I Wonder…

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to choose to face each day with a sense of wonder?

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I recently had the privilege of spending a week with my granddaughter, Tatum.  We were celebrating her 5th birthday and took a trip together – just the two of us.  We went to a place that was familiar and comfortable for us both – but we had never experienced it without other family members present. It was magical. Wonder why?

We were together – with almost no agenda – where Tatum was given the opportunity to make choices and I was able to be with her and watch her enjoy the fruits of her freedom. Whether playing on a playground, on a beach, at an amusement park, reading a story, playing a board game, shopping or simply walking down a street. I observed the sheer pleasure of presence – total engagement in the “now”. There were times when I could almost watch her mind working on navigating the next move – and it was wonderful. There was joy in creating memories together.

Ellen Langer’s most recent book, The Power of Mindful Learning, (which I am currently reading and began after returning home from my time with my granddaughter) encourages the reader to be open to wonder and curiosity rather than being certain or limited by previous experience or “expert” advice . By looking at circumstances with a fresh, new and/or different perspective, we are given the opportunity to enlarge our life experience and explore possibilities.

This is what I observed and experienced in my 7 days with a 5 year-old: wonder, curiosity, freshness, enthusiasm, kindness, generosity, novelty and so much more. Yes – we went to a familiar place. And experiencing it from a “fresh vantage point” made me feel truly alive – and wonder-ful.

 

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Laughter is Really Good Medicine

I had the privilege of attending and speaking at the 29th Annual Convention of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor in Mesa, AZ earlier in April. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Brenda Elsagher (this year’s convention chair) for introducing me to the organization and encouraging me to submit a proposal to provide a break-out session.

Speakling at AATHNot only was my message well-received, the attendees and overall spirit of the conference was something I had never experienced before. Humor enthusiasts and practitioners from a vast array of vocations and avocations welcomed and embraced me with remarkable sincerity. The speakers, both keynote and break-out, shared information, research and experiences that unanimously highlighted the significant benefit of mirthful laughter.

I have taken courses in stand-up comedy and improvisation, with the intent of adding more humor to my speaking. The fruits of that learning are yet to be fully realized. (You can watch my stand-up routine here and decide for yourself.) It is much harder than it looks. Setting the intention to use these skills and have them be an authentic part of my message and mission is a challenge. My experience at AATH was enough inspiration to make it a priority, however.

Research – no longer just anecdotal, measurable physical and neuroscience data –   is accumulating that supports the power and impact of laughter on health and well-being.  It benefits you physically, mentally and socially. Just in case you need a reminder to laugh whenever you can, here is a few examples of the therapeutic value of humor:

Laughter relaxes your whole body. It’s like internal jogging.                                  Laughter is contagious – and does not have anything to do with germs.                                Laughter boosts immunity – less stress = more good cells to fight infection.                                                                                           Laughter increases resilience –  it really is easier to recover with a sense of humor.                                                                                   Laughter combats depression – it gets more endorphins circulating in your system.

Laugh often. It really is good medicine!!

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Resilience: Thriving not just Surviving

My webinar on Resilience is on YouTube! Check it out.

In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on. ~Robert Frost

Cancer is a very powerful and proficient teacher with the potential for profound transformation. It is a change that draws a line in the sand between the way we once looked at life and death and how we currently live life after surrendering, accepting, letting go and integrating that insight into who we are.
In his book, The Beethoven Factor, Dr. Paul Pearsall describes “Thrivers” as those who know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.” He defines “thriving” as stress induced growth that happens when we face a challenge. The way we respond to change – both large and small – is a good indication of our level of resilience.
Obstacles:Nobody said it was going to be easy.001Resilience is navigating the complexity of everyday life with resources that promote well-being and cushion us against being overwhelmed. Resilience is a complex set of skills and attitudes that can be enhanced and learned. A resilient response to change is far from effortless.

How do we increase our resilience? Primarily by putting forth the effort each day to focus on what is right – cultivating the positive. It sounds so simple. The key is focus – where are we bringing our attention? Positivity shines a light on things that are going well and expands awareness which allows us to learn new things and discover valuable resources.

