though I had plenty of time to get there). My heart was pounding, I had an abnormal amount of pit sweat, and I almost got into a car accident. That’s when I saw an overturned semi truck on the side of the road and I was finally able to catch one of these illogical, toxic thoughts. I immediately re-framed the situation and started to laugh when I got to the, “Are my thoughts helping or hurting me?” question. The answer was obvious, but because I was stuck on the idea of the situation being more powerful than my thoughts about it, I couldn’t reframe until I mentally took myself out of the situation and was able to adjust my perspective. That’s when I:

B.) Saw the stress as an opportunity to grow
Feelings are our subconscious’ way of telling us if we’re on or off track. Once we realize it’s not the situation, but our thoughts about it that are eliciting the feelings, it becomes easier to see that we’re off track. That is the silver lining of stress: it’s a sign that things aren’t going great, but if we succumb to the stress, we miss out on an awesome opportunity to change our behavior through new thoughts. When we feel stress, it’s an opportune time for us to say, “Hey, that’s a feeling I don’t like. I should do something about it!” instead of saying, “I’m so stressed out and I hate it. Work is stressing me out, my partner is stressing me out, the way the birds seem to be waking me up earlier and earlier is f*cking stressing me out.” Use stress as a launching point to find a solution, but don’t focus on the stress for too long.

3. Breathe in the moment

That sounds a whole lot like “smoke weed, dude.” Even though drugs, cigarettes, junk food, sex, or alcohol provide a temporary respite, we can’t solve an internal problem externally. Real change comes from within, which is where our breath – the thing which gives us life – comes from. If you’re feeling stressed, sometimes the best thing to do is:
> Close your eyes
> Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose while simultaneously
pushing out your belly (this is called diaphragmatic breathing)
> Exhale slowly out of your mouth. Do this a few times while focusing on
the air flowing in and out of your body. In fact, notice your body and
feel gratitude that you can feel your feet, legs, torso, hands, arms,
shoulders, neck, and head. You exist and that’s kind of a miracle
considering the vast infinity of the universe.
> Replace any thought that may try to pop up, thank your brain for trying
to think, and remind it to focus on how awesome just being and breathing
is.
This technique introduces more oxygen into the brain and gets the blood flowing, as well as bringing you a sense of calm. When we get stressed and start to shorten our breath, it limits the flow of oxygen to the brain and cells. When this happens you start to think, “I’m going to die,” which makes no sense if your stress is being caused by a significant other’s lack of responses to your texts. This method takes a little bit more practice, but I promise, it can become one of the most cathartic and exciting parts of your day.

4. Do one thing at a time

One of my self-talk replacement questions from number one is, “What step can I take right now to get from where I am to where I want to be?” The most important part of that sentence is “What step can I take right now?” When we get stressed out, our thoughts quickly tend to snowball into irrationality because we’re taking ourselves out of the moment and thinking about everything that needs done or could happen in the future. This doesn’t make sense. Why? You only have one brain. Even though it’s a powerful brain, by creating all of these negative, potential future situations, it can’t focus on what needs to be done right now in order to avoid those situations. “What can I do right now?” There’s always only one thing to do at a time. Take a deep breath and get to work on that one thing, when that’s done, get to work on the next one thing, and so on. When our negative thoughts snowball, we get overwhelmed and slip into a self-induced paralysis, thus bringing our imagined horror-filled future into the present. When you feel your thoughts slipping into the future and bringing you stress, simply ask, “What can I do right now?” and do that thing.

5. Reach out

My philosophy is that life is a people business. I look at everyone I meet as a family member, friend, client, customer, etc. – no matter how rude (they’re probably just dealing with stress). The cool thing about other people is that no two human beings share the same perspective. Sometimes, when we’re in a stressful situation, it becomes difficult to objectively view the scenario. So reach out to someone, even if it’s the person whom you believe is causing you stress, tell them what you’re trying to achieve, the obstacle that’s stopping you, and what you’ve done so far. Don’t complain, argue, blame, or make excuses, otherwise you’ll push the other person away or they’ll simply tell you what you want to hear. Open up, be honest, give them those three bits of information, and just listen. Don’t think or interrupt – just listen. Many times, we already know the answer deep down, we just need an alternate perspective to confirm it. Then be willing and excited for the time when someone comes to you in a pinch. Human interaction is really a fascinating medium, and, at it’s highest potential, can be used to boost ourselves while simultaneously boosting others. That’s a pretty sweet concept. Take advantage of it.

