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Happiness, Hope, and Humor - Three Simple H's That Will Change Your Life

by Kathleen Passanisi

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Published on this site: May 13th, 2009 - See more articles from this month

"The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for." -- Allan K Chalmers

If you were a parent, grandparent, or small child during the past forty years, Sesame Street was probably a large part of your routine. Intentionally or sub-consciously, we all sang along, played along, learned along. Sesame Street was a constantly changing show. New faces, new Muppets, new themes - but one segment was guaranteed. At some point, someone would come forward and say "Today's show is brought to you by the Letter ____." Bert and Ernie would sing a song about the letter, or it would rise, gigantic, out of a pool filled with children. Regardless of the set-up, the moral was the same: one little letter can change your life. And, as it most often is, Sesame Street was correct. Focusing on, singing about, celebrating the letter "H" can change your life. As Ernie would say, "Think of all the lovely words that start with 'H.'" Today and every day are brought to you by happiness, hope, and humor.


Happiness has many definitions. Happiness is one of the "Big Six" emotions, according to many theorists (also: surprise, fear, disgust, anger, and sadness.) To the hedonists, happiness is simply the maximization of positive sensory input. Yet, according to cognitive therapists like Arnold A. Lazarus, happiness results from "making reasonable progress towards the realization of a goal." Happiness is thought to be physically caused by high concentrations of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine in the brain, also attributed to waves of euphoria. Recent studies show that one's coping mechanisms can increase a person's happiness level, as can feelings of pride and self-efficacy.


Dan Baker, Ph. D., author of What Happy People Know, insists that a major key to happiness is gratitude! This automatically sets the mind on a positive path, ready to acknowledge, receive, and attract wonderful things. Bring happiness to your life by focusing on gratitude.

Keep a gratitude journal. Write down at least five things you are grateful for each day. Repeats are OK, and they don't have to be grand in scale. "I'm grateful bananas were on sale today" is perfectly acceptable.

Begin the day with thanks. As you rush about your morning routine, repeat a thankful mantra as simple as "Thanks." You will be surprised at how many things come to mind to be grateful for that you hadn't thought about before.

Remind yourself frequently. Mike Dooley, author of Notes from the Universe, recommends keeping a gratitude rock in your pocket. Writing yourself notes and/or setting an alarm also works well.


Although hope was considered a major emotion during Medieval times, the scientific age does not consider it to be so. It does, however, fit the five features of emotion determined by social constructivist James Averill: they are difficult to control, affect the way you think or perceive life events, affect behavior, increase persistence even in the face of adversity, and are common universal experiences. Hope is often deeply connected to one's moral values and appears most in situations where the outcome is uncertain. In fact, Norman Cousins' book The Biology of Hope speaks to the power of positive emotions in the healing process. Similarly, C.R. Snyder of the University of Kansas found that hopeful students had higher levels of academic success, even after a severe setback.


Reinvigorate your life by focusing on your goals and dreams in a hopeful way.

Write your dreams down in full detail. Allow yourself to dream big, or, in other words, write out your very-best-case scenario.

Confront your negative talk. If you are convinced your dreams won't happen, everyone else (and the universe) will agree with you. Sometimes we are so accustomed to our self-effacing thought patterns that we grow numb to the pain attached - but the negativity still acts against us!

Reverse negative patterns with healthy affirmations. Reduce your dreams to one easily repeatable sentence. Make sure it is grand enough to have emotion behind it, but not so big that your brain will instantly disregard it. Writing it as something "in progress" is a valuable trick. Repeat your affirmations whenever you think to. Carry them with you on index cards for easy reference.


Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines humor as "something that is or is designed to be comical or amusing." The Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor (AATH) defines therapeutic humor as "any intervention that promotes health and wellness by stimulating a playful discovery, expression or appreciation of the absurdity or incongruity of life's situations." Simply put, humor is a positive mindset coupled with the desire and ability to laugh. It has been shown to reduce stress, improve mood, raise self-esteem, and enhance relationships. It also makes life a lot more fun.


Applying humor to your life does not require you to "be funny," but it does require you to "see funny." Start finding the laughter in your life today.

Acknowledge your unique sense of humor. What makes you laugh? How does that differ from others' preferences? Save and collect clips (paper or video) that make you chuckle. Share them with friends. Reframe life situations into funnier points of view. According to Carol Burnett, "Humor is pain plus time." If it's going to be funny tomorrow, can you find a way to laugh about it today?

Surround yourself with people who make you laugh. Eat with co-workers who would rather tell a joke than gripe about the boss. Avoid sourpusses, grouches, and grumblers. Seek out people who understand that a little laughter goes a long way!

If all else fails, curl up and watch some Sesame Street. You're guaranteed a few good life lessons disguised as silly songs. You'll probably get a few good chuckles in, too. Too proud to watch children's television, even in private? If nothing else, remember the words of a kind, friendly