I had a call this week from my good friend Gary McD. Gary and I get together infrequently for lunch at some local greasy spoon that he believes delivers fine dining.
I have always enjoyed Gary’s company. An hour with him is 60 minutes of non-stop laughter and I have often referred to him as my laugh therapist.
Naturally, as my lightning fast, rapier wit far exceeds his feeble attempts at humour, he benefits far more from our time together than I.
So after we had chatted for a few minutes and booked our next lunch my mind drifted back to a meeting I had earlier this year.
I spent several hours with a person who had been my client during a two year project I had undertaken in his company.
Shortly thereafter he had moved on to another company and we had had no contact for several years.
He had recently called to ask if we could meet over coffee. Hence our meeting.
I was not at all prepared for what I saw when he entered the restaurant. He had always been a smiling, high energy, life-enjoying character that took great pride in his appearance and was a regular attendee at a local gym.
I was shocked by his appearance. He looked as though he had gained an enormous amount of weight. His face looked haggard, lined and riddled with pain. He eyes were dull and expressionless and his weak attempt at a smile produced something that looked like a cross between a grimace and a smirk.
His clothes looked like they had just come back from a camping trip.
He squeezed himself into the booth and told me what his life has been like since last we had talked.
The new job that had offered so much promise had lasted less than six months. He had arrived at work one morning to discover that one of his direct reports had been promoted to his position and that he had 15 minutes to collect personal items from his office and remove himself from the building. His boss, the man who had enticed him away from his previous employer, was “not available” to speak to him.
His confidence shattered, he had spent the next 14 months looking for another job.
His missing paycheque had placed an enormous strain on his marriage and his wife had taken their three kids and gone to live with her parents after month six.
When he finally found a new job it was at a substantially reduced wage and he had been forced to sell his house a rent a tiny apartment.
He and his wife had talked of reconciliation but their talks had always broken down when they got to the part about his declining attitude and sense of gloom that had become pervasive throughout his very being.
He saw his kids briefly on weekends.
He had quit going to the gym several years ago and most of his nutrition was handed to him through the window of a drive through. He felt constantly sluggish and had no energy to do anything.
He was drinking heavily.
He was struggling in his job and had been warned that he was dangerously close to termination.
Depression was his constant companion and he confessed that each night he prayed that he would drift off to sleep never to waken again.
His family doctor had prescribed anti-depressants and he had tried them for a few weeks. He stopped taking them as they made him feel groggy.
He hadn’t gone back to the doctor.
He had quit taking his blood pressure medication.
What was the point?
We have spent much time discussing how we are what we believe to be true and that we define ourselves by our beliefs.
My friend now believed that his life was miserable, would stay miserable, would never get better and there was nothing he could do.
I asked him when he had last laughed and he said he couldn’t remember.
I believed him.
I started talking about some of the fun times we’d had when we worked together. It took a few minutes and then he smiled.
We reminisced some more and he smiled again.
Then we remembered a funny incident and we both laughed.
And another one.
And one more.
And then he remembered the funniest of all and we both sat in our booth laughing in that uncontrollable way that we do when we just can’t stop.
You know what I mean?
The kind of laughter that produces tears and won’t go away. We try really, really hard to stop laughing and each time we think we have succeeded we burst out laughing once again.
As I watched him laughing uproariously a strange thing happened.
His eyes began to sparkle as they once had.
The deep lines in his face seemed to flatten out a little.
His shoulders seemed to straighten.
And so when we were finally able to quit our little school girl like giggling I asked him how he felt in that moment.
And he said he felt better, happier and lighter than he had in years.
He said he would love to feel like this every day.
And so I asked him what is stopping him from feeling like this every day.
And he admitted he didn’t know.
And I asked him if the world felt like a better place in this moment.
And he said yes.
And then we talked about the fact that absolutely nothing had changed in the circumstances of his life in the time he had spent laughing.
He was still separated from his wife.
Was still at risk of losing his job.
His was still overweight and out of shape.
But he was feeling good.
All because he had allowed himself to laugh.
So we made a pact.
We each committed to spend three 15 minute periods each day standing in front of a mirror and laughing.
Even when we didn’t feel like it.
Or didn’t want to.
Or when it felt phony.
And we would meet weekly and review.
And a strange thing happened to him.
He woke up.
His life began to change.
His perspective shifted.
He became aware of more and more choices.
He went back to the gym.
He swapped French fries for carrot sticks.
He pressed his shirts.
And started being kind to himself.
And said nice things to himself.
And applied for, a got, a new job.
And asked his wife out on a date.
And she said yes.
And then a second date.
And a third.
And all of this happened because we laughed.
And we don’t do it enough.
And we should, even when we don’t feel like it.
You see, laughing makes us feel happy.
And when we are feeling happy we view the world positively.
And when we view the world positively we focus on positive choices.
And when we focus on positive choices we take positive action.
And when we take positive action we get positive results.
So laughter, therefore, is the very foundation upon which our happiness rests.
So I challenge all of you to take this 3 part pledge:
1. Commit to investing a minimum of 5 minutes, three times per day, to laughing uncontrollably, unabashedly, uproariously, shamelessly, guiltlessly and any other ……ly you can think of.
2. Send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and write “I’M DOING IT” in the subject line.
3. Do it.
If you stay with this for three months you will have achieved membership in the lunch club I belong to with Gary.
And I’ll pick a restaurant with decent food.
And Gary will buy all your lunches.
Thanks, Gary – you’re the best.
Till we read again.
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