6. Realize that it’s not that serious

Think about how many times you’ve been stressed out and remember that you’re still here, in one piece. You’ve overcome every single obstacle and roadblock that you’ve faced and you made it here today. These stepping stones make us who we are, and sometimes we may slip and fall, but we’d never learn to swim if we didn’t get in the water. That’s all stress is: an opportunity to learn, grow, and take your life where you’ve never taken it before. We’re all on our own journey, but think about how boring Lord of the Rings would be if they just walked right into Mordor, said hi, plopped the ring into the volcano, and went home. Things would go from a quest to an errand in a second. Sometimes the situations we find ourselves in seem so serious, when in reality, they’re just situations and we have the choice to make them serious, or enjoy the journey of learning how to overcome. If it’s a big deal, it isn’t. If it’s super stressful, it’s super not. Just learn to see whatever it is in a way that makes you laugh. Why? Laughter releases endorphins – chemicals that have the opposite effects of cortisol – from your brain. Laughter strengthens your immune system, boosts your energy, diminishes pain, relieves tension, increases blood flow, relaxes your muscles, eases fear, expands perspective, strengthens relationships, maximizes creativity, and so much more. I’m pretty sure it results in a healthier sex drive too.

“I feel so good right now.”
“Do you like feeling good?”
“Yeah.”
“So then keep doing it.”

It’s that simple.

PS.) Remind me not to wear sweat pants on stage.

Sources:

Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York, NY: Broadway Books.

Amen, D. (2000). Change your brain, change your life: The breakthrough program for conquering anxiety, depression, obsessiveness, anger, and impulsiveness. New York, NY: Times Books.

Katie, B., & Mitchell, S. (2002). Loving what is: Four questions that can change your life. New York, NY: Harmony Books.

Pietrangelo, A. (2014, August 25). The Effects of Stress on the Body. Retrieved October 6, 2015, from http://www.healthline.com/health/stress/effects-on-body

Shimoff, M., & Kline, C. (n.d.). Happy for no reason: 7 steps to being happy from the inside out.

Smith, M., & Segal, J. (2015, August 1). Laughter is the Best Medicine. Retrieved October 6, 2015, from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/emotional-health/laughter-is-the-best-medicine.htm

Tolle, E. (1999). The power of now: A guide to spiritual enlightenment. Novato, CA: New World Library.

Good News: You’re the Worst Bully You’ll Ever Have

“You have no business talking to her. She’s way out of your league.”
“You’re an idiot. You’re going to look and sound like an idiot and no one is going to like your presentation.”
“A comedy writer? Seriously? That’s impossible. You’re never going to be able to do that for a living. Just go to law school.”
“You always mess everything up. No wonder you broke up. You’ll never be happy again.”
“F*ck you, you piece of shit. You have no friends and no one likes you. You might as well just hang yourself with those Christmas lights.”

I’ve been bullied my whole life. In grade school and high school, I had to put up with all of the creative modifications people came up with for my last name. I had to deal with the repeated accusations that I was gay when I’m not (okay, maybe I set myself up with the pink and turquoise double popped collar). I remember being given the Stone Cold Stunner and being put in the Sharpshooter at recess in 5th grade, but I stopped being bullied by other people in high school. If you don’t know me, I have a pretty easygoing personality and I try to make other people laugh every chance I get, so this demeanor caused the external bullying to naturally dissipate. All of the lines in quotations at the beginning of this piece? In case you didn’t read the title, they were all said to me by me over and over again throughout my life. What a dick. Fortunately, I have trained myself to listen to my thoughts and challenge the ones that sound like this. Whenever I hear myself being a dick to myself, I ask myself the following question: “Is it true? Is it true that she’s way out of my league? Only if I don’t talk to her. Is it true that no one is going to like my presentation? Only if I perform with that underlying belief. Is it true that being a comedy writer for a living is impossible? Only if I don’t try because I think it’s impossible. Is it true that I’m never going to be happy again? Only if I listen and look for all of the reasons why I won’t be happy. Is it true that I’m a piece of shit that no one likes? …I have at least three friends.

Internal bullying, or self-depriciating self-talk, is the skier that starts the avalanche. One of the most important things I have ever learned is in the book “What to Say When You Talk to Your Self” by Shad Helmstetter: Our repeated thoughts become our programming. Our programming creates our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us, whether they’re actually true or not. Our beliefs color our perspectives, or attitudes. Our attitudes make us feel a certain way. Our feelings directly influence our actions. Our results come from our actions.

