Number Four: Talk to People. In Person.
Seriously? Yes. Absolutely. It’s something that’s easy to do, that doesn’t cost a cent, and that doesn’t require a how-to manual—yet it can be a sizable contributor to your happiness. And here’s all there is to it: have deep, in-person conversations with the important people in your life.
Okay—there are always times when you need to talk on the phone, or text, or IM, or Facebook, or Skype, or use whatever swanky high-tech tools are at your fingertips. Sometimes our early ancestors were reduced to using smoke signals or sending carrier pigeons. Just make sure that’s not all you do. Take the time and make the effort to really engage people, eye to eye. You can start with the dinner table and go from there.
Why? Happy people emotionally connect with other people in real life. Emotional connections with others really help the brain. And the best way to emotionally connect is to talk, face-to-face. Go for a hike, go for a walk, go to lunch—it doesn’t matter where you go, just talk to another human being. It will make a difference in your happiness.
And if you’ve got youth in your home, make a special point of giving them practice in this critical skill. Ever watched a group of kids huddled together, each one texting on a cell phone? They need practice in face-to-face communication—and you can be the one to give them that practice.
Number Five: Laugh!
Happy people laugh. If you want to be happier, laugh. A lot.
I remember an executive who told the story of being in a high-powered meeting with a bunch of people who were her bosses. She, of course, was focused on making the best impression humanly possible when all of a sudden she opened her mouth to make what would have been a stunningly impressive statement. At that very second, the crown on her front tooth flew out of her mouth like a heat-seeking missile and bounced across the glass-topped conference table. There she sat, looking like a cast member from The Beverly Hillbillies.
You can bet everyone at that table—including her—lost every shred of interest in what she had been about to say. And you can bet that everyone at that table—other than her—uttered a silent prayer of gratitude for the skill of their dentists.
And her? She laughed. Hard. And once she was genuinely laughing, so was everyone else at the table.
Every time she tells that story, she still laughs. So do all the people she tells it to. Because she is one of the happiest women around, even with a missing front tooth.
So which comes first, happiness or laughter? This seems to be another chicken-or-the-egg deal. Maybe laughing makes you happy. Maybe being happy makes you laugh. No one really knows if one causes the other, but we do know that they are correlated. They come and go together.
Laughter is very good for you. They knew that clear back in biblical times: Solomon, hailed for his wisdom, remarked that “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). Throughout the ages and around the world, members of royal courts valued the court jester, the colorful clown who made them laugh and in the bargain helped them tolerate the job of governing.
One 13-century surgeon told jokes to his patients on their way out of surgery, knowing that the ones who laughed recovered better. A 16-century English educator prescribed laughter for those afflicted with head colds; a favorite “cure” was being tickled in the armpits. (Try that next time you have a cold.) Humor was even used by ancient Americans—Ojibway Indian doctor-clowns used laughter to heal the sick.
I’m not the only one who says that laughter is good for you. Studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association say that laughing clears mucus from the lungs, increases the amount of oxygen that circulates through the blood, conditions your muscles, provides muscle relaxation, speeds up circulation, and increases the amount of oxygen delivered to all your body cells. Laughter has even been proven in scientific studies to relieve pain and boost your immunity. Perhaps it’s time to choose the comedy over the drama in the movie theater this weekend?
And all you exercise enthusiasts, consider this: Stanford Medical School psychiatrist William Fry Jr. says that just 20 seconds of laughter is the cardiovascular equivalent of three minutes of strenuous rowing. In fact, he said, it took him ten minutes on a rowing machine to get his heart to the rate it was at after just one minute of hearty laughter. Other experts have said that the changes laughter causes in your body are so effective that laughter may be classified as aerobic exercise. The best part of all? You don’t have to go to the gym or run around a track or use a fancy machine to laugh. All you need is a sense of humor.
But laughter does much more than help you physically. It also reduces stress and improves your perspective on all kinds of things—even things that are as real and distressing as pain. Best of all, it enhances happiness. It’s one of the simplest things you can do to improve your level of happiness.
If you need some inspiration, watch children. Children laugh, on average, upward of 300 times per day. Adults? Fifteen times per day. What happened? Was it the mortgage? Whatever it was, don’t allow yourself to turn into that grumpy neighbor you were scared of as a kid.
So laugh every chance you get. Make sure it’s appropriate. Never laugh at sacred things or take sacred things lightly, something you may recognize as “loud laughter.” Also, watch out for what I call “cheap laughter”—laughing at things that are crude. Cheap laughter isn’t witty or intelligent—it’s like cheap fast food that gives you stomach cramps after you eat. Intelligent humor is like the delicious, mouthwatering food you get at a five-star restaurant.
Lastly, never laugh at someone. I’ve never seen a moment where cruelty was remotely funny. Laughing that bullies or demeans another person will cause the Spirit to withdraw. And when the Spirit withdraws, say good-bye to any real happiness.
But laughing at yourself and your own awkwardness, like our toothless friend did, is perfectly okay. And if you’re out of practice, check out some funny movies or talks or books, or go get a shake with the funniest person you know.
Lead photo from Getty Images.
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