Drawing on several sources, here is a partial list of key components of resilience:

Realistic Optimism – Focusing on the positive without denying the negative
Facing fear – Developing an adaptive response
Self-awareness and Engagement – Doing what you are good at
Mindfulness – Noticing without judging
Meaning and Purpose/Spirituality – Being part of something bigger than you are
Self-care – Sleep, nutrition, physical activity, etc. This is not a selfish act!
Relationships – Isolation is deadly. Connection is the currency of well-being.
Expressing Gratitude – Benefit from the pleasant memory of a positive event
Maintaining a Sense of Humor – Laughter really is good medicine
Having Resilient Role Models -Know who they are and what makes them so.

So does this mean that we only focus on the positive? No, I am afraid not. Key component #1: Realistic Optimism is focusing on the positive without denying the negative. Accepting the reality of circumstances – living with that reality – and setting the intention to look for  possibilities – or at least the possibility of possibilities! Allow yourself to rest, patiently, with an open heart and a quiet mind – take advantage of the opportunity to grow. All growth is about changing and adjusting to “what is”. Suffering, on the other hand, is resistance to “what is”. Narrow spots are tools that provide us with life lessons that lead us to compassion and wisdom. The rest is grace.

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Time for Possibility

April 2016 Contact.001

pos·si·bil·i·ty
[päsəˈbilədē]

NOUN
1. a thing that may happen or be the case: 
synonyms: chance · likelihood · probability · hope · risk

2. the state or fact of being likely or possible; likelihood: 
practicability · chances · odds

3. a thing that may be chosen or done out of several possible alternatives: 
synonyms: option · alternative · choice · course of action

4. unspecified qualities of a promising nature; potential: 
synonyms: potential · promise · prospects
ORIGIN
late Middle English: from Old French possibilite, from late Latin possibilitas, from possibilis ‘able to be done’ (see possible).

It has been a long winter in Minnesota. It is almost mid-April. In my garden, all that I can see is soil and mulch. The trees have buds, but there are yet no blossoms. It is a perfect reminder for me that the seeds that will bring blooms and beauty of spring are already there. This is the time for cultivating possibility, another form of seed.

Are you stuck in “winter”? Is pervasive negativity getting you down? Are we really powerless in our response to fear and the abundance of bad news? Which bandwagon in the parade of current issues of darkness are you riding on? Looking for a respite? Let’s focus for the next few minutes on abundance (Yes, And…. vs Yes, But….) and possibility (How can we…? vs Can we…?)

Experts in and studies on the field of positive psychology abound. There are over 15,000 titles available on Amazon alone on the topic. I did not read them all in preparation for this post, but I have read several over time. There are some who would advocate that reading 3 or more books on any one subject makes me an expert in the field. I do not subscribe to that opinion. I do, however, subscribe to the theory that “we” trust more in what “they” say; especially if they have initials after their name. I have studied the subject of positivity to bring outside, credentialed authority to what I have found and know to be true in my life: stuff happens that may not be pleasant, convenient or nice and I get to choose how I respond to it.

In his landmark book Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote “The last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.” Each moment of each day, each of us is given the opportunity to “choose our attitude” and act accordingly. Changing our perspective; noticing variability; bypassing labels; and exploring our capacity to respect (look again) and acknowledge difference, empowers us to shine the light of our uniqueness into the darkness. Collectively, we have the power to bring positive possibilities into reality. Where is your focus?

I do not believe I am alone in wondering how I can make a difference. Won’t you join me in a campaign to see things through a new lens? Be in abundance rather than be harnessed in scarcity. Stay open to possibility rather than be closed off in certainty. While I do not pretend to have all the answers, I do have a suggestion: Wear rose colored glasses and laugh.