If we’re not getting the results we want, trace them all the way back to the words we use when we talk to ourselves. If something doesn’t go as planned for me, I listen to the words I tell myself and correct the ones that aren’t serving me so that next time, I get a better result. Self-bullying with negative or limiting thoughts is like shooting yourself in both legs before a marathon and expecting to finish first – it stops us before anyone or anything else even has a chance. Even if anyone or anything else tries to stop you, it’s your thoughts about that thing that can either stop you or propel you to success. No matter if you have re-programmed your brain to think positive, you’re still going to get that asshole bully voice popping up in your thoughts to suggest that your big sales pitch tomorrow is going to end with you losing your job, your wife leaving you, and your brother finding your body hanging by a strand of blinking Christmas lights from a support beam in your basement. Think for yourself, not against yourself, and remember to ask, “Is it really true?” If the thought is negative, chances are it’s that bully again, and the only way to give a bully power is to give truth to the words you say to yourself.

So don’t.

Instead, train that bully to be the coach who will support you and expect the best out of everything that you do.

The Myth of the Pursuit of Happiness

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Declaration of Independence lately, and what really grinds my gears is the misinterpretation of what Thomas Jefferson referred to as “the pursuit of happiness.” They key word there is “pursuit.” When we think of pursuit, we tend to picture a coyote strapping himself to the back of an ACME rocket and hurtling at hundreds of miles an hour into a solid painting of a desert backdrop. Have you ever read Shakespeare and thought, “This is supposed to be a classic, but I can’t understand a damn thing anyone is saying!”? 400 years ago, the English language wasn’t the same vernacular we use today, so there’s a bit of a barrier. If I were to go into a nursing home with a megaphone and tell everyone to get “turnt up,” any number of things could happen, but chances are, their version of “turnt up” has to do with adjusting the volume knob of the color television set. Believe it or not, the Declaration of Independence isn’t a big deal anymore, probably because things that are over 240 years old tend to go out of style. Like the powdered wig I wore on a blind date (Helpful hint: girls like updated wardrobes). “Pursuit” is one of those words that has multiple definitions and the emphasis has shifted from one definition to another over time. The definition of pursuit that Tom was referring to had nothing to do with chasing after something. He was referring more to definition number three instead of definitions number one or two on dictionary.com:

noun
1. the act of pursuing :
in pursuit of the fox.
2. an effort to secure or attain; quest:
the pursuit of happiness.
3. any occupation, pastime, or the like, in which a person is engaged regularly or customarily:
literary pursuits.

While, yes, we are trying to secure happiness, the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence refers more to the occupation or the creation of happiness. Where we misinterpret the meaning of “the pursuit of happiness” is in assuming that happiness is something that can be chased after and attained by completing a goal, having possessions, or seeing that the girl you’re going on a blind date with is also wearing a powdered wig. But what happens when these things are taken away? What happens when we don’t reach a goal? We lose out on that happiness. That’s not authentic happiness. Pursuing happiness is creating happiness from within. Even if we don’t complete our goals, get lots of money and possessions, or have a romantic relationship, we still maintain that joy inside of us because we’ve made the decision to create it for ourselves.

We’ve been conditioned by society to believe that we’ll “be happy when…” This pisses me off, which isn’t very happy of me, but this idea is wrong in two key ways. First things first: this statement is an admission to ourselves that we’re not happy now. Hypothetically, if you have the choice to be happy or not, what would you choose? Now realistically, if you have the choice to be happy or not, what would you choose? Here’s the thing: we have that choice. We make the decision to be happy. We may think that external events dictate whether we should be happy or not, but the decision comes from within. Yes, it is normal to feel emotions other than happiness, but when we make the decision to pursue (read: create) happiness now, bringing happiness to our experiences instead of trying to extract happiness from them becomes automatic. To exude happiness not only makes our experience of the world a much more positive one, it also enhances the experience of those around us. The other major flaw of the “I’ll be happy when…” premise is that once we achieve that goal, purchase that Maserati, or start dating the person we’ve been after, we begin wanting more. It’s human nature. Once we achieve that goal, we want to do more, once we buy that car, we want something else, and once we start dating, we grow, change, and start looking for more in the relationship. Therefore, we may feel “happiness” at first, but once we set our sights on something else, “we’ll be happy when…” again. It becomes an endless cycle and we keep chasing, and chasing, and chasing, and chasing, and…

