Note to readers: Welcome to Part 5, the continuation of this blog mini-series, Seven Ways of Finding Grace Within Grief. In this piece, I offer Positive Psychology and Let Your Yoga Dance tools to help those experiencing loss and dark times. If you’re just joining us, please return to the introduction and start from the beginning. The story will have far more impact.
Way 6: Finding a Bit of Humor Each Day
One special moving meditation is the act of smiling. I made a commitment back then to try to smile and laugh at least once in 24 hours, and remember the teaching of the “Half Smile of the Buddha:” To turn the corners of my mouth up. Turning to the great Rogers and Hammerstein for help with happiness, I whistled and sang their happy tune, hoping the song would cheer me up:
I whistle a happy tune….
and every single time
The happiness in the tune
convinces me that I’m not afraid.
I spent a lot of time listening to my CDs, seeking out songs that uplifted, cheered me on, and comforted me during those dark days and months.
Positive Psychologists have done rigorous research in the last twenty years. One researcher in particular, Amy Cuddy, from UC Berkeley, has made great strides with her “power pose” research, which she discusses in her TED Talk, “Your Body Shapes Who You Are.”
Research also shows that sticking a pencil sideways in your mouth induces smiling, which will put your face into an upward lift; you can actually feel like you are smiling! And that wonderful brain of yours believes that you’re happy. The expression “Fake it til you make it” is true; it works!
Pharrell Williams has turned the whole world upside down with his 2014 "Happy" song:
It might seem crazy what I’m about to say…
Because I’m happy…..
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Clap along if you feel that that’s what you want to do.
It is hard for body and mind to stay in woe when listening and moving to this fabulous "Happy" song. I have played this in countless classes, and when speaking at conferences. Whenever I ask folks to stand up and clap to Pharrell’s "Happy" song, they do so with big smiles.
Laughing Back to Health
Here’s a great example of the power of laughter: Norman Cousins was the editor in chief of the Saturday Review for thirty years. I was raised on his story; Mom thought he was a genius; I heard about him all the time. He healed himself of a dread arthritic and heart condition (considered terminal at the time). How did he do that? During his miserable time in the hospital, Cousins began to wonder about emotions. He decided that if negative emotions (depression and anger) led to poor health, perhaps positive emotions (laughter and joy) could bring about good health? Without the blessing of doctors and nurses, he scrambled out of that unhealthy hospital, and got himself into a hotel. There he began to watch Marx Brothers movies and I Love Lucy episodes over and over again. His only medication was laughter - and vitamin C. He laughed himself back to health and returned to work at the Saturday Review.
Cousins later wrote a best-seller, Anatomy of an Illness, which I read and loved when I was a kid. It’s a great classic on combating life-threatening illness through humor.
Cousins’ lessons on laughter returned to me after the baby died. Although I also gravitated toward inspirational books dealing with sorrow, I also followed Cousins’ lead. I sought out films to make me smile. In 1995, one stood out: While You Were Sleeping. Sandra Bullock always makes me laugh. I also looked for earlier films, such as my old friends, Airplane, Big, and My Cousin Vinny. Films like these helped me find a little joy, and a lot of laughter, in the darkest time of my life.
Years later in CIPP, I was introduced to Values in Action (VIA), a test co-authored by Martin Seligman, from Penn, and Professor Chris Peterson, from the University of Michigan. They created a list of 24 character strengths that include gratitude, generosity, resilience, love, enthusiasm, and optimism. You can check out their website at viastrengths.org, and take a free twenty minute test to discover your top strengths. One of my top three VIA strengths is humor. No wonder I gravitate toward joy and laughter whenever possible, even at the toughest times. Humor is one of my strongest character strengths.
Megha-Nancy Buttenheim, M.A., is the founder of Let Your Yoga Dance: Grace in Motion®. An international presenter and corporate trainer, Megha is a 27 year teacher-trainer at Kripalu Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. She is also a faculty member at the Nosara Yoga Institute in Guanacaste, Costa Rica and Kind Yoga School in Cape Cod, MA. She brings her passion and expertise as a lifelong dancer, actress, singer, yogi, and educator in experiential learning to all her workshops and trainings.