Today’s post is going to tackle a familiar topic from a very unconventional angle. I want to talk about happiness and some steps that I use (and encourage my clients to use) to cultivate joy in their lives and find humor, but in order to understand how I discovered these steps, first we need to talk about movies. Specifically, animated films.
During college, my best friend and I had a weekly ritual of going to the movies and stuffing our faces with fast food afterward while discussing whether we loved or hated the movie we’d just watched.
We both had a particular affinity for animated movies, even if that sometimes meant attending early shows that were usually reserved for kids.
One time, we heard about a film starring a penguin with a passion for surfing. We heard that the movie followed his journey to the top of the surfing world and that it was filmed as a documentary. We were both elated; we wouldn’t have skipped that movie for the world.
The movie, Surf’s Up, was only playing in the early afternoon, so my friend and I put on a brave face and stood in line with a bunch of kids and their nannies to get our tickets and popcorn. Laughing it off, we took a seat and idly speculated whether there would be “that kid,” the one who never stops crying throughout the movie and yet refuses to live the theatre.
While waiting for the movie to start, we suddenly noticed that my friend’s crush from college was walking to his seat with a huge box of popcorn. Shocked and amazed, we wondered, “Why on Earth is this guy watching an animated movie – this early in the day – like us two nerds?”
We were a bit stunned because he seemed like such a magnetic and serious person. He was always around a big group of people on campus, yet he was always more reserved than any of his friends.
It seemed almost unnatural that he was with only one other person at an early screening of an animated movie in an audience full of kids.
Naturally curious, my friend and I split our focus between the movie and stalking the guy. As predicted, not long after the movie started, one child began crying yet refused to leave the theater.
Eventually, despite our curiosity about my friend’s Prince Charming and annoyance over “that kid,” we were able to start paying attention to the movie, until suddenly we heard the most bizarre sound.
The sound was loud, erratic and very distracting – it was jarring, donkey-like bray of Prince Charming as he laughed at the film. “How could that be?” we wondered. “He is too perfect to have a bad laugh.”
Unfortunately for us, the movie was hilarious, which meant Prince Charming’s laughter went on and on. As you might assume, my friend got over her crush – right there in the theater – with boggled eyes and a mouth full of popcorn.
After that experience, we always referred to the guy as “Surf’s Up,” and never learned his real name.
And that’s how I’ve always remembered that movie since. Even though my BFF was a bit disappointed, we had the best time ever at the movie. We laughed so much, the movie was great, Prince Charming was too amusing, and every time we heard that kid crying, we couldn’t help but chuckle over our luck.
Despite a series of annoying or frustrating events, we kept our sense of humor and enjoyed each other’s company.
Learning to Chill Out with Surf’s Up
Flashing forward to a few weeks ago, I remembered this day out of the blue and decided to re-watch the movie and experience those happy vibes once more. It was incredible. I loved the movie even more the second time and was amazed by the insights I got from watching the film again.
Away from the screaming child and Prince Charming’s crazy laugh, I was able to see the movie in a completely different light. This time, what stood out for me from the movie is what helped Cody (the penguin surfer) become better at surfing.
A teenage penguin obsessed with surfing, Cody dreams of winning the most important surfing competition in the penguin world and embarks on a journey of ups and downs to become the surfer he always imagined he could be.
On his first attempt to prove himself, Cody fails miserably and wounds his reputation, hurting his credibility of getting far in the competition. This incident wrecks Cody’s confidence, but he strikes gold when stumbles upon his surfing idol, Big Z, who agrees to coach Cody and make him a better surfer.
Cody is eager to start training, but Big Z takes an unusual approach to coaching. The first task Big Z assigns Cody is to build his own surfboard by carving it from a log.
Photo Credit: http://www.sonypicturesmuseum.com
Impatient to finish quickly so he can get started surfing, Cody begins quickly and roughly carving the log. Big Z stops Cody and instructs him on the gentleness it takes to create something as important as his surfing board.
After completing this assignment, Cody runs to the water to surf, but to his surprise, Big Z refuses to start training in the water.
Instead, Big Z continues to give Cody random tasks that have nothing to do with surfing – like putting pineapple slices on his eyes. Cody becomes irritated but does everything Big Z asks. In response to Cody’s grumpy, attitude, Big Z (who is clearly enjoying every minute of training) says, “No joy, man. No joy. Fail.” and mimics writing the word “fail” on an imaginary evaluation sheet. Big Z’s goal is to get Cody to loosen up a little.
Later, Cody goes looking for Big Z and finds him sound asleep. Anxious to surf and not willing to wait any longer, Cody puts a sleeping Big Z on a surfboard and floats him onto the water. He jokingly throws a pineapple at Big Z, and Z wakes up to a wave crashing over him and pushing him to the shore.
Cody cracks up laughing, and Big Z, sounding upset, says, “Having fun, are we?” Cody can’t stop laughing and Big Z surprises him by announcing, “Cody, you passed! You did it! You’re ready. Let’s surf!” Overwhelmed with confusion and joy, Cody dives into the water with Big Z and they start surfing.
