Friday, May 25, 2012

Better With Age

Pro-aging looks like this.

"Old age and treachery always overcomes youth and skill."
~Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard


I am grateful that at the age of fifty I had a significantly positive, long-lasting, life-changing experience. It happened during a men’s drumming retreat weekend in the Texas woods.

Around the campfire, we discussed rites of passage, why they are significant, and how they are maintained in Native American cultures but largely discarded in contemporary “American” culture, where we have come to worship youth and discard our elderly. Too bad for America.

The retreat leaders prepared us for a rite of passage that would induct all of the men age fifty and older into a Council of Elders. The campfire ceremony took on a sacred aura. The larger group was instructed in the importance of respect for the wisdom of elders. I’m not sure how it affected the other “elders” but, in a mystical flash being formally elevated to this status changed my mindset about aging from fear and anxiety to positive expectancy.

The anticipation of more wisdom and the insights one can only attain with age has stayed with me. It makes it easier for me to embrace and accept the changes that come with aging.

Native American Elders
I did not know then that studies would later show that this kind of attitude is associated with increased longevity and better health. I feel like a lucky guy to have been in that place at that time.

A great advantage of the work that I do with laughter –which I now believe can accurately be described as delivering happiness—is that I can do it for as long as strength, energy and enthusiasm hold out. I expect there will be large numbers of us doing a great job of it in our 80’s, 90’s, and beyond.

Rx: A Lifetime of Laughter

Long ago, I discovered that there are aspects of therapeutic laughter that cannot be taught.

They can only be learned from experience.

In some health & human services occupations these insights might be called “clinical judgment”.

It takes practice and feedback, trial and error sometimes, in order for us to form the mind-body pathways that we call higher skills, mastery, and smooth delivery.

Think about learning to ride a bicycle, drive a car, tie your shoes, fold an omelet, or navigate your hard drive.

With repetition, those pathways are virtually permanently programmed into our psycho-bio-neurological systems. Often, they feel like a combination of A-ha! & Ooh-ah! & Ha-ha!

Leading therapeutic laughter and delivering happiness, and doing it really well, is like that.

If you keep having experiences—even so-called failures—and you learn from them, you are getting better with age.

It means that you can look forward to getting even better with more aging.

It means that you can enthusiastically embrace a pro-aging mindset even in the midst of our anti-aging culture.

"Elder" Wavy Gravy at Earthdance 2006

The best is yet to come.

Okay, that long-winded set-up leads to an important question for discussion. Positive psychology and Happiness expert, Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD, suggests we think about and exchange our ideas about aging this way:

Regarding any part of your life, in what ways have you developed and improved over time, with age?

Thinking back to any earlier point in your life, you might want to finish the starter: “If I knew then what I know now…”

Please respond here –and include how long you’ve been at it-- so we all can learn from each other.


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Sunday, May 20, 2012

The kanji Warao (Laughter)

Kanji Warao (Laughter)
The Japanese have ancient understandings and traditions about laughter, happiness, and contentment.  Now, you can own a beautiful limited edition reproduction of a modern interpretation of that relationship: the kanji Warao (Laughter).

A wonderful gift of laughter.

A symbol of the reach of laughter through the ages and around the world, this unique collectible conversation art piece graces home or office as a contemporary expression of the earliest representation of laughter as a universal language.

 Exclusive limited edition keepsake symbolizes ancient respect and embracing of laughter
 Printed with old-world elegance on 24 lb archival quality Southworth parchment paper
 Acid & lignin free (won’t yellow with age)
 Overall size 8.5”x11”
 Suitable for matting & framing
 Affordably priced in keeping with universally lucky numerology
 Comes with Certificate of Authenticity

(shown matted, for example; shipped unmatted)

A portion of proceeds provides financial support for the artist Kazu Mori, and Osugi Musical Theater.

Here is some folklore history…

The Shichi-fuku-jin (七福神) is the Seven Gods of Luck in Japanese folklore. They are comical deities, often portrayed riding together on a treasure ship (takarabune). They carry various magical items such as an invisible hat, rolls of brocade, an inexhaustible purse, a lucky rain hat, robes of feathers, keys to the divine treasure house and important books and scrolls.

