Monday, June 23, 2008
What is it that keeps me believing in happy endings? Maybe it's the same thing that makes me try to pull open the doors when I leave Deschutes, even though my brain knows that you have to push. It's the contradictory chasm between the way things are and the way we believe they should be.
I know that fairytales are only expertly spun works of fiction which are told from the p.o.v. of the winner, but I get absorbed in their pledges and promises anyway. My heart goes out to the underdog and I assume that everyone else feels what I feel and sees what I see when it comes to those who are fighting for a cause or struggling to get through the day. Take this picture for example. I drove passed this man today, let's call him Carl. Carl, like many other homeless and unemployed people of Eugene, chose a spot on the street-corner in an attempt to grab the attention of charitable soles dashing by. Carl, however, had no sign. Now, this isn't to say that he wasn't trying very hard or that he was just sitting there. Infact, he was standing on that corner with his arms up, firmly gripping a non-existant hunk of cardboard. At first, I was in disbelief. Had I actually seen what I thought I had? As I got closer, I could see that he really didn't have anything in his hands, which made me chuckle.
I'll be the first to admit that it's not hard to make me giggle...but it's much more difficult to grab my attention or get my mind fixated on something. Carl accomplished that. I contemplated the meaning of his missing poster. Perhaps he hadn't found the materials to create a sign, but was out there anyway, despite lacking a somewhat necessary tool. Maybe he was making a statement about how broke he was, or an environmental statement about saving trees. In any case, it impressed me that he was standing out from the rest of his peers.
After my errand, I drove back to that corner and pulled into a parking lot. I reached down and grabbed the bag of snacks that I keep in the car for when my children get out of school. Offering in hand, I told him that I thought he was very clever and he told me that he felt very stupid. Circumstances could knock any of us down at any time and while some may retreat within themselves and whither away, others will fight with every ounce of wit and will that they posess, just to get a good meal. Does this mean that some day his fairytale will end with him having a great job and cozy family of his own? Is that even the ending that he wants? I don't know. What I do know, is that even though Carl had no sign, it doesn't mean that he had no message.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Has someone ever heard you belly-ache about a situation and sworn to you that you'd laugh about it later? Did you?
Why do we take ourselves so seriously? In the American culture it's socially expected that we internalize our woes. The problem is that repressing emotions can have negative effects on our health. Fortunately, laughter's not only an effective form of stress relief, it's also acceptable!
Formal comedy dates back to ancient Greece, where it was used for celebration and honor. Humor has an infinite variety of subjects and forms. Comedy even transcends species. Did you know that even monkeys laugh? It's true! Like crying, it's often a reaction of the nervous system and it's the body's way of releasing stress which is converted into tension by the muscles.
Besides releasing dopamine into the system, a good laugh boosts activity in the T-cells which make antibodies and kill infection. It also reduces cortisol, a hormone responsible for raising blood-pressure and decreasing muscle-tissue. Laughter is good for you and everyone around you, because laughter can be contagious. I also happen to think that laughing is damn sexy!
Even if you aren't a natural chuckler, it's a skill you can learn. It's true that laughing (like tickling) cannot be forced within yourself, but you can practice! Imitated laughter, or uncontrollable giggling originates in a different reward center in the brain, but the effects are very similar. Pretending to giggle prepares your brain and actually helps you to laugh longer and more often.
To conclude my note, I have a little challenge for you. Next time you find yourself in a situation that seems less than funny, skip the waiting period and find the humor in it immediately. The change will have a positive effect on your health, your mind, and your popularity :)