All Big Z wanted Cody to understand was that the most important element in his training is Having Fun.
The movie has many other interesting insights (and it’s honestly really funny), but this part was particularly brilliant and got me thinking about how many things in our life we should approach with more fun and joy.
When I first started cooking, I almost always burned my hands, dropped something, became flustered from not getting the recipe right or stressed myself out with trying to clean up while I was cooking.
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I used to hold a similar attitude towards my work, writing, chores – even making certain phone calls. I simply did not enjoy most of the things I did every day.
Upon reflection, I recognized a similar tendency in many of my family members and friends. They approached things that were supposed to be fun with trepidation, like making a family visit to the mountains, gathering for a family dinner or even deciding where to eat lunch.
I realized that over time, I had become more serious. My sense of humor dimmed with every setback and struggle I experienced. If Big Z had seen me cooking or working, he would have said, “No joy, man. No joy.”
Truthfully, Big Z and Cody’s story did something for me. As a positive psychology practitioner, I should know better than to intentionally engage in negative experiences more often than positive ones! For one thing, I have studied the impact of experiencing positive emotion. Positive emotions help us be more creative, productive, impactful and resilient.
I guess I just needed a penguin surfer to remind of that…
I realized that I have a choice about how I feel when I’m doing something. I can either:
- Enjoy what I am doing.
- Hate what I am doing.
- Be disengaged from what I’m doing.
The first option is not always appropriate (or easy). Sometimes it’s ok to HATE something that is forced on us or is unpleasant. It’s not normal to enjoy things that don’t align with our values or that are dangerous or harmful to others.
I have also found that it’s ok to sometimes not be 100% engaged in a task. There are things we do on autopilot because it’s mentally exhausting to give our full focus to every single thing we do. That’s why we have habits, which are shortcuts that we create in order to save our energy for more challenging or unfamiliar tasks.
“The main thing in one’s own private world is to try to laugh as much as you cry.” Maya Angelou
Still, I recognized that there was room in my life for more fun. I needed to find a way to enjoy the things I wanted to do, like cooking, writing, working, inviting friends over and working out. I even wanted to find a way to have fun doing house chores if I could!
To achieve this, I have started placing more intention on how I approach the things I need or want to do.
For example, now, whenever I’m cooking, I put on music or funny videos in the background, and I focus on enjoying the process. I still clumsily burn my hands here and there, and sometimes I catch myself stressing about the clean-up, but if I bring myself back to my music/video, I remember to be in the moment and to enjoy the art of creation.
In order to ensure that I love writing, I never sit down to write for the blog unless I’m in a good mood and excited about the writing process.
“My general attitude to life is to enjoy every minute of every day. I never do anything with a feeling of, “Oh God, I’ve got to do this today” Richard Branson
I have playlists for when I’m working, doing chores, running or showering. Incidentally, the Surf’s Up soundtrack is one of the playlists I listen to often.
Another thing that really helped me find my joy was getting back in touch with my sense of humor, which toned down the serious attitude I had developed.
Humor is a Character Strength
Did you know that humor is a strength of character? It’s an ability that everyone has and can be nurtured.
According to the VIA Institute, “Humor was called out by scientists as one of 24 VIA character strengths found across cultures and nations, found even on some of the most remote areas of the planet. Interestingly, humor is one of the strengths most connected with happiness and pleasure.”
We all have the capacity to develop our capacity for humor. We can strengthen our humor with several simple yet effective interventions:
- Applying humor: Spot or write about humorous things that occur during your day and add new, fun activities to your day (this could be as simple as watching something funny, calling your funniest friend, or reading jokes).
- Be spontaneous and playful around your loved ones. I like to play the, “If They Told You” game with my husband. I start coming up with random questions that are a bit puzzling and silly but a lot of fun, such as, “If they told you could eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?” or “If they told you could be any of your favorite cartoon characters, who would you pick and why?” Sometimes the questions get on his nerves, but we often end up laughing together at our silly answers.
- Tackle stress with humor: In moments when I’m really frustrated, I imagine what one of my favorite comedians or characters would do in my situation. Like, I imagine Kevin Hart reacting to something that happened to me with that look of his, and it kills me – it’s just too funny.
Another thing you can do is reflect on a stressful situation and write about how it could’ve occurred differently if it were resolved in a funny way.
Sometimes I poke fun at myself. For instance, the other day I had an awful phone call and I teased myself and thought “Well that could have been worse! Everyone loves gloom and doom from time to time!” This thought helped me feel a bit lighter and less serious.
Needless to say, we don’t want to overuse humor and fun. We have many other strengths that we can call on to flourish.
My invitation is to ask yourself: “Could I use a little more fun in my life?” I think you’ll find the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
The best part about joy is sharing it with those you love. If you found this helpful, I’d love for you to share it with anyone who you think might benefit – we could all use a little more joy, couldn’t we?
Niemiec, R. (2016, October 20). Tickle Your Funny Bone: 5 Humor Exercises to Get Happier! Retrieved May 29, 2019, from http://www.viacharacter.org/blog/tickle-funny-bone-5-humor-exercises-get-happier/