Ever wake up laughing?

by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

What a way to start the day!

I was dreaming one of the most absurd dreams I’ve ever dreamed. Suddenly, I began snickering. Then, I began giggling at the fact that I was snickering — in my sleep.

My giggles were soon followed by my husband’s chuckles. And when he finally asked me what was so funny, my giggles turned into belly laughs. My husband and I hee-hawed until the bed shook with our amusement.

I was reminded of the famous phrase, “Laugh and the world laughs with you.” My husband certainly could not help but laugh with me even though he had no idea why I was laughing.

Interestingly enough, I couldn’t stop smiling throughout my day. Every so often, I would recall my laughter-filled morning and I’d start laughing again. I must say that it was one of the most pleasant and delightful days I’ve had in a long time. I found humor in everything.

I don’t think anything feels better than a good burst of laughter.

It occurs to me now that perhaps this is a good way to approach many things in life.

I’ve read about the health benefits of humor and laughter. Besides the list of physical benefits frequently given, studies have concluded that the ability to find humor in our life experiences — even in extremes — can help us look at our problems in a fresh way. Plus, seeing the humor in some of our most difficult scenarios can help to normalize our experience, particularly by keeping things from appearing too overwhelming.

Think about some of the everyday life situations often portrayed in comedy sitcoms. It’s usually when everything goes wrong time and again when we laugh the most. Are we able to laugh at ourselves on those days when everything seems to go wrong? Maybe we should.

It could be that our ability to find the humor in our lives is a powerful aid to finding solutions, making progress, and ultimately overcoming whatever it is that would bring us down or hold us back.

At the very least, we might be happier and more energized as we go about our day.

I had a childhood friend who never failed to see the humor in everything. In fact, my mom sometimes denied my requests to have this friend sleep over because she laughed so much. My mom said she could hear us laughing all night and consequently didn’t get much sleep.

And my mom was right about one thing. My friend laughed all the time and she made me laugh, too. She taught me lessons about finding humor in things that I’ve never forgotten.

I can honestly say she was the happiest person I’ve ever known. I wanted to be like her and I still do.

I think the ability to laugh at ourselves keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously and helps keep our egos in check. Perhaps if more politicians could laugh more at themselves, they would be able to get along better and make more beneficial decisions for the rest of us.

There have been many times when I’ve gotten angry at my husband. After my outburst — when we’ve stood there looking at each other in a stand-off of wills — we’ve often begun laughing. I sincerely think one of the times people look the most ridiculous is when they are angry.

The wonder and power of those moments, when anger was followed by laughter, is that whatever it was that prompted the anger in the first place, became a smaller issue than it at first seemed. And my husband and I could then make any adjustments actually needed that we both felt were fair and reasonable.

I can definitely say that waking up laughing is a better way to start the day than getting up on the wrong side of the bed. And even when I don’t wake up laughing, I plan to do my best to find the humor in everything each day. I just have a feeling that this approach will keep problems solvable and life happier and more satisfying.

The simple joy of flip flops!

by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

Can anyone remember life before flip flops? I suspect not, since flip flops are at least six thousand years old! I certainly can’t remember a time in my childhood when I didn’t own a pair.

Actually, in the United States, the flip flop caught on during the postwar 1950’s boom — which explains why I’ve always worn them, since I was born in the 1950s. Becoming part of “pop culture,” flip flops became a defining example of an informal lifestyle and came to represent the surf culture in particular. Being a want-to-be beach bum at heart, this is probably one of the reasons why I love to wear them.

What I find especially interesting is that the flip flop has been part of a general overall change in fashion during the past 20 years. Some people call this change the “casual fashion movement.”

In the United States, the flip flop market is estimated at $2 billion retail. It is presumed that most flip flop purchases are made by those between the ages of 5 and 50, which is roughly a consumer population of 200 million. Since I don’t fall within this consumer demographic, I’m here to testify that the flip flop consumer population is at least 200 million and one.

I have a confession, my friends.

I am a flip-flop-oholic. That’s right. I am addicted to flip flops. In fact, I sincerely can’t get enough of them. Just last weekend, I bought three more pairs to add to the more than two dozen on my shoe shelves — or maybe there are more than three dozen on my shelves. I haven’t counted lately. But I really don’t care how many I have. And I have no doubt I will be buying more in the coming weeks, since summertime is upon us!

