Laugh Lines

 Who is your favorite comedian? What makes you laugh? Do you have a special friend that you laugh with? When did you last laugh out loud? Do you consciously seek laughter? Why? Why not?

By now, most people in New Thought know that laughter helps you to be happier and healthier. Scientific studies are always extolling the virtues of a good belly laugh. It is excellent exercise for body and spirit. On Sunday, our pastors remind us, “A merry heart doeth good like medicine”.

New Thought encourages a light heart and plenty of laughter in our lives. I am a teacher and student of New Thought with a background in psychology. I have even written some comedy during my long career as a writer. Yet, I don’t laugh every day unless I make it a conscious choice.

On most days, I do my own spiritual practice then I talk and pray with my prayer partner. After that, I work on my writing, pay bills online, play AARP memory games and make phone calls. I might meet a friend for lunch or run some errands. I finish my day by watching the news and a movie or reading a book.

My days are pleasant and I enjoy life it but they tend to focus on helping others and work. Sometimes I forget about how funny life is. Why is it that?

It would be wrong to say nothing funny happened. Truth is, I just need to pay attention. Or make some other choices. Mostly, it’s a matter of choice and habit. We are not stuck in our habits of thought if we think about it a bit.

New Thought is all about learning to think differently. We choose to look on the bright side and that choice does become habitual. That’s what I teach and what I live.

For example, I’ve consciously developed an attitude of gratitude. When I rise in the morning I make my gratitude list and that sets the pattern for my day. Over the years, it has become second nature to look on the bright side of life.

I’ve also quit drinking and smoking and cut down on silly eating. These addictions were triggered by habits of thinking that I erased. I’ve changed my thinking in so many ways, I know I can make laughter a habitual response to life. I can change my thinking and change my life.

A long time ago, when I took a graduate seminar in comedy, I discovered I was very confused about what passed for comedy. My thesis was supposed to answer the question, “Is Kafka Funny?” I said no but it turned out the professor had written a book on Kafka’s comedy. He thought I was wrong and I thought I was right. We did agree that the C minus he gave me wasn’t funny.

I still don’t think it is funny when the hero wakes to discover he’s turned into a bug, which is what happened in Kafka’s, The Metamorphosis. When I read that famous short story, I felt sorry for the poor bug. Cruelty and pain are the edgy part of some comedy and that doesn’t make me laugh.

That’s what happens to me- even in movies. I react with empathy instead of laughter. I just don’t think it’s funny when the fat lady slips on a banana peel. I always hated those cartoons where the rooster got flattened by a hammer and then would spring up again. I looked to me as though that hammer hurt the poor rooster a lot.

But I do love to laugh and I do believe it is good for us. Many years ago when I was in chemotherapy for breast cancer, I decided to choose only “happy, happy, happy” stories and I have stayed with that habit. It is a part of my spiritual practice and it works for me.

My comedy choices avoid ridicule, sarcasm and violence. The old movie Sullivan’s Travels makes a perfect argument for the value of comedy and I agree.  However, the prison and poverty scenes are not funny. I actually preferred the modern take off Oh Brother Where Art Thou. George Clooney and the music are fabulous.

What I like best is surprises. A total surprise is always good for a belly laugh from me. I laughed out loud when my six-year-old nephew poured coke on my friend’s bald spot. I laughed out loud when the hero stepped off the silver screen into real life in Purple Rose of Cairo.

Seinfeld is good on surprises. Cary Grant and Woody Allen have perfect timing when it comes to prat falls and other site gags. I love also a good site gag.

One of my favorite movies in the whole world is The Lady Eve. I like it when Henry Fonda falls over and spills stuff at the formal dinner party. He then changes his clothes and proceeds to fall and change several more times. I have seen the movie at least 25 times and I always laugh out loud at Fonda’s tumbles.

I learned to love screwball comedies from the 30’s and early 40’s during chemotherapy and they are still my best laughter flicks. Others on my best laughs list are My Man Godfrey and Bringing Up Baby.

Whenever anyone is down in the dumps, I suggest, “Bring in the clowns!” Danny Kaye was brilliant for a lot of reasons, including his marvelously responsive face. Lucille Ball’s TV show offers that same flexible reflection to life. She is the world’s best clown. Woody Allen came much later but he’s also a great clown and comedian. Have you seen Hollywood Ending?

The movies aren’t the only laugh triggers but they are easy because you can rent them. It’s more difficult to rent friends. And friends you can laugh with are treasures to be nurtured. I have a couple of friends who are always good for a laugh or two. The ones close to my age are the best. We are now getting to the place where we are so delighted to still be here that we think life is a great, big, wonderful joke.

Real laughing friends are wonderful. Imaginary movie laughter is also great. You can also be your own best friend if you put your mind to the funny things in your journaling. There’s nothing that says a memoir has to be about the struggles you’ve overcome. It can also include the laughter and fun you’ve found.

Your thoughts can be trained to include observations of the funny things are in life. I can make myself laugh out loud right now just by thinking about how things have changed.