One of the Shichi Fukujin, the seven Japanese Shinto-gods of luck. Hotei ("cloth bag") is the god of happiness and laughter and the wisdom of being content. He is the patron of the weak and the children. Hotei is depicted as a very fat man with a big belly (a symbol of happiness, luck and generosity), carrying a huge linen bag containing precious things, including children, on his back. He may sit in an old cart drawn by boys, as the Wagon Priest. He can be compared with the Buddhistic Mi-lo-Fo.

The Story Behind the kanji Warao (Laughter) By Artist Kazu Mori
Deriving from various calligraphic and historical models, kanji are essentially Chinese orthography characters (hanzi) used to write Japanese in forms referred to as logograms, idiographs, or indicatives. Because of the way they have been adopted into Japanese, a single kanji may be used to write one or more different words (or, in some cases, morphemes). From the point of view of the reader, kanji are said to have one or more different "readings". Deciding which reading is meant depends on context, intended meaning, use in compounds, and even location in the sentence. Some common kanji have ten or more possible readings.

ABOUT THE ARTIST: Kazu Mori is an interior designer and calligraphy artist living Komatsu in western Japan. His calligraphy graces a wide variety of objects in Japan - signs, menus, wall hangings, cups, clothing, and more. He also does calligraphy as performance art, drawing characters of thanks, hope, peace, and laughter on very large rolls of paper held up on a stage or at a festival. He has done shows not only locally but in the UK, France, China, and elsewhere.
Kazu Mori
This kanji, “Warao” was commissioned as a poster for a performance by the Osugi Musical Theatre (OMT), Komatsu, Ishikawa, Japan.

Because of a long-standing friendship founded on love of music, art, laughter, happiness and peace, the kanji has been made available to World Laughter Tour, to use for special recognitions and for raising financial support for the artist and OMT.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Intuitive Logic

Helen Marie Szollosy is a Certified Laughter Leader who continues to amuse, amaze, and inspire us. Helen channels her life experiences and intuition into grand products like the video she recently sent me. She touches so many lives with laughter. *

Helen, writes: “I thought you might enjoy this healthy, healing positive mantra video I made this evening. Sit, feel, heal, face, replace - relax - be grateful and thankful- and generate happy cells!”

I am putting the link to this video on my desktop to keep it handy. What a great way to start the day.

What is the source of Helen’s prolific output?
I am sure there are many personal sources for her, as there are for any of us; she has shared some of hers with us.

But, there are two energy or motivational sources in particular, that I think those of us in the field have in common: I call them a Hippocratic inclination and intuitive logic.

We sensed that it would not be harmful if we could get others to try a few things like making the effort to look for the lighter side of situations, or infusing a workplace, classroom or sickroom with humor.

We sensed that it would not be harmful and that there was logic to the idea that positive outcomes were likely.

We were not drawn to working with humor and laughter because of being comedians, nor because we were overwhelmed with evidence. In the early days, there was little or no evidence. But several theories abounded.  In fact, many of us got started because of a rather ephemeral affinity for laughter and humor.

Norman Cousins supposedly humored himself well from a painful and perhaps nearly fatal illness that had no known medical cure. He wrote about his experience. While single case studies are often where science begins, it is hardly considered solid evidence. Yet, it became foundational to a movement for applied and therapeutic humor and laughter.

My Grandmother's Hippocratic Oath
My maternal grandmother emigrated to United States from Vienna, as a teenager, around 1900. She came with a kind of Hippocratic do-no-harm mentality. You could hear it in the kindly tone of voice she used when she recommended an enema for every ailment. In broken English, with a strong Austrian accent, she would  persuasively note about her prescription, "It vouldn't hurt!"

And, those of us drawn to work with humor and laughter had an intuitive logic about the topic. Without demanding hard-boiled scientific evidence, we somehow "knew" that laughter and humor are good for us. The Western world is fraught with deep cultural ambivalence towards humor: it loved, hated, and feared. Admonishments to grow up, get serious, quit fooling around, and dedicate ourselves to hard work, are probably rooted in Puritanical religious ethos.

But some of us "knew" that human beings need large doses of laughter and humor. And, we were willing to encourage others to try it.

In the courses I designed about applied and therapeutic humor & laughter, we have never claimed that what we encourage others to try will cure anything. But "try this" is an invitation to perform an personal experiment, to see what happens. Do you like the results, or shall we try something else?