Lately, I’ve been asking myself why I crave flip flops. Besides the cool and sassy styles, snappy and elegant bling, funky and fancy patterns, and pure, delightful comfort, I think it’s the lifestyle they represent that really whets my appetite.

I’ve reached a time in my life when I want to take life a bit slower and easier. I especially want to take most matters less seriously. And informality is something I want in pretty much every area of my life — church, work, travel, meals or other day-to-day activities.

Now don’t get me wrong. I do think “casual” can be taken too far. I still believe there is a right time and place for formality and tradition. I’m not advocating laziness and apathy. Nor am I throwing self-respect aside.

If you could see my closet, you would know I am very fashion conscious and enjoy dressing in the current trends. Living in Texas, where it’s very hot in the summer, I find it’s a pleasure to not wear hose and to have a variety of flip flop styles appropriate for any occasion — to the pool or to a wedding. Even within the casual fashion movement, there is still protocol and etiquette on what to wear and when. Yet, whatever the occasion, there’s something “footloose and fancy-free” about wearing flip flops to it. And I love anything that helps me maintain a carefree and relaxed attitude.

I wish I had learned how to lighten up when I was a young mother. I think I wasted much time and energy fretting and stressing over inconsequential things. I believe both my daughter and I would have been happier without so many rigid schedules to be adhered to. In fact, if I could do young motherhood again, I would opt for more spontaneity and impromptu decisions. And if things didn’t turn out according to my plans, I would be more adaptable and flexible.

My graduate school daughter is undoubtedly happy to have a more casual and lighthearted mom these days. And my advice to her is to not get so consumed by schedules and demands that she forgets to have fun and enjoy what she is doing. Jobs can be accomplished and done well while still maintaining a sunny and easygoing attitude.

So I plan to continue experiencing my simple joy of flip flops — probably much to my husband’s dismay. It’s all part of my plan to enjoy life as simply as possible. Life doesn’t have to be complicated. And I don’t think it is when you relish the simple joys of life — whatever that means to you!

Do you need more fun in your life?

by Annette Bridges. ©2009. All rights reserved.

Perhaps you’re among the three million people who watched the YouTube video of the piano stairs. Volkswagen has initiated the fun theory which asserts that fun is the easiest way to change people’s behavior for the better. And there’s a contest currently underway exploring such questions as “Can fun make more people exercise?” or “Is entertainment the solution to litter?” (www.thefuntheory.com)

I wasn’t surprised that turning stairs into a life-size piano resulted in more people taking the stairs rather than the escalator. I would definitely choose the musical option as the fun way to go.

What’ your idea of fun?

This is the question I recently asked several friends and family members. Everyone defined fun a bit differently. However, the idea of fun people most often noted is time spent with family, friends or a spouse.

There were two overwhelming commonalities for having fun — being outdoors and being outdoors doing some physical activity. So maybe fun is already making people exercise more. Folks noted “fun” as taking a walk, watching a sunset, water skiing, horseback riding, watching or playing baseball or ice hockey, attending a football game, swimming, gardening, going for a long run, sitting on the creek bank fishing, climbing a mountain, having a picnic when it’s sweater weather, and sitting out on the patio late at night with the tiki torches lit and a fire in the chiminea. The latter sounds like my kind of fun!

There were other fun ideas that didn’t necessarily require being outdoors, but they did require getting out of the house. This kind of fun was described as going out to dinner, shopping for shoes, attending live music concerts, visiting cool architectural spaces, exploring art exhibits and going country western dancing. I think my first vote of a fun pastime would be shopping for shoes, with going out to dinner a close second!

But apparently many people also have fun inside the comfort of their homes and sometimes even when they are alone. Folks mentioned such merriments as cooking, taking a Sunday afternoon nap, reading a good book, dancing when no one else is watching, playing with kittens and puppies, surfing the web, exploring spiritual truths to their depth as well as cooking and doing artwork with grandchildren. These all sound good to me, but I don’t have grandchildren yet. I certainly always loved cooking and doing artwork with my daughter throughout her growing up years.

