A few years ago I was involved in a lawsuit, and it triggered a growing, ongoing anxiety that I just couldn’t shake. One day on my way to my lawyer’s office, I felt overwhelmed by negative thoughts. I crossed the lobby in a trance, pushed the button on the wall, and entered the elevator.
In the mirrored walls of the elevator, I could see my reflection. I saw the furrow in my brow, and how serious I looked. And, for some reason, it made me laugh. In fact, I couldn’t stop laughing. I was so visibly riddled with worry that the only relief was laughter.
I laughed my way into my lawyer’s office, and found humor (in the form of absurdity) in the rest of the proceedings. Even when I went in front of the judge, I felt calm. Eventually, I was acquitted. I had laughed my way through a rough time. And the worry I’d been plagued with before hadn’t helped a bit.
Since then, I have declared elevators “laugh zones," whether they have mirrors or not. Especially when I find myself enclosed in one with strangers. The awkwardness is no longer just that for me; it’s funny.
I think my humor in elevators is contagious. More than once, a fellow passenger has seen the grin on my face, and asked me what’s so funny. I just say, “elevators,” and they laugh, too.
I’ve expanded my laugh zones to include all publicly placed mirrors, reflective store windows, and even the bathroom mirror in my own home. Seeing myself is funny. Life is funny.
Even professionally, as a psychotherapist, I find myself using humor to relieve tension and connect with people. By holding up a mirror (metaphorically, and yes, sometimes literally) I help my clients tune into their own absurdity. Their laughter lubricates their growth, and helps them face the rough spots with a sense of self-acceptance. Our difficulties do not define us.
There are only three rules for making a laugh zone.
1. Any place can be a laugh zone.
Once my wife and I found ourselves in a medieval church in Spain during a recital by chanting monks. We needed to leave before the service was over to catch a train. We got up quietly to tiptoe out, and our sandals started squeaking loudly with every step.
At first we felt awkward, as people cast disapproving looks our way, but then got the giggles, and happily squeaked our way to the exit. Outside, we burst into laughter, and we still laugh with the memory of it. (It’s worth mentioning that our sandals never squeaked before or since.)
2. Once declared a laugh zone, that place can continue to be a source of joy.
You probably go into your office elevator, or see the fire hydrant outside your apartment every day. If you can turn those things into laugh zones, you’ll have a positive memory to associate with them, even when you’re in a bad mood. Small moments of joy like this make a huge difference over the span of a day, the span of a life.
3. You have to stop being a grownup to enjoy them.
Kids don’t get the “seriousness” of the adult world. They maintain a playful relationship with everything. Kids play with food; they play at school; they play at church. Playfulness mirrors a built-in lightness of being that’s wholesome and healthy. It just takes practice. Creating these laugh zones fulfills our innate need to play.
Joy is infectious, contagious, and there’s no cure. We spread it every day. Embrace it!
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