You Become A Medical Experiment
My doctors, with all of their training, do exactly the same thing. They examine, diagnose and prescribe. With each prescription comes "Try this." You become a science experiment with your own health and well-being. The doctor does not guarantee a cure. In fact, if the prescription does not work, you do not get your back. That is not the contract.

Following this logic, I created an ethical foundation for Certified Laughter Leaders conducting therapeutic laughter sessions, during which they encourage participants to try various practices. The "contract" is not the promise of a cure.

The contract is the promise to do one's best, to be up to date on the evidence, to do no harm, and to continue to help search for whatever might have a positive effect on health and well-being.

Sustaining Motivation
We turned two energy sources --do-no-harm and intuitive logic-- into action. And, now, in some important ways, the best scientific evidence is coming in, proving that we were right.

It has been my great joy for many years to be associated with thousands of colleagues who are similarly motivated: to keep the world from spinning totally out of control, to offer pathways to a little bit better balance, to happiness; to encourage others to make humor and laughter therapeutic allies.

* To learn more about Helen:
HA HA Helen Marie Szollosy, O.S.E. (Outlook Shift Engineer!)
Gold Member: A.A.T.H. (Assoc. for Applied & Therapeutic Humor)
Speaker, Singer, Certified Laughter Wellness Program Facilitator, WLT
Live Life! Laugh Often!
facebook:  LAFOLOT
Mechanicsburg PA


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Happiness Comes to Laughter's Gate

Shaken (and Stirred) To My Roots
Within 24 hours this week two of my most important world's intersected in a fusion of zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. Thinking about it has just about blown my mind, opened my heart, and filled me with gratitude and joy.

Our 12-year old granddaughter, Libby, is doing a school assignment that requires her to interview her grandparents and learn something about their lives as children and what they have learned. I found myself getting deeply introspective. As I answered her queries, what came into focus sharper than ever, is my fascination with laughter as a significant path to understanding happiness and promoting love & peace.
Two of my favorite cousins and my Pop-Pop c.1950

Within a day of starting that interview process, I had e-mail from Gart Westerhout in Komatsu, Ishikawa, Japan. He sent me the Japanese translation of Good-Hearted Living(tm), which he and local volunteers had been working on for a year.

The Legendary Birds of Peace Laughter Session
The first laughter therapy club demonstration in the United States took place during the Spring of 1999, in Washington DC.

It happened that I was searching the Internet for any information about laughter, and I found Gart Westerhout. It was only the 3rd year of the Internet but Gart was searching, too.

Gart is the English-speaking director of a community theater group based in Komatsu, Ishikawa, Japan.

They put on original musicals at home and abroad, as well as producing school shows. When they were accepted to perform their show “Birds of Peace” at the Smithsonian, Pam and I were invited to see the performance, then have an American pizza party, followed by a laughter club demo out on the mall between the Washington and Lincoln Memorials. It was a real “first”!

The cast and crew were all volunteers from Komatsu, amateur actors; spoke no English. It did not matter. We overcame language barriers with laughter, pizza, signs, gestures, and my yo-yo tricks. It was a magical memorable afternoon. If you have visited our home, you have seen the large ceramic “lucky” frog which graces our home. They brought it to us as a gift of a friendship which remains to this day.

Click here to see a short piece from the finale of their recent production all about laughter.
The translation of one the most repeated line they are singing is: "Happiness comes to the laughing gate," or "Good fortune comes to those who laugh."

For this production a hand-painted poster, using an ancient technique called “kanji”, was commissioned to a local artist, Kazu Mori. It is titled Warao, meaning Laughter.
The kanji "Warao"

The artist has graciously given us exclusive permission to reproduce this beautiful, uniquely appropriate print, suitable for framing. It will soon be available for sale through World Laughter Tour, with a portion of proceeds going back to Kazu and the Osugi Musical Theatre.

I hope you enjoy the video. I found it very touching and hopeful for the future. I will let you know when and how to get your own print of the kanji Warao.

I am ecstatic over Gart's enthusiastic response to the idea that we will develop a series of live Internet exchanges between World Laughter Tour Certified Laughter Leaders and the children and other citizens of Komatsu. And, we will be sending a Laughter Ambassador to Komatsu.

Reaching halfway around the world to each other, Gart and I are doing our happy dance together.