Learning to Laugh

by Dr. Ryan B. Jackson

For my 40th birthday my wife threw me a surprise party. First time anyone had ever done that for me. I walked into one of our favorite restaurants expecting a cool, little dinner for two but instead—to my surprise—I was welcomed by family and friends, some I hadn’t physically seen in a very long time. After dinner, we all went back to my house. I’m an avid Nintendo collector. And I mean the original ’85 NES. Any time people come over and the NES is mentioned, undoubtedly the same two questions are asked, Do you have Contra and Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out? With regards to Punch-Out, everyone has an “I used to be able to crush Tyson!” story. This exact moment happened the night of my birthday. And it plays-out like this:

My friend Omar makes the claim so many have made before him, “I used to handle Tyson, easily!” I nod, suspiciously (as I have never beaten Tyson). My other friends, however, are not as subtle. “Pop it in and let’s see!” Now, if you haven’t played the game in a while (or at all), you’ll need to remember that Tyson is programmed to be exceptionally hard. The first 30 or so seconds of the fight you must spend dodging merciless uppercuts that’ll send you instantly to the canvas. We get the game loaded, quickly google Tyson’s cheat code, and before you can say, Lordy, Lordy look who’s forty, my friend Omar is squarely holding the controller, eyes trained on the TN and the bell dings—time to handle Tyson!

First punch thrown by Tyson, a lightening-fast uppercut sends Omar as Little Mac wilting to the canvas. I’m not sure if it was Omar’s stunned expression, the fact most of us doubted him only to have our beliefs affirmed, or the site of him mashing the buttons to return to his feet, but I lost all control. I doubled-over in laughter, tears beginning to well-up, even dropped to one knee. The nostalgia-gaming vultures would not let up, either. It will take years for Omar to live his claim versus the reality down.

Later that night I told my wife I hadn’t laughed like that in years. Years. Even hearing it alerted me. Why haven’t I laughed like that?

Most of us have heard the old saying, Laughter is the best medicine. However, you are hard-pressed to see laughter or laughing at the top of any Healthy top 10 lists. I am guilty of focusing on health imperatives such as diet, exercise, and goal-setting while, truthfully, overlooking—even ignoring—the genuine health benefits of laughing. That is until I decided to make it a focus.

On January 1, 2013, I made a life-changing decision to get sober. I was on a path to self-destruction with my family serving as collateral damage. So, I quit drinking—cold turkey—and used weightlifting as a lifestyle supplement that supported my health initiatives while combating my alcohol addiction. Since the decision to confront my alcoholism head-on, I have also severely limited my processed sugar and French fries intake, and most recently embraced the “flexitarian” lifestyle of an increased plant-based diet. I have been pretty public about the things I’ve cut-out from my life, so much so friends and followers routinely ask, What are you cutting next? Which got me thinking about the opposite…

What can I add to my life that continues to push me towards the health and leadership goals I continually set for myself, while also making life a little more fun?

I live with one of the happiest people I know. My wife Leticia can laugh at a stop sign. Her loud, full-body laugh always puts me at ease, but recently it did more than that. It got me thinking, Can I laugh like that?

Ever the fan of Viktor Frankl after reading his landmark memoir Man’s Search for Meaning, I ran across this quote: “It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds. … The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of trick learned while mastering the art of living.”

I’d heard before that joy is one of man’s innate emotions, with laughter serving as the manifestation of joy. I didn’t just want to get happier. Happiness is something that ensues. However, I did want to be more intentional of how I showcase my happiness—connecting the feeling to a visceral action. For me, this new lever of change is laughing.

A quick google search highlights the benefits of laughing: decreased stress hormones, boosted immune system, released endorphins, increased blood-flow, the list goes on… Yet, I don’t laugh nearly enough. Why? Am I not paying enough attention? Not present enough? Have I forgotten how? One of the values of Fit Leaders is sharing both our strengths and weaknesses. The idea being, if we’re winning at EVERYTHING, if our strength knows no bounds, are we truly growing? And if we’re not growing, are we really winning? I have adopted the mindset that growth is the purest form of winning; thus, embrace our weaknesses in order to chase excellence and overcome. Well, I’m officially announcing my lack of laughing as one of my weaknesses. I simply don’t do it enough.

For the sake of categorization, let’s lump laughing in with mindfulness. I love the attention on decreasing anxiety and stress while improving our well-being through mindfulness. The art of being present – yes, I think mindfulness is an art (albeit an inherent trait we all possess); it must be practiced. And, that’s what I intend to do in 2020: I am going to find the humor in the world around me while attempting to master the art of living!

So, heard any good jokes lately?


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  • Love your take on life and growth. I challenge you not to wait until 2020. I know we only have a few days left in 2019, but start now.


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