Laughter and the Fear Factor

“We have to be able to figure out how to laugh and cry at the same time.”
-Former New York City Mayor, Rudy Giuliani at a post-9/11 press conference announcing that he would still host Saturday Night Live

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On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was on a plane from JFK Airport to Salt Lake City. I was going to give a speech to a group of 2,000 people on how to confront negative emotions by using their sense of humor as a tool, which is a very important business strategy to reduce stress. Little did I know that the morning of my scheduled talk, fear would be the dominating emotion to overtake our entire nation.

Fear is always the number one force to confront when a catastrophic event or change takes place in our lives. Whether it’s a faltering economy, loss of a job, divorce, illness, or death of a loved one, how we handle the fear factor will influence our quality of life.

The ones who will ultimately prevail are the ones who will deal with the fear factor and adapt. I guarantee you; those who do adapt are the ones that make conscious choices to shift their focus, their beliefs and their way of thinking. Guess what? Humor is an Attitude Adjustment Strategy that can help us to make the shifts that are necessary to move forward with hope and confidence.

“Laughter not only lifts the spirit; it is a natural pressure valve.” says Larry Wilde, motivational speaker and author of over fifty books on humor. “When we’re down in the dumps we need a boost, something to help us over the tough times. Smiles, chuckles and old guffaws are a miraculous physical phenomenon that makes us feel good all over with the power to bring a twinkle to the eye and calm in the raging storm.”

A few weeks after 9/11, I experienced and inward glow when I witnessed America’s collective Humor Being helping us to shift our focus away from the pain. Not only was Osama Bin Laden being bombarded by air strikes, but also by punch lines.

Late night television hosts like Jay Leno led the attack and helped us all to laugh off the fear. Osama goes to a fortune teller to find out how long he has to live. The fortune-teller informs him that he will die on a famous American holiday. “Which one?” Bin Laden asks. “Whatever day you die will be a famous American holiday,” the fortune-teller replies. The healing of America began to flourish the day we adjusted our attitudes and made the shift to laugh off the fear.

I believe we need our Humor Beings now more than any time in the history of our planet. We need to allow ourselves to laugh when times are tough. It is crucial for us all to make conscious choices to enjoy ourselves during the transition to this new normal. If we allow fear in any situation to determine the choices we make, terror always wins, no matter what form it takes, whether it’s an internal fear or an uncontrollable outside force. Today, we need a strong foundation to stand on. Your Humor Being can help build that foundation.

Laughter is surely one of our greatest gifts. What good is a gift that we don’t use? (The fruitcakes at Christmas don’t count. Those are always best left uneaten.) I understand that there are times when your problems and concerns are so overwhelming that it feels disrespectful to laugh, you just don’t want to laugh, or, for whatever reason, you just can’t find it in you. I respect that. We’ve all been there. However, understand this, if at any time you’re feeling you can’t find the laughter, that’s exactly when you need it the most.

Just as mourning and grieving are essential in order to heal, so too is our ability to step away from the pain, even if only for a few moments, to seek the joy in other aspects of our lives. Sometimes, however, we get so caught up in an unfortunate circumstance that we don’t realize that, in the long run, our very survival is dependent upon experiencing joy and laughter during and between life’s tough times.

The reason some people don’t allow themselves to laugh and enjoy their lives when times are tough is because they feel guilty or they feel they don’t have the right. They say, “How can I find the laughter in my life when I was just diagnosed with cancer?” Well, that’s when you’re supposed to. They say, “How can you expect me to laugh and enjoy my life when the economy is falling apart and I may lose my job at any time?” Well my friend, that’s when you’re supposed to.

It is essential that we all understand that there is a difference between laughing at something that is serious and laughing off the fear it represents. I believe that’s the number one reason why we are given the gift of laughter: To laugh in the face of fear. When you do, perception changes, negativity shifts and fear is kept at bay. I want to make this point as clear as I possibly can. Are you ready? When times are tough, even severe, we must at some point find the courage within ourselves to laugh off the fear. Laughter is a ”Common Sense Success Strategy” in business and in life.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and insights. I welcome all comments.

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