Put a Little Levity in Your Life

I’ve been writing New Year’s Resolutions for Early to Rise since 2001. In previous years, I’ve recommended that you make resolutions to improve your health, grow your wealth, become a better person, and shake up your personal life. This year, ETR’s experts have resolutions in all those areas that you can put into action.

My recommendation for you this year is a little different.

I want you to put a little Ho! Ho! Ho! into your life.

What, exactly, is Ho! Ho! Ho!? It’s a technique that will:

  • reveal important truths to you about life and living well
  • reduce tension and the troubles tension creates
  • help you overcome obstacles, even seemingly insurmountable ones
  • increase the dopamine in your system and make you feel better
  • improve your blood circulation, respiration, and digestion
  • greatly reduce the chance that you will die of cancer or heart disease
  • make you a more popular person
  • increase the speed at which you achieve your goals
  • give you more personal power

And the best things about this amazing technique is that:

  • It won’t cost you a dime to implement it.
  • You don’t need any special education or skills to take advantage of it.
  • It takes only a few seconds of your time now and then.
  • It gets easier to “practice” the more you do it

Are you ready to learn more?

In 1992, during the height of the rioting in Los Angeles, Terry Braverman was driving along the Hollywood freeway during rush hour. Looking through the passenger window, he saw fires blazing in the city. The odor of smoke was mixing with the familiar scent of smog, and it was making the bumper-to-bumper drive seem somewhat dangerous. He glanced at his fellow commuters, and could see in their faces that they, too, were feeling anxious.

Their anxiety made him feel even more anxious. He felt himself starting to panic. Then he remembered a simple maxim: You can’t control what you can’t control, but you are in charge of the way you react to it.

He decided at that moment, in the middle of the most nerve-shaking traffic jam he had ever been in, to lighten up. Luckily, Braverman had a way to do that. Being a professional comedian, he had a prop bag on the seat behind him. Reaching back, he pulled out a rubber clown nose. “This is just what I need,” he thought.

Donning the clown nose, Braverman again looked out the window. At first, he said, the drivers around him were doing double-takes, as if to say, “He’s a tourist. He doesn’t know what is happening.” But when he smiled, they got the message. “I wanted them to know that in spite of the circumstances we can take a moment to lighten up and suspend the downward spiral of distress.”

Reading this story in Terry Braverman’s book, When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Lighten Up, reminded me of that wonderful movie, Life Is Beautiful,
about a father who heroically keeps up his son’s spirits in a concentration camp by playing the clown. It reminded me also of Viktor Frankl’s great book, Man’s Search for Meaning, in which he tells about his own true-life experience of being in a concentration camp, and the amazing conclusion he came to after enduring the worst kind of human loss.

Frankl says, “As we see, a human being is not one in pursuit of happiness but rather in search of a reason to become happy. … Once an individual’s search for meaning is successful, it not only renders him happy but also gives him the capability to cope with suffering.”

In his book, Braverman also tells the story of Jean Houston, a philosopher and the author of A Mythic Life, who was traveling with a colleague to Washington, DC to speak at a conference that was meant to inspire attendees to be more creative. The colleague was complaining about how impossible it is to inspire creativity in government bureaucrats. “They spend their lives rearranging chairs on the Titanic. They are not going to listen to us,” she said.

“We’ll have to alter their consciousness,” Houston replied.


Houston explained that the best method she knew was through humor. So she was going to spend the first 10 minutes of her presentation making jokes. “At the peak of roaring laughter, one exists, as in mid-sneeze, everywhere and nowhere,” she said, “and is thus available to be blessed, evoked, and deepened.”

Houston’s “method” is one that many professional speakers use. Audiences are often ill at ease in seminar situations. When you are feeling that way, you are more judgmental and resistant. But if a speaker is good enough to get you laughing, you will open up to him a little. You will feel, “Okay. I’m ready now. Tell me what you want and I’ll listen.”

Braverman tells how Rich Little saved himself from being beaten up by a bunch of thugs. “I was pretty scared, but within 15 minutes I had them laughing. I was doing my whole act. … So I turned that around I don’t remember exactly how. I think I went into Louie Armstrong. … They didn’t know who I was, but when I started doing the impressions they lost their incentive to beat me up.” In this case, Little’s humor did more than improve his own mental state – it improved his fate. At the end, he says, the thugs were applauding.

We’ve all been in situations where we allowed ourselves to be swept away by anger. Someone – minsinformed or not – calls you an a-hole or a jackass, and you respond with curse words and fury.

When I have used humor in difficult situations, it has never failed to help. At the very least, it made me feel better by putting things in context: Life is short. We live. We die. It’s the same for all of us. Lighten up.

A great movie that touches on this subject was made in 1927. It is called Sunrise. It may take you 15 minutes or so to get into it, because it is in black and white and is silent, but invest the time. It is a powerful, moving story. And pay attention to the role that humor plays in it. It will make you want to be kinder and more loving. And it will show you how lightening up is so essential to that.

One of the most effective executives I know, the CEO of a major company, is a master of this powerful method of managing crisis. Because of his position, he often finds himself listening to senior managers who are upset about some real or imagined injustice done to them by some colleague in the business.

When I have been in similar situations – and I have been many times – my response was always to take the complaints of my managers seriously and try to work them out in a serious way. But “Chris” usually employs humor as his first response. He has a gift for making you understand how trivial your complaint is in the big scheme of things. I don’t know how he does it, but he’s done it with me a dozen times, and I can tell you it works.

Chris does a great job of resolving disputes because his first reaction to problems is to look for the Ho! Ho! Ho! in them. Most problems in life, it turns out, aren’t as serious as they first seem. Those that are can still be dealt with better when you approach them with a lighter attitude.

So that’s my wish for you this year – that, in the face of all this economic turmoil and the negative impact it may be having on your life, you find time, when you are stressed, to find some lightness in your soul. It may not change the direction of the Dow (unless everybody lightens up), but it will give you the energy and flexibility to move forward with hope and happiness.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]

Mark Morgan Ford

Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Wealth Builders Club. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.