My sister and I sometimes talk about our high school algebra teacher. Mr. Baker walked up and down the aisles, shaking his head and saying it was a shame we girls couldn’t just learn to bake biscuits instead of math. He was certain we would soon be married and our husbands would take care of all those nasty bills. I have been widowed twice and self-supporting. My sister has been a widow for many years and successfully manages her estate. Mr. Baker’s opinions always good for a laugh.

Of course life is no joke but laughter is good for us so it’s smart to seek out the light and bright stories in our days. We can decide how and where to send the light of our consciousness.

There are times when a good laugh is the true healing we need most. Our ability to laugh may also help people around us. I thank God that I can look at my own life and see that the laugh is on me.

Ask Yourself

What made you laugh today?

What makes you laugh generally?

What are your favorite comedians?

What friends make you laugh?

Would you like to laugh more?

How might you add laughter to your life?



Movie Mania

I saw a wonderful movie – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – and I recommend it. I don’t go to the movies much any more and this was a fancy theater with reclining seats, and charming waitpersons. It even serves lunch. Of course, the price of a ticket is $20. I remember the old Granada Theater of my youth which cost 12 cents a ticket. If you had a quarter to spend, you could have popcorn or candy.

It is more than inflation that brings the ticket price so high. The making of movies with all those special effects and exotic locations must cost a fortune. Even so, I suspect the real reason movie prices are now so high is that going to the movies is such a special occasion. Truth told, most of us rent them or wait till they hit cable.

When I was a girl people went to the movies all the time. At 11, I was charged with three younger children and we walked across town to the movies every Saturday afternoon. We made the trip without fail so my parents could take a “nap”.

Those were the days before ratings, when studios cranked out hundreds of flicks every year. We kids saw horribly dramatic pot boilers, B pictures that were almost unintelligible they were so bad, gruesome propaganda war stories, cowboys with only bad Indians, and a few heavy-duty dramas with great stars like Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart. I don’t remember any brilliant comedies – only Abott and Costello and they were not scintillating.

There certainly were movie critics in those days but I didn’t read them. I don’t remember being very discriminating, although in retrospect, I think I knew that Edward G. Robinson was a better actor than  George Raft. I certainly knew that Cary Grant was a genius.

I remember black and white flicks although Technicolor was around for pirate films and some musicals. But what stands out in my memory is the glorious backlighting and flickering shadows in those old fashioned stories. I still watch black and white movies on the TMC channel and never even miss color. Just as black and white photos have an inherent drama and mystery, so do the films.

Once, I tried to remember the books that influenced me as a child and instead of books, images from the movies kept popping up. That was when I realized that movies were such a great part of my artistic impressions and knowledge.  Like most Americans, I know more about Gene Kelly than I do Shakespeare.

I learned how to be tragic from Bette Davis, how to be glamorous from Rita Hayworth, how to be self-destructive from Ida Lupino and how to be courageous from Greer Garson.  Some of those old stars still hold up when you see them on the silver screen. Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, John Garfield, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Alan Ladd, and Charles Boyer are the leading men of my adolescent dreams.

Now, I watch the screwball comedies such as The Lady Eve, My Man Godfrey, Sullivan’s Travels. Those, along with Bringing Up Baby, Talk of the Town and It Happened One Night get played at least once a year on my TV. What are some of your favorite old movies?

I find the comedies hold up much better than the dramas. I have also discovered that there were some actors I ignored as an early teen who seem very talented now. Chief among these is William Powell. He had perfect timing and the ability to be dignified in the midst of amazing slapstick nonsense.

It isn’t surprising that I prefer the comedies today. I think they are helping to keep me healthy. From the time I experienced breast cancer about seven years ago, I have deliberately and consistently monitored my movies and books. I select the ones with happy attitudes.

I have long believed that what you put into your mind is important and I now choose to follow through on that belief. I make only cheerful entertainment choices. It doesn’t have to be “spiritual” but I don’t need to have it make me gloomy or distressed.  Do you monitor your selections of movies and books?

As a result of my decision to monitor my entertainment choices, I’ve developed a new appreciation of musicals. I have also learned a great deal about the movies that came before me – those that were created in the early Depression days when so many were struggling with unemployment and poverty. It was then that so many movies with great songs, such as Pennies From Heaven, Sunny Side of the Street and Look For The Silver Lining were produced.

There is no doubt that movies and their music helped my parent’s generation keep up their hope. There is no doubt that movies reflect the age we live in. I understand why those special effect films that I avoid are naturally fascinating to younger people. I understand and wish them well.

We’re all entitled to our own choices. Many of the movies I watch these days are as old as I am. Truth is, I don’t care for many of the modern flicks. So I’m grateful for the last three movies I’ve chosen to see. I loved them all and they were The Artist, The Iron Lady and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Ask Yourself

Seen any good movies lately?

Do you monitor your books for cheerfulness?

Do you choose movies that are upbeat?

Do you want to try it for a few weeks?