Happiness is our natural state of being, but it’s hidden by layer upon layer of conditioning. Chasing after happiness is like those people we hear about in the news who sell priceless antiques worth millions at a garage sale to make a few bucks. We have all of the happiness we need inside of us already, but we distract ourselves by looking elsewhere to be happy. If we believe that pursuing happiness “out there” will actually bring us happiness, we’ve just signed our lives away to a fictitious concept and the thing we’re after becomes impossible to reach. We become Sisyphus and are stuck rolling a boulder up a hill for eternity. The purpose of life is to create for ourselves, not chase after something that is impossible to catch. Pursue happiness the way it is meant to be pursued: create it from within and get off the back of that ACME rocket – those things never work right anyway.

Shooting the Blame

Is it too soon for a shooting joke? I write comedy, so I need to know when it’s not too soon. Shootings seem to be happening so frequently that it’s always going to be too soon, which is unfortunate. Not about it being too soon to joke, but about the frequency of shootings. The question that needs to be asked is “Why?” In the case of the Elliot Rodger shooting, male misogyny and societal expectations of sex were blamed. In the Columbine shooting, bullying was blamed. In the Sandy Hook shooting, mental health issues were blamed. And in all shootings, lack of gun control is blamed. Notice a common theme here? No matter the news story, there’s always someone or something to blame, and this way of thinking is teaching people that they are no longer responsible for their actions. Why are all of these shootings happening? Here’s a hint, it has nothing to do with guns or bullying – it’s about character. Each of the people who carried out these shootings lacked character, and by blaming something else, we sacrifice character in order to explain why we do what we do, and this leaves little room for growth. The idea that outside circumstances explain why we do what we do has been the basis for social science as we know it – psychology, sociology, and political science – since the latter half of the 19th century. Placing the blame on the environment means that people are no longer responsible for their actions since the causes lie in the situation and not the person. But we don’t take credit away from anyone if they succeed at something. If an actor gives a brilliant performance, we don’t say, “It’s because of his acting coach and the fact that he had supportive parents,” we give the actor the credit he deserves. So why do we place the blame for someone’s negative action on outside circumstances?

            By blaming outside circumstances, it makes solving the problem at hand much more difficult. If you want to fix a leaking drain pipe, you don’t replace the faucet. When we blame the situation, it advocates being driven by the past rather than by the future. It makes us victims to someone or something else and we become powerless to change anything. We even miss out on the credit for our success, which undermines our confidence and proves that “nothing we do matters.” False. When we realize that we are responsible for our results, we look for what we might have done better and then work on that area. Rather than banning guns, bullying, or violent video games and movies, we need to educate people on real life skills that each of us use every day. Teaching self-esteem, confidence, personal responsibility, effective communication, goal-setting, and positive mental fitness is just as important, if not more, than teaching math, science, and history. If these shooters had just learned the power of taking personal responsibility for their actions leading up to these tragedies, their self-confidence would be at a healthier level and we wouldn’t be having this conversation today. But when we learn that our situations in life aren’t our fault through the media and our conditioning, we feel like our lives are out of our hands and we blame others for our suffering. We must stop blaming and start educating – ourselves and others – to take back control over our lives and make peace and cooperation our common goal. In developed countries, the world is arguably better than it’s ever been! We have more purchasing power than ever before, more people are going to college than ever before, there are more cars than there are drivers, and there’s an app for everything! But depression rates are growing – the mean onset age of depression is down from 29.5 years old to 14.5 years old in just 50 years! We’ve been going the blaming route for awhile now, and these senseless acts of violence are still happening. Isn’t it time to try something different? We all share this planet, why are we finger-pointing and focusing on the problem instead of focusing on the solution: becoming responsible for the one thing we all have control over. Ourselves. That is how we can bring positive change to the world, one person at a time.

Here’s an alternate take from my web series “Creative Differences” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oL8d0MSCKiU

They Live in Paradise…

“They live in paradise, I wonder if they’ll ever know it.” When Hindu guru Muktananda visited the United States for the first time, he noticed everyone rushing around the airport, in such a hurry that no one was taking the time to take it all in and really enjoy it. Our buddy Mookie came from a monastic lifestyle in India, where he had no running water, no electricity, and very basic food. He was astonished, not at the well-lit, well-furnished, shiny airport with dozens of choices of food and drink, but at the way people seemed to not be appreciating any of it. Many of us live our lives this way and we fail to appreciate and be grateful for the fact that the world is the best it has ever been. We don’t have to worry about our villages being pillaged on a daily basis, we aren’t executed for looking at a white woman wrong, and smallpox doesn’t wipe out populations anymore. There’s now 1 car for every 2 drivers, 1 out of 2 children go on to post-high school education, technology is helping us become more efficient, people have more rights in more places, and acceptance is being brought to the forefront of social issues. Yet, the number of cases of depression is the highest it has ever been and the median onset age of depression is now 14.5 years old, down from 29.5 just fifty years ago.