Ruth Bachman, W., W., M., G.O.F., R.H.A., A.A.P.P.
(Ruth Bachman, Woman, Wife, Mother, Grandmother of Four, Right Handed Amputee, Almost Always a Positive Person)

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Transformation is Intentional

 

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Change is inevitable. In the song, “Closing Time” there is a lyric, “Every new beginning comes at some other beginning’s end.” Transformation is intentional. While a gift of grace, it is purposeful and not effortless. Within the depths of winter, it is hard to imagine spring. The beauty of nature takes time. Think of transformation as tending a garden – your very own little plot of earth. Trust that it can be cultivated and that cultivation will bring it to its full potential. Even though it’s full of rocks and the soil is dry, you begin to plow this plot with patience, sowing the seeds of your future well-being. At the beginning, joy might be found in just feeling that your situation – your little plot of earth – is workable. You stop looking for a different or better place to be. This does not mean that there are suddenly flowers growing where there were previously only rocks. It means you have confidence that something will grow here. As you cultivate your garden, tending it with a quiet mind and an open heart, the conditions become more conducive to growth and transformation. Slow down, breathe deeply, listen to your heart. Have patience. Something will blossom.

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Be Mindful

I had the privilege and pleasure to spend about 10 hours in the presence of Jon Kabat-Zinn a couple if weeks ago. It was exactly the experience I needed at that time, a worthwhile reminder of the invaluable quality of mindfulness.

Jon was in the Twin Cities to help celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota. I had the same privilege in 2005 when the Center was celebrating its 10th anniversary. 10 years ago I was just beginning to carry this message about change, after losing my hand to cancer in 2003. I had been aware of and practicing mindfulness for 10 years before that time, however; having taken a class in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. Jon is the program’s founder and his book, Full Catastrophe Living is the central text. My decision to take the course came along with the great need and genuine desire to grieve well the death of my sister, Kristin. She had died of malignant melanoma early in November of 1991. I knew I did not have the resources necessary for that journey.

Mindfulness, defined as full awareness, Is a subject that I know and subscribe to practicing. I am certainly not expert or perfect in my knowledge nor my practice, but I am keenly aware of it’s value and benefit. Presence, the ability to “be” where you are in the present moment, is a key characteristic of mindfulness. This is the goal of meditation: simply being present to this moment and the next moment and the one after that, for the infinite number of moments we have to live. No matter what form of meditation you practice (and there are many), presence is the conditioning that allows for a whole-hearted response to life’s experiences – good, bad or otherwise; mindfully embracing whatever is happening at any given moment. Being present, saying “Yes, this has happened. And now what?” is the path to awareness and acknowledgment of the richness of life, both the joy and the sorrow.

That is why I was drawn to mindfulness and found it so invaluable in my grieving journey. Every grieving journey is a unique one. There is no road map with which to travel, no time table and no neat progression from one state to the next. It is a necessary, even mandatory journey of awareness, acceptance, integration and …. of what or who is gone. It is a narrow spot, a loss, a change requiring awareness, attention, presence and patience.

Patience is not passively waiting until the pain goes away or while someone else does something. It is an honest, gentle relationship with yourself and the moments of your life. Patience is another key characteristic of mindfulness. When I find myself saying, “I don’t have time for meditation today.”, I (kindly)remind myself that it only takes a minute, a few short breaths, to bring myself around to awareness of what life is showing me at that given moment. That moment is a gift.

Presence and patience are two of the pearls on my string. Oysters create pearls as a result of sand getting inside and causing irritation. If you are at all familiar with my message, you know how important sand is. My pearls have been created by being mindful of the irritation that has gotten inside the hourglass of my life, either by accident, design or happenstance. My sand has been refined and redefined many times by my narrow spots. When I sit, mindfully, with patience and presence, I find the pearls while sifting through and discovering my sand’s new arrangement. It is always a worthwhile endeavor. You know what happens to the oyster that fails to create a pearl. Death will happen to all of us at sometime. I have set the intention to be mindful and create as many pearls as possible until that eventuality. Join me?

Listen to an interview with Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn

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Express Gratitude

‘Tis the season…

“People who come to recognize the benefit of navigating narrow spots with patience,
presence, faith, intention, humor and community
find expressing gratitude to be the beginning of giving back.”
Ruth Bachman (Growing Through the Narrow Spots, 2013)

Being grateful is an invaluable asset – professionally and personally. Gratitude is an attitude of appreciation that acknowledges some benefit or kindness received. It is the first step in giving back to an individual, organization or community for their generosity. Being thankful, and expressing it – no matter how small the gift – spreads abundance in the world, instead of scarcity. Scarcity is worry that somehow the gift is not sufficient – not quite right or what is expected. The world would certainly be a different place if more people came to each day with a spirit of abundance rather than scarcity.