One friend mentioned the excitement she feels every time she sees the beach. The exhilaration and jubilation is mutual, my friend!

Another mentioned traveling and cruising with friends as her idea of enjoyment. Sounds fun to me!

I was captured by the idea one friend shared: “Doing new things but not quite the “jump off the cliff in my wing suit” level.” Did you see that YouTube video? I’m quite sure I’m not ready to take flight in a wing suit, but I do love the idea of doing new things and traveling to new places as a preferred choice of recreation and amusement. Or as another friend said it, “Doing something unusual that’s not part of my daily routine — letting go of inhibitions.”

A couple of friends shared some ideas of fun which may best describe my current longing. One said, “Laughing so hard that tears roll down my cheeks.” And yet another friend summed up fun as “Anything that gets me to stop thinking and just ‘be’ — shopping, singing, dancing, laughing, or any combination of those.”

Sometimes I think too much about everything that’s going on in my life or a family member’s life or what’s on the news. And I want to stop thinking and just have fun the way I do when I’m at Disneyworld!

But one very wise friend reminded me that there is always joy to be found in everything. And she’s right. Thanks for the reminder. A change in my point of view has often changed my outlook from drudgery to joy.

The idea of having fun may sometimes seem far away, unreachable or unattainable. But I think this could be due to a limited view of what having fun means or under what conditions that fun is supposed to happen. Perhaps we need to broaden and expand our definition. My friends and family members have certainly given me more possibilities of fun to consider. And hopefully, you’ll find their list helpful as well.

And finally in the words of yet another thoughtful friend — “May we all find a little fun whenever we need it.” Or maybe — we could make our own fun by imagining our favorite song playing while we dance up the stairs.

Surprise me!

by Annette Bridges. ©2009. All rights reserved.

I love surprises — the pleasant kind! I can’t get enough of them. This may surprise some folks who think of me as the ultimate planner. And it is true that I tend to always have a plan and a “to-do” list in hand. But what most don’t realize is that I would also happily throw away a well-thought out plan for a nice surprise.

My husband surprised me last night. We were at a community outdoor concert and I was longing to dance. But no one else was dancing. Suddenly, my husband was standing in front of me offering his hand.

Did I take his hand? You bet I did! And I delighted all the more in my dance with him because of the joy of surprise I was feeling.

But why was I surprised by his gesture?

I wonder if my surprise had more to do with my low expectations than it did in his action. Of course, sometimes low expectations are the result of a history of behavior in similar situations. I can certainly recall attending many community dances where I didn’t get his invitation to dance, which is perhaps why I wasn’t expecting to dance with him last night.

I’m intrigued that my low expectations may have resulted in my surprise. The element of surprise seemed to make our dance all the more special.

There was a research study a few years ago that was trying to discover why the citizens of Denmark scored higher than any other Western country on measures of life satisfaction. The conclusion cited Denmark’s secret was a culture of low expectations. In short, the study indicated that citizens of Denmark had low expectations each year and reported they were pleasantly surprised year after year when their year turned out better than expected.

Even though I admit a possible correlation between my low expectations and pleasant surprise, I’m not convinced low expectations are a good thing.

No one rises to low expectations. And low expectations can become self-fulfilling prophecies that keep us from seizing a good and viable opportunity. And yet I understand the fear that high expectations may never be attained. No big dreams equal no big disappointment, some might say.

I can’t help but wonder if our surprise is sometimes something of a fault. Do we impose our own expectations upon others — often without their knowledge — and if they fail to meet them, they have failed to please us. And yet, we are surprised when they meet them because we didn’t expect they would.

I don’t think the secret to life satisfaction is found in low expectations but rather in living one’s life with the smallest expectations. By smallest I mean humble, modest, simple, unpretentious, honest and unpompous expectations for yourself and others. This would mean passing no judgment, making no assumptions or comparisons. There would be nothing or no one to criticize, condemn or complain about. No one or nothing could offend or disappoint us.

We would move along our life journey — learning, growing, loving and living. And we would recognize others are doing the same. We would be patient with ourselves and with others as we all strive to progress.

