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.

New Pixar movie on emotions – Inside Out trailer

I am an emotion geek. And I am psyched for this movie to come out in June of 2015.

Dr. John Schinnerer
Executive coach
Emotion expert

Habits of Happiness #3 – Self-compassion

And here is the third video in the series of Happiness Habits (I’m still editing the 2nd video!). It’s on a crucial skill, a skill that seems to be the most tightly connected with happiness and life satisfaction …self-compassion.

 

 

Cheers,

Dr. John Schinnerer
Executive Coach
Anger Management Specialist
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
Twitter: @johnschin

Self-acceptance – the secret to a happier life and the least practiced happiness habit

 

March 7, 2014

The secret habit for a happy life - self-acceptance, self-compassion Dr. John Schinnerer
Self-compassion the secret and least used happiness habit

Happiness is related to greater success at work, more resiliency, less burnout and stress, more satisfying relationships, increased creativity, intelligence and flexibility of thought, improved immune system functioning and greater productivity. Happiness is more than a mere emotion; it is a habit we can improve with specific daily practices.  Science is showing that some habits cultivate more happiness than others. One of the most powerful habits for happiness and life satisfaction is self-compassion, or self-acceptance. Yet this is also one of the most secret habits, one that is least likely to be practiced.

The non-profit organization, Action for Happiness, in collaboration with Do Something Different, asked 5,000 people to rate themselves between 1 and 10 on ten habits. These ten habits have been shown in the latest scientific research as being instrumental to happiness and well-being.

The top ten habits, according to science, are…

Being kind to others (giving)

Being around others (relationships)

Physical exercise

Appreciation of the world around you

Learning new things (approaching the world with curiosity)

Goals (having significant direction in life)

Resilience (finding ways to bounce back from challenge)

Positive emotions (awe, joy, love, contentment, relaxation, etc.)

Meaning (having a purpose in life)

Acceptance and self-compassion

 

Kindness is the Most Practiced Habit

Of these valid approaches to happiness and satisfaction, most of the participants report being kind to others most frequently. And this is the most reliable way that science knows of to boost your mood to a positive place…do something kind for someone else. And fortunately, many people report doing kind acts quite frequently (7.41 out of a possible 10).

Being around others, or relationships, was a close second. Participants were asked, How often do you put effort into the relationships that matter most to you? The average score was 7.36 out of 10. And 15% of people scored the maximum 10 out of 10.

Most excitingly, the survey also looked at which habits are most closely linked to people’s life satisfaction. All 10 habits have been shown in studies to be strongly linked to life satisfaction.

 

Self-compassion Trumps Them All

What you may NOT know is that self-compassion, or self-acceptance, is the habit that predicts happiness most strongly. Unfortunately, self-compassion is also the least frequently practiced habit. Self-compassion was the lowest average score from the 5,000 participants (average rating of 5.56 out of 10). Only 5% of people put themselves at a 10 on the self-compassion habit. Around one in five people (19%) scored an 8 or 9; Less than a third (30%) scored a 6 or 7; and almost half (46%) of people rated themselves at 5 or less. We are not taught to be self-compassionate. We are not taught to be self-accepting. I would argue most of us are socialized in the opposite way…win at all costs, strive to be the best, you are not enough, you are not worthy, never be satisfied. This must change. And there are proven practices to do just that.

But I digress. Let me return to the study findings.

Physical exercise is another highly rated happiness habit. Yet this one came up relatively low as well. The average answer to How often do you spend at least half an hour a day being active? was just 5.88 out of 10, with 45% of people rating themselves 5 or less.

Professor Karen Pine, a University of Hertfordshire psychologist and co-founder of Do Something Different, stated: “Practicing these habits really can boost our happiness. It’s great to see so many people regularly doing things to help others — and when we make others happy we tend to feel good ourselves too. This survey shows that practicing self-acceptance is one thing that could make the biggest difference to many people’s happiness. Exercise is also known to lift mood so if people want a simple, daily way to fee happier they should get into the habit of being more physically active too.”

Dr Mark Williamson, Director of Action for Happiness, reported: “Our society puts huge pressure on us to be successful and to constantly compare ourselves with others. This causes a great deal of unhappiness and anxiety. These findings remind us that if we can learn to be more accepting of ourselves as we really are, we’re likely to be much happier. The results also confirm us that our day-to-day habits have a much bigger impact on our happiness than we might imagine.”

 

So how can we practice the self-compassion habit?

Here are three positive actions shown in research by Kristin Neff from University of Texas, Austin, that people can take to increase their levels of self-compassion:

  • Be as kind to yourself as you are to others. Speak to yourself as if you are 4 years old when you fall short or make a mistake. See your mistakes as opportunities to learn. Notice things you do well, however small.
  • Ask a trusted friend or colleague to tell you what your strengths are or what they value about you (and let them know of their strengths too!)
  • Spend some quiet time by yourself. Tune in to how you’re feeling inside and try to be at peace with who you are. Remind yourself “I am worthy. I am worthy of love. I am worthy of success. I am worthy of happiness.”

 

Key Survey Question Average score (Frequency of engaging in habit)

  • Giving How often do you make an effort to help or be kind to others? 7.41
  • Relating How often do you put effort into the relationships that matter most to you? 7.36
  • Exercising How often do you spend at least half an hour a day being active? 5.88
  • Appreciating How often do you take time to notice the good things in your life? 6.57
  • Trying out How often do you learn or try new things? 6.26
  • Direction How often do you do things that contribute to your most important life goals? 6.08
  • Resilience How often do you find ways to bounce back quickly from problems? 6.33
  • Emotion How often do you do things that make you feel good? 6.74
  • Acceptance How often are you kind to yourself and think you’re fine as you are? 5.56
  • Meaning How often do you do things that give you a sense of meaning or purpose? 6.38

 

A final question posed was: Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?

The average score was 6.49, compared to a national average of 6.34 reported in the UK National Values survey 2013.

For more info on happiness, well-being and positive psychology, check out my newest site at HowICanBeHappy.com.

To life, love and laughter,

Dr. John

Dr. John Schinnerer
Positive Psychology Coach
Anger Management Specialist
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
Twitter: @johnschin

 

Source: University of Hertfordshire. “Self-acceptance could be the key to a happier life, yet it’s the happy habit many people practice the least.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140307111016.htm>.