For some time gratitude has been the focus of scientific research and is actually proven to have an impact on your well-being. From the Wall Street Journal: ”…adults who feel grateful have ‘more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not’, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholics.”

Gratitude is good for your health! Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., a leading scholar within social and positive psychology, is one of many experts on the subject of gratitude. She writes, “Positive emotions play an essential role in our survival. Positive emotions, like love, joy, and gratitude (emphasis mine), promote new and creative actions, ideas, and social bonds. When people experience positive emotions, their minds broaden and they open up to new possibilities and ideas. At the same time, positive emotions help people build their personal well-being resources, ranging from physical resources, to intellectual resources, and social resources (Positivity, 2009).

Practicing gratitude, whether writing in a Gratitude Journal for yourself, or writing thank you notes to others, is really about paying attention to the good things in life, some of which we take for granted: a beautiful day; a well-timed hug; a referral; recognition of a job well done; being given an opportunity to share your gifts; acknowledgment of your time, effort and commitment to a task or a cause. It’s easy to overlook the regular sources of goodness in our lives. One act of kindness deserves another. One can assume “they” probably already know you’re thankful, but by communicating it verbally or in written form, you are giving a gift in return. Expressing gratitude can make your day as well as that of the recipient.

So get started. Make someone else’s day at the same time you broaden your mind; discover new possibilities and ideas; and enhance your resources for resilience. Don’t communicate gratitude by text or email. If you must use electronics, pick up the phone for an in-person call. Better yet, get out your best pen and paper and reap all the benefits of saying “Thank you.”

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” — Melody Beattie

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The 3 A’s

Teach me how to trust my heart, my mind, my intuition, my inner knowing,the senses of my body, the blessings of my spirit. Teach me to trust these things so that I may enter my sacred space and love beyond my fear and thus walk in balance with the passing of each glorious sun. ~Lakota Prayer

That prayer is very meaningful for me. I found the quote on a notecard in a small gift shop over the weekend. The words struck a chord on my heart.

I am having trouble with my 3 A’s – Authenticity, Authority and Autonomy. By trouble I mean questioning my ability to trust who I am and where I stand in my sacred space. How does my sacred space create reasonable boundaries for interaction with others, allowing room for the sacred space where I stand and that in which another stands? Whenever I feel this way, it is easy for me to default to the messages I have heard, from myself or others, since childhood. These messages are ones I have memorized and can deliver to myself in a nanosecond, without hesitation. But today is different. I am resisting going to those familiar messages. They are not true for me any longer – at least not at this minute.

I am not going to share a list of what is found in those messages. I trust that if you have traveled down any spiritual path, or entered into any kind of therapy, you know what nature and voice those messages represent and the damage they can inflict. Instead, I want to share the insights I recognized in a relatively short time this week – but with great effort.

Dictionary definitions are helpful, but not always insightful for integration into life. Merriam Webster has the following definitions:
Authenticity: real or genuine : not copied or false
Authority: originator, a quality that makes something seem true or real
Autonomy: the quality or state of being independent, free, and self-directing

When it comes to integration, here is what I am thinking today.
Authenticity is being tuned into what I bring to each moment – whether by myself or with others. Paying attention to how my heart feels when I am in conversation. Slowing down to listen to my heart and having compassion for the people in my circle of life.
Authority is being real – confident in the knowledge that I am enough for what I need to accomplish today, in this moment; not bending my real nature to accommodate someone else’s without being aware of what I am doing and why.
Autonomy is being in control of how I respond to life’s circumstances. I may not get to chose what or when change occurs in my life, but I do get to control what I do with the change. “Yes, this has happened. And now what?”

One of my precepts for life, and a key component in my message, is that change is inevitable. Change is relentless. No sooner have you accepted something in life when something else happens. Your hourglass is overturned again. Sifting through the new arrangement in your sand, you find the possibility for moving forward – there is still room to live. Life is a story. Your story is determined by the significant moments – the narrow spots – where something happens.

Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion. ~Barry Lopez

When we tell a personal story out loud, we discharge some of its danger and darkness. Visiting an experience through story is like shining a light into a dark closet. Narrative is part of our human nature. We live it, hear it and create it each day. Stories connect us to others and help us process, heal, problem solve, express feelings, remember and celebrate.

Being free to be me – to live and tell my story – is a challenge. When I find myself being drawn off course, needing to correct and redirect that course so that I am being true to who I have grown to be; I look to the resources I have sifted out from my sand. I set an intention to move forward and learn new things about myself and others in an honest and open atmosphere.

Today I claim my sacred space and set the intention to walk there more often. Thank you for listening.

I must be a mermaid. I have no fear of depths and great fear of shallow living.
~Anaïs Nin

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Know When to Hold ‘em AND Know When to Fold ‘em

IMG_3392I hiked Mt. Whitney in California in August. It was an adventurous experience initiated by a question posed at a speech given to the Edina Rotary Club in October, 2013. I had shared some of the stories from my trek in Nepal with Above & Beyond Cancer as part of my message about living life resiliently. One of the attendees asked, “So, will you become a mountain climber?” I laughed and answered, “No, but I would climb Mt. Whitney with my brother, if he invited me.” My brother, Bruce invited. I accepted. And the adventure began.

Bruce is 73 years old. He is a lifelong Boy Scout, with vast experience in camping, back-Bruce Mt. Whitneypacking and hiking. He has hiked Mt. Whitney 6 times in the past, most recently 5 years ago. Bruce is a 4 year, Stage 4 Prostate Cancer survivor (the cancer has returned in his torso) and he had a stroke 3 years ago, from which he is well-recovered. My request to hike with him was met with some fear and trepidation by my sister-in-law, Debbie. But as long as the doctor blessed the endeavor and one of his sons joined the group, it would be okay. My nephew, Kevin joined the team. The group was rounded out by my daughter-in-law, Jessica. Full of high expectation for the experience, we walked through the portal to begin our trek to the summit Mt. Whitney at about 8:00 a.m.. The altitude at that point is about 8,000 ft.

With a pretty good history of hiking in MN, WA, OR, CO, NM, CA, Italy and Nepal, I had Whitney 2015confidence in my ability to meet the challenge of the trail. I do not have vast experience in back-packing, however. I think I was a 10 year old Girl Scout the last time I carried an overnight pack. I quickly renewed my appreciation for the Sherpa of Nepal as we embarked on this journey. It was hard to carry what I would need for one night of camping and the summit attempt. My pace was slower than Kevin’s and Jessica’s, and I was grateful to be able to match that of Bruce. The bottom of the well-maintained, winding trail is beautiful, verdant forest. After our stop for lunch, we quickly reached the tree line and began the remaining 2 hours of hiking on the very rocky trail. I was grateful for Bruce’s pace. We reached the rocky terraincampground (altitude ~12,000 ft) at about 3:00 p.m.. As the sun went behind the mountains, it got cold. After an interesting meal of a variety of freeze-dried entrees and a dessert to celebrate Jessica’s birthday, we climbed into out sleeping bags for warmth and the hope of restorative sleep before attempting the summit early the next morning.

With high expectations and confidence, the 4 of us set out. First we encountered the infamous 99 switchbacks, and then continued to traverse rocky terrain toward the summit.more rocks At about 13,500 ft, Bruce said he was having trouble catching his breath. The desire to complete the hike to the summit was there – strong as ever – but his body recommended reconciliation with reality. It was time to turn back. I told Bruce that I did not need to summit, that my purpose had been met: to have this experience with him and the success would be found in what we had already accomplished and returning home safely. So the two of us turned around and Kevin and Jessica went onto the summit.