This is not life without lofty goals. On the contrary, we make goals and aim to reach them. We just don’t complicate our goals with self-imposed limitations or conditions that define our success or failure. Do we expect progress? Of course we do. Do we expect good? Of course we do, because our faith assures us that God is good and He loves us and only wants good for His precious children.

As we do this, I suspect we will all learn that we’ve been entertaining “angels unawares” all along the way. (Hebrews 13:2) In other words, God has been — and remains — in our corner giving His loving support and encouragement.

Perhaps our prayer to God should be, “Surprise me, dear Lord!” And we get our own frail, human sense of what is right or good for us out of the picture and trust God to direct us to what we need at every moment.

So I will continue to love surprises, especially when the surprise is a dance with my husband! Indeed, we can allow each day to surprise us with its discoveries and lessons. We can relish in the joy of each surprising twist and turn of our life journey. And our expectations can be for the joy of each surprise.

Joy – even on dark days

by Annette Bridges. ©2008. All rights reserved.

Even as the TV screen flashed images of raging water, a flood survivor was able to express humor in the midst of his own catastrophe. I was impressed.A reporter was interviewing this man as he stood on his home’s second-floor balcony. A swollen river had submerged his first floor. The reporter made the statement that this man’s town was under water and everyone appeared to have left. And the man chuckled and jokingly responded, “Yes, my town’s population is now only one.” Never during the conversation was there an apparent sense of doom. Instead, the man went on to share his confidence that he’d surely recover and rebuild.

As I think about this one story, I continue to be inspired by that man’s upbeat attitude and expectation. And I asked myself, How can I better practice joy on dark days?

Maybe you’ve heard the old adage, “Laughter is the best medicine.” I was intrigued to learn recently that there’s actually such a thing as laughter therapy. Apparently, a number of medical studies are concluding that laughter and humor, applied to distressing situations, just may be the best remedy.

But is humor merely part of a stoic “grin and bear it approach”? A “cheer up and smile” to someone who’s struggling? I don’t think so. Throughout my life, I’ve returned again and again to Jesus’ words “. . . and your joy no man taketh from you” (John 16:22). And I’ve discovered that nothing can take away honest joy, because joy is indeed God-given. In fact, I’m convinced that there’s real healing power and value in joy that springs from spiritual convictions. It’s this kind of joy that lifts us up, shifting our focus from a sense of human helplessness, to the naturalness of God’s care for His children.

I’m learning that being spiritually lighthearted means letting go of and placing the burdens of life where they belong-on the shoulders of our Father-Mother God. This truly does lighten all burdens by pointing us upward and making our days bright with the realization that there are infinite possibilities. God wants only good for His children and will lead us to “dry ground,” where we can continue our journey with sure footing.

I’m reminded of these words of Paul in his epistle to the Romans: “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (12:21).

This tells me that acknowledging the presence of God’s love-right in the face of chaos-will enable me to better feel the power of God’s law of good. It’s not about being in denial of the “bad stuff.” But I do believe that opening our thoughts to seeing a promising horizon enables us to find the spiritual levity that lifts us up, and brings with it all of God’s goodness, including joy. Who hasn’t experienced blessings from life changes that follow adversity? Much is to be
gained amid struggles, and often it’s depressed vision that keeps us from seeing what can be gained.

I love these words of the Psalmist: “. . . when my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Ps. 61:2). Nothing saps one’s energy more than the time and focus put into trying to manage crises. It can be overwhelming if we feel responsible for manipulating circumstances that are beyond our control. This ultimately leads to believing that the situation or problem is beyond God’s jurisdiction, too. Mary Baker Eddy wrote in Science and Health that such an admission “disarms man” and “prevents him from helping himself” (p. 394).

Maintaining a sense of humor can turn a once formidable looking issue into something more manageable. Consequently, this view provides opportunities for greater objectivity and creative insight.

Letting go of burdens, we also help ease them for others. After watching that one man’s lightheartedness when floodwaters filled his house, I’m putting my frustrations in perspective, and praying more consistently to acknowledge the power of lasting joy in everything.

Even through the darkest moments, cultivating a lighter heart (and sometimes even having a good laugh) can go a long way in helping myself, and others, break free from suffering and discouragement. The restorative effects of joy just can’t be underestimated.