It’s getting harder to laugh these days, at least for me. How about you?
My oldest son often mentions his favorite teacher, Sra. Triminio from third grade. She is a young brunette in her 20’s with high standards and an easy, laid-back way about her. She began teaching Spanish immersion at Grand Rapids Christian Elementary after falling in love with the Spanish language and marrying a man from Honduras. During the summers she teaches English to children of migrant workers who come to Michigan with their parents for the season.
She rode with me on a field trip to the state capital in Lansing a few years ago. I glimpsed why she is a favorite on that two-hour round-trip drive, and while watching her interact with eight-year-olds. I watched her hand out pretzels and Oreos to the kids before the drive home. When they asked for second and third (and fourth) Oreos, she didn’t even sigh or frown, she just kept handing them out and chatting with the kids.
When I ask Eli what makes her a good teacher, he says, “She laughs a lot.”
When he talks about her he doesn’t say, “She’s really funny.”
If you ask him about the difference between being funny and laughing a lot, he talks about the fact that she didn’t take everything so seriously. “When she laughed the whole class laughed, and then we got unbored.” (I know, unbored is not a word, but it’s a direct quote from a 12-year-old).
Are you the funny one in the room or the serious one? I’m the serious one who wishes she was funny. I don’t laugh enough either.
I have a colleague at work who keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously by dropping some dry humor in the middle of a serious work discussion. It feels so good to laugh when he does that. It adds real value to our interaction, and to the wellbeing of a team of 13 people with high standards who are probably too uptight (me, mostly).
I heard a podcast this summer about the value of a light-hearted mindset and looking for excuses to laugh. Naomi Bagdonas, author of “Humor, Seriously” was interviewed about a class she teaches at Stanford. I love her perspective. She says,
It’s not about being funny. It’s just being more generous with your laughter. You don’t have to be the quickest wit in the room. The easiest way to have more humor at work is not to try to be funny; instead, just look for moments to laugh.
In the class we talk about the distinction between levity and humor, where levity is a mindset. Think of that as sort of an inherent state of receptiveness to and active seeking of joy, right? How do you go around the world? Are you walking around the world expecting to be delighted or expecting to be disappointed?
And so what we work on more than anything is this mindset, noticing opportunities for humor that would otherwise pass us by. And it’s our point of view that when you walk around on the precipice of a smile, you will be surprised by how many things you encounter that will push you over the edge.”
I love this idea of a mindset that is searching for reasons to smile and laugh. Even today – which has been a very down day for me – just writing this essay is lightening my heart. It made me laugh instead of sigh when one of my kids dropped an egg on the kitchen floor a few minutes ago. (Why not laugh? The egg needs to be cleaned up either way.)
I have wished many times that I could be like my friend Keith at work – able to crack a joke at the perfect time and make everybody laugh. I’m not. But I can be the person with the easy laugh. I don’t have to be the super serious one, just because I’m not the funny one.
With our kids, I think it’s even more important. This year has been SO HARD. We have tried to keep the chaos of the world out of the house and maintain peace and joy at home. We want this to be a safe, happy, fun place to come home to (for all of us). But we don’t always feel safe, happy and fun ourselves this year.
I’m sure many of you have no trouble with this at all. (Let’s hang out! I need more fun friends!) For me, here are three ways I’m trying to stop taking myself so seriously and be more lighthearted.
- If my husband or one of my kids says something even remotely funny, I laugh hard. There is no downside. Laughter is contagious so we all end up laughing and more jokes usually keep coming.
- I picture what it looks like when one of my sons displays the same uptight perfectionist tendencies that I am passing down to him. Yikes – that’s a good deterrent.
- Playing actual games. We have been home so much and playing board games and card games and darts seems to bring out the goofy character in each of my family members. Even my most serious kid has had total giggle fits on game nights.
I decided to take a cue from Sra. Triminio. I’m going to try to have my laugh ready; to build a community of peace, joy and laughter in these last several months of COVID craziness; and to display the joyfulness of God to a watching world.
What’s making you laugh these days?