After everyone returned from the summit, we had a quick lunch, packed up (did I mention that I really longed for a sherpa or a yak to carry my pack?!) and headed down to the portal. While going down is theoretically easier than ascending, the descent became increasingly difficult. I longed to be free of my pack and Bruce was having increasing difficulty with his stamina. With about 45 minutes left in our hike, Bruce’s pack was shifted to Jessica, Kevin carried both his own and Jessica’s and I carried mine down the remaining winding mountain trail. We reached the portal in less than grand fashion. After a brief respite, we piled our belongings and ourselves into the car and returned home – safe, exhausted and grateful.

So what did this experience teach me? That I am a very fortunate thriver: I have learned “when to hold ‘em and when to fold ’em”. I willingly initiated and entered into this experience with an open-mind, a willingness to be present and what I thought was sufficient physical conditioning to meet the challenge. I depended on the knowledge and expertise of those in my company to navigate the unknown. I measured success by the total experience, not by the achievement or failure of others. I went to hike Mt. Whitney together with my brother. Mission accomplished. I am very grateful.

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Maintain A Sense Of Humor

A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs – jolted by every pebble in the road. ~ Henry Ward Beecher

At the National Wellness Conference, I participated in a breakout session, “Laughter: It’s No Joke” on the essential role humor plays in our well-being. It was led by Sandy Queen, a well-respected speaker and humorist. She shared some great jokes, as well as describing the structure of humor and pointed out interesting research about how and why we respond to humor. I was hooked before I entered the room.

Comedian, cancer survivor and friend, Brenda Elsagher and I worked together at a survivorship event in 2013. We met again soon after and she was very generous in helping me explore how to interject more humor into my speeches. I followed her suggestions and have come to realize that there is more humor in my story than I have been willing to share. Actually, I used to include a whole humorous section that I entitled “There is Nothing Funny About Cancer.” But over time, I got away from that format and lost some of that humor. The time for change has come. It is a bit of a narrow spot for me.

In July, I started a stand-up comedy class at Stevie Ray’s Comedy Club in Chanhassen, MN. Carl Olson, the stand-up comic/teacher has shared additional invaluable information about the structure of humor and the reality of stand up. I was busy writing jokes while attending a writer’s retreat in Taos, NM. I was the only “comedy” writer in the bunch. I tried out my routine on the assembled audience before returning home. They laughed! My “recital” is in two short weeks.

When we are confronted by a narrow spot in our lives – a change that feels difficult to navigate – it may seem irreverent to either express or accept humor. But experts agree that even during the most difficult circumstances, maintaining a sense of humor and allowing ourselves a laugh can work wonders, having a positive effect on our psychological, emotional, and physical health – our sense of well-being. Laughter can go a long way to heal us.

Humor has various benefits. Allen Klein, in his book, The Healing Power of Humor, discusses how humor can help us get through losses, setbacks, disappointments, and illness by giving us a sense of power and a way of dealing with these difficult situations. It does this primarily by helping us, even for a short period of time, to change our perspective and look at our situation from a different angle, developing a new relationship with what or who has changed. Humor and laughter can provide a respite from pain and sadness.

There is a growing body of research, some of it anecdotal, indicating that humor and laughter really are good, if not the best medicine. When we laugh, healthy physical changes are triggered within the body. Our immune system is enhanced by decreasing stress hormones and increasing infection-fighting antibodies, thus providing resistance to disease. Our entire body relaxes for up to 45 minutes after the laughter has ceased. Our heart experiences increased blood flow and enhanced function of blood vessels, which in turn can protect us from heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems. In addition, endorphins, our body’s natural “feel good” chemicals, are automatically released.

The benefits of laughter and even the benefits of a simple smile extend far beyond physical changes. Laughter is very strong medicine. It brings our mind, body and spirit into quick and meaningful balance. The depth and breadth of our sense of humor go hand in hand with having a positive attitude and building resilience. (Read more about building resilience in my March 14, 2015 Blog Post)

So, how do you promote humor and laughter in your life? Find your resources and keep them handy. Perhaps make a list of books, videos and/or movies that are sure to bring a smile to your face – and a deep, down belly laugh to your heart and soul. And don’t keep your sense of humor a secret. Laughter is contagious. Share it freely. Hang out with some funny people. Come to my Stand-up Comedy Recital on August 9. I promise to be funny.

Watch the video of the Re-Play on October 23

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