What is paradise? A yacht with an exotic parrot, sun tanned ladies and decanters of the finest scotch? A private jet with caviar, cashmere sweaters, and Bono? To one person those things might seem like paradise. To someone who hates boats and will never forgive Bono for siding with John Kerry in 2004, that might seem like a nightmare. The answer: paradise is whatever you make of it. Whether you live a life of diamond-encrusted jackets and constant visits to the beach, or you prefer microwave popcorn for dinner with a Netflix rerun of House of Cards, paradise can be anything. Disclaimer: I’m not saying “Hey, you should make microwave popcorn dinners and watch threesomes with the future president for six hours every night,” I’m saying, “Make the best of every moment, no matter what it is.” Even if you’re getting murdered and you let out a, “Lovely weather we’re having,” rather than an, “AAAAHHHHH!!! Don’t’ kill me!!!” the assailant will be thrown off by your unpredictable attitude, thereby leaving him vulnerable; all because you chose to make the best of the situation. If you’re bored, annoyed, angry, stressed, neutral, constipated, upside down on a jungle gym and panicking because you’re unable to figure out how to get yourself back on your feet – it doesn’t matter – always ask yourself a few simple questions. Is what I’m doing going to get me closer to my paradise? Is what I’m saying going to help or hurt my cause? Do I have anything in my teeth? If I were to make the most out of this situation, would it look like what I’m doing it right now? If in ten years, I were to be that perfect me on that yacht with a scotch in one hand, and a beautiful blue marlin in the other hand, would I look back at this moment and say, “Throwing that brick through that trashy skank’s windshield helped me get here.”? Chances are, probably not, because no matter how trashy the skank, truly happy people don’t hurl bricks through windshields. That’s not paradise. Just imagine enjoying life all the time. You don’t have to get pissed when someone talks about you, when the waiter brings the wrong type of pasta, or when the Patriots lose. In fact be the opposite. Even if the service is shitty, if you’re a good sport about it, your server will make sure to focus on you if you’re the nice table rather than the “table with the heinous bitch.” Although getting angry seems like the right thing to do at the time, those are your outdated evolutionary instincts telling you to fight or flight, and they have no idea what they’re talking about. They don’t have to worry about saber-toothed tigers anymore, so they take increased offense to the asshole who just made eye contact with you instead. Ignore them, because that bouncer in the corner will drag you out of that bar by your neck if you if you don’t. And believe me – no one likes to end the story about their night with, “Yeah, and then Jeff got kicked out of the bar so we left.” Thanks, Jeff. If we face a situation with a positive outlook, our brains actually become more creative than if we insist that being buried alive has ruined our night by panicking. When I say “make the best out of every situation,” I mean, “make the BEST out of every situation.”

A good situation to apply this principle to is work. We’ve all worked jobs we don’t like, but if you approach work with a positive attitude and a smile on your face, you have to have a better day than if you’re thinking, “I hate my job, I don’t want to be here, kill me.” Our brains act on what we tell them to act on, so if all we think about is how bored we are, we have no choice to be bored because we’re looking for the reasons to be bored. We’re willingly making ourselves bored and then we complain about it! There are always positive sides to everything, if we look for those rather than the negatives, we’ll find more reasons to be positive. All it takes is a simple shift in thinking. Even if you’re forced to sit through a boring presentation at work, with a different perspective you can even get something out of diversity day. A boring guest speaker can go from being a boring guest speaker to an opportunity to learn how to not give a presentation with a simple shift in thinking. It’s much easier to handle life’s punches when you can find the positives because, again, our brains act on what we tell them to act on. If you keep looking for the positive, it will become easier and easier to find it, even in the most trying of situations.

We can create our own paradise right now because all we have is right now. If we spend our days waiting for our paradise, then I hope you like waiting, because if we see it as always being in the future, there it shall remain. But if we decide to make the most out of our present, our paradise can begin right now. Who in their right mind doesn’t want that?