Borrowing a Big Idea from Improv Comedy to Master Life

By Dr. John Schinnerer

One of the best ways to heal from pain and deal with the vicissitudes of life is laughter.  Over the years, I have made a conscious decision to be quicker to laugh; to be more open to poking fun at my self and to seeing the humor that is all around me.  And research has shown the benefits to doing so are massive – less depression, less anxiety, better cardiovascular health, higher quality relationships and more satisfaction with life.

One of the ways I’ve cultivated more laughter is by going to see live improv comedy as often as I am able. I’ve been to see Whose Line is It Anyway live several times. I go to stand up comedy clubs. I seek out top of the line comedians like Kevin Hart, Christopher Titus, Louis C.K. Sarah Silverman and more. I’ll even go with my teenage children to  watch improv at their high school.  The last time I went, I was really amazed how often I laughed at the teenagers – teens who had little comedic training or experience.  And this made me wonder, “How do improv actors build on other actors’ lines to create laughter?”

The answer is that improv relies on building upon whatever the last person who spoke provides you.

Imagine you are on stage performing improv comedy: It is your turn to speak next in a ridiculous scene where you are at a dentist trying to numb up a patient with a shot of novocaine. The patient is nervously waiting for the shot and asks you how often you use the laughing gas. For improv to be successful and funny, you must build on that premise. You don’t question it. You don’t negate any part of the scene. You build upon it. So, one possibility is to tell the patient that you had a large dose of laughing gas that morning and you begin to act drunk; shooting the novocaine into your own arm, and then your leg, and then you have a numb arm and leg (a la the classic Carol Burnett sketch).  The main rule is that you build upon what came before.

This is seen in daily language as “Yes, and.”

As in…

“Yes, I hear you, AND have you tried this?”

“Yes, I would like to go to the movies, AND I’d like to see a comedy.”

This approach draws other people closer to you, gets you engaged in life and generates stories which you can share with others, particularly when you say yes to fun activities with friends and family that lay just on the other side of your comfort zone.

On the other hand, one of the thoughts that fuels depression and pessimism is ‘Yea, but…” I hear this frequently with certain clients who are anxious, angry or depressed. For example…

“Yea, but I’ve tried all those things.”

“Yea, but that will never work for me.”

“Yea, but I could never do that.”

“Yea, but that’s too much work.”

As I’m teaching certain clients proven tools that could alleviate their suffering, they are ‘yea, butting’ me. This error in thinking prevents people from actually trying new tools which could improve their lives. It shuts down the flow of ideas. It kills conversations. And it keeps people safely in their comfort zone. Unfortunately, real personal growth only happens outside of the comfort zone.

Here are some examples of better ways to reframe these ‘Yea, but…’ statements:

“Yes, I tried that before. And perhaps I didn’t grasp it entirely. I’m going to try it again!”

“I haven’t had much success with that. And I know people don’t always learn on the first try. I’m open to another attempt.”

“I haven’t done that in the past.  However, what I’ve done in the past hasn’t worked so well for me. Let me try something different. I’ll give it a shot!”

“It seems like that will take some work. And no change has ever come without effort and perseverance. I’ll try it!”

In the 2008 comedy, Yes Man, Jim Carrey plays Carl, an introverted, pessimistic single guy with a dead end loan officer job (the ‘Yea, but’ guy).  Carl hides from life and friends in his apartment until he attends a personal growth seminar with a ‘Yes Guru,’ Terrance. Carl makes a reluctant ‘covenant’ with Terrance to say ‘Yes’ at every opportunity. And this simple change to ‘Yes, and’ transforms his life. Carl has a series of adventures which make his life more interesting and fulfilling – even when the story isn’t altogether pleasant. When life hands you an invitation, accept the invitation.

Life is all about the story. Today’s story may be good or it may be bad. Regardless, it’s an interesting, emotionally-compelling story to share with those you love.  And stories are the main way in which we connect with others. And connection is key.

So try saying ‘Yes, and’ to life. Pay attention to what you say for a week. When you hear ‘Yea, but’ change it to ‘Yes, and’. It takes practice. It will push you out of your comfort zone. This one tiny change has lead to impressive improvement in the lives of many of my clients. Try ‘Yes, and’ for yourself for one week. Be a Yes Man (or a Yes Woman). Your future self will thank you for it down the road as you will be significantly more satisfied and happier with life.

 

Laugh for Better Health – The Funniest Websites to Crack You Up

By Dr. John Schinnerer

Everyone knows ‘laughter is the best medicine,’ right? It’s an old saying yet recent studies have coaxed it up to the capstone of credible clichés.

Laughter is known to have all sorts of short term and long term benefits. It aids in relaxation, improves cardiovascular health, increases pain tolerance, releases powerful painkilling endorphins into the bloodstream, and of course, improves your mood. There is even evidence that laughter increases T-cell activity which benefit your immune system functioning.

A recent study from the University of Maryland looked at the physiological reactions of a group of participants to funny compared to intense movies. The group who viewed a comedy had an increase in blood flow in 95% of cases, thereby increasing cardiovascular health. On the other hand, the majority (74%) of those who watched a sad movie experienced decreased blood flow. In the “comedy” group, the cardiovascular benefits lasted up to 24 hours.

Given the scientific evidence that’s stacking up, it seems that laughter is good for us on many levels. So being easy to laugh is a trait to which to aspire.

With that said, here are some 7 of the funniest videos and websites to induce laughter whenever you need some quick relaxation or an emotional pick-me-up…

Funny Or Die

A great Youtube channel which includes Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis.
It also includes a classic skit by Will Ferrell and his daughter called The Landlord which I find hilarious.

Barats and Bereta

Of the many funny videos online, this skit by these two is one of my favorites. It’s of two brothers trying to record a video greeting for their mom for Mother’s Day. Anyone with a brother gets this piece at a deep level!

S*&% My Students Write

This site offers bits of writing from confused students.

Example: “There actually doesn’t seem to be a definitive thesis. There is however a statement that overviews what the entire chapter is going to talk about.”

Clients From Hell

Amusing exchanges between clients and freelance programmers and writers. Like this prime conversation…

After sending two invoices for payment, I sent another and called the client when the receipt that they had received it came back.

CLIENT: Why are you calling me?

ME: You haven’t paid and this is the third invoice I’ve sent.

CLIENT: It’s even more than the last one!

ME: Yes. The contract you signed stated that I would add a late fee for payment.

CLIENT: You mean I have to actually pay you? I thought you were joking!

ME: What on earth made you think that?

CLIENT: You’re a freelancer!

ME: And…

CLIENT: Well, you work for free! If you were supposed to be paid, you’d be called a paidlancer or something!

Parents Shouldn’t Text

This site puts up mistaken, tongue-in-cheek and/or sarcastic texts from new-to-the-texting-world parents to their children.

 

Funniest websites funny videos
Funny Parent Texts

 

Reddit – Funny Jokes

There is some great material on Reddit in the Funny Jokes subreddit but be warned, the material is not typically PG-13! However, much of it is funny. For example, this (old) joke…

Three old ladies are at the park talking when the topic of how wonderfully devoted their children are comes up.
The first lady says: “I have a daughter like you wouldn’t imagine. Every winter she takes me to Florida for two weeks!”
The second lady, not to be outdone, says: “Pfft, you think you’ve got it good? My daughter takes me to Hawaii every summer for 2 months!”
The third lady looks at both of them and says “You two think you have good daughters. You don’t know what it means to have a good daughter. You know what my daughter does? Every Sunday, she goes to her psychologist and pays him $200 an hour, just to talk about me!”

 

D*%$ You Autocorrect

A site that posts some of the funniest autocorrect errors ever.

Funniest Websites Funny videos
Funny Autocorrect Errors

To life, love and laughter,

Dr. John Schinnerer
Executive Coach
Anger Management Specialist
Award-winning author of Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide to Managing Emotion & Thought
Founder, Guide to Self, Inc.
913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280
Danville CA 94526
Positive psychology blog: http://DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com
Anger management blog:
http://WebAngerManagement.com
Happiness blog: http://HowICanBeHappy.com
Twitter: @johnschin

 

Positive psychologyWikipedia: Positive psychology is the branch of psychology that uses scientific understanding and effective intervention to aid in the achievement of a satisfactory life, rather than merely treating mental illness.

Positive emotions, better health, more relationships – New study

How Can I Be Happy? Learn to Cultivate Positive Emotions

Social Connections Drive the ‘Upward Spiral’ of Positive Emotions and Health

People who experience warmer, more upbeat emotions may have better physical health because they make more social connections, according to a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The research, led by Barbara Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Bethany Kok of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences also found it is possible for a person to self-generate positive emotions in ways that make him or her physically healthier.

happiness positive psychology happier cultivating positive emotions

 

“People tend to liken their emotions to the weather, viewing them as uncontrollable,” says Fredrickson. “This research shows not only that our emotions are controllable, but also that we can take the reins of our daily emotions and steer ourselves toward better physical health.”

To study the bodily effects of up-regulating positive emotions, the researchers zeroed in on vagal tone, an indicator of how a person’s vagus nerve is functioning.  The vagus nerve helps regulate heart rate and is also a central component of a person’s social-engagement system.

Because people who have higher vagal tone tend to be better at regulating their emotions, the researchers speculated that having higher vagal tone might lead people to experience more positive emotions, which would then boost perceived positive social connections. Having more social connections would in turn increase vagal tone, thereby improving physical health and creating an “upward spiral.”

To see whether people might be able to harness this upward spiral to steer themselves toward better health, Kok, Fredrickson, and their colleagues conducted a longitudinal field experiment.

Half of the study participants were randomly assigned to attend a 6-week loving-kindness meditation (LKM) course in which they learned how to cultivate positive feelings of love, compassion, and goodwill toward themselves and others. They were asked to practice meditation at home, but how often they meditated was up to them. The other half of the participants remained on a waiting list for the course.

cultivate positive emotions physical health positive psychology john schinnerer phd
How Can I Be Happy? Become an expert at cultivating positive emotions

Each day, for 61 consecutive days, participants in both groups reported their “meditation, prayer, or solo spiritual activity,” their emotional experiences, and their social interactions within the last day. Their vagal tone was assessed twice, once at the beginning and once at the end of the study.

The data provided clear evidence to support the hypothesized upward spiral, with perceived social connections serving as the link between positive emotions and health.

Participants in the LKM group who entered the study with higher vagal tone showed steeper increases in positive emotions over the course of the study. As participants’ positive emotions increased, so did their reported social connections. And, as social connections increased, so did vagal tone. In contrast, participants in the wait-list group showed virtually no change in vagal tone over the course of the study.

“The daily moments of connection that people feel with others emerge as the tiny engines that drive the upward spiral between positivity and health,” Fredrickson explains.

These findings add another piece to the physical health puzzle, suggesting that positive emotions may be an essential psychological nutrient that builds health, just like getting enough exercise and eating leafy greens.

“Given that costly chronic diseases limit people’s lives and overburden healthcare systems worldwide, this is a message that applies to nearly everyone, citizens, educators, health care providers, and policy-makers alike,” Fredrickson observes.

###

To life, love and laughter

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Anger Management Expert

Expert consultant to Pixar

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526, San Francisco Bay Area

(925) 575-0258

For a free PDF copy of John’s award-winning self-help book on positive psychology AND a free online anger management course, visit GuideToSelf.com and enter your name and email address.

WebAngerManagement.com – 10-week online anger management course

DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com –  Awarded #1 Blog in Positive Psychology by PostRank, Top 100 Blog by Daily Reviewer

@johnschin – Twitter

 

This work was supported National Institute of Mental Health Grant MH59615.

Press release available online: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/social-connections-drive-the-upward-spiral-of-positive-emotions-and-health.html

For more information about this study, please contact: Barbara L. Fredrickson at blf@unc.edu.

Those interested in learning more can also explore Barbara Fredrickson’s recent book, Love 2.0, at www.PositivityResonance.com

Positive Emotions Unlock Anger, Boost Creativity and Improve Your Physical Health

Positive Psychology and Positive Emotions

By John Schinnerer, Ph.D. Founder of Guide To Self, Inc.

The evidence is mounting, evidence that positive emotions exist for a reason, evidence that evolution has selected positive emotions for specific reasons that help our species survive – reasons that help you in every area of your life.

Positive emotions include feelings such as awe, curiosity, gratitude, compassion, calm, love, joy, interest, passion and happiness.

Evidence is mounting to support the necessity of cultivating positive emotions for your success at work, in relationships and personally.

At the beginning of every session with a new client, I make a point of sharing a short, gut-bustingly funny video clip. One of my personal favorites is the popular Mother’s Day video by Barats and Bereta (www.BaratsAndBereta.com).

The reason for sharing a humorous video with new clients is three-fold.

First, the funny video unlocks any negative emotions the client may be holding onto such as anger, irritability, anxiety or sadness (Fredrickson, 2004, The Royal Society).

Second, those few, fleeting moments of laughter, mirth and smiling  reduce depressive symptoms and improve your well-being and  satisfaction with life (Sin & Lyubomirsky, Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session, 2009).

Third, science has known for over a decade that chronic anger, anxiety and depression put you at an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease (Suls & Bunde, Psychological Bulletin, 2005). Most people go through life with the sympathetic branch of the ANS stuck in the ‘on’ position. The sympathetic branch is similar to the gas pedal in a car. Negative emotions (along with stress, exhaustion, and lack of exercise) activate the sympathetic nervous system which leads to increased heart rate, pulse and higher levels of cortisol into the blood stream. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response.

On the flip side, positive emotions activate the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which acts like the brakes on a car.  The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is in charge of calming the body, reducing heart rate and pulse, and bringing the body back to a resting state. The extent to which you can activate your PNS predicts your emotional and physical health. It is intimately related to how well you can self-regulate your own emotions.

Lower levels of PNS activity are related to higher levels of depression, anxiety, aggression, and hostility.

On the other side, higher levels of PNS activity are associated with better psychological flexibility, health and resiliency. Individuals with higher levels of PNS activity are related to more resiliency to stress as well as greater mental health in children in the face of chronic conflict between parents at home.

Importantly, the frequency with which you experience positive emotions is related to a more active PNS. Individuals who were shown humorous video clips demonstrated faster heart rate recover after experiencing intense negative emotions (Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998).

In addition, simply asking people to think about a time when they felt grateful activated the PNS.

Other ways to ‘turn on’ the PNS include exercise, laughter, mindfulness, massage, yoga, walking your dog and taking fish oil.

The success I’ve experienced with clients in my private practice is directly related to how well I can make them laugh. With laughter comes opportunity…

opportunity to unlock stale old anger,

opportunity to teach critical new skills,

opportunity to think outside the box, and

opportunity to transform life for the better.

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How do you proceed from here?

Begin to become more aware of the percentage of time you spend in a positive emotional state as compared to a negative state. This simple realization, this basic level of awareness will begin to produce massive tectonic shifts in your life. And you will reap enormous benefits on a number of levels…physical, relational, professional and emotional.

To happier times,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

 

About the Author

 

John Schinnerer, Ph.D. is revolutionizing the way in which people make sense of the mind, behavior and emotion. In December of 2011, he was one of three experts to consult with Pixar on a feature-length movie in which the main characters are emotions. Much of his time is spent in private practice teaching clients the latest ways to turn down the volume on negative emotions such as anger, anxiety and stress as well as ways to cultivate a more positive mind. He has developed a unique coaching methodology which combines the best aspects of entertainment, humor, positive psychology and emotional management techniques. His offices are in Danville, California. He graduated from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in educational psychology.  He has been an executive, speaker and coach for over 14 years.  He hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a daily prime time radio show, in the SF Bay Area.    He wrote the award-winning book, Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought, which is available at Amazon.com.  His blog, Shrunken Mind, was recognized as one of the top 3 in positive psychology on the web (drjohnblog.guidetoself.com ). His new video blog teaches people the latest ways to manage anger using positive psychology. (WebAngerManagement.com).

New Positive Psychology eMagazine Coming – ‘Happier: Positive Psychology for All’

Happier - Positive Psychology for Everyone

The latest in positive psychology made accessible for everyone. Learn the latest in happiness, hope, humor, realistic optimism, positive relationships,  the impact of music on mood, cultivating positive emotions, gratitude, contentment, character strengths, resiliency, well-being and more.

Learn how to be happier with less.

Positive Psychology eMagazine for Amazon Kindle – Happier by John Schinnerer Positive Psychology Coach Danville CA

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To life, love and laughter,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach, Speaker, Author, Entrepreneur

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville, CA 94526

GuideToSelf.comWeb site

WebAngerManagement.com – 10-week online anger management course

DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com  Awarded #1 Blog in Positive Psychology by PostRank, Top 100 Blog by Daily Reviewer

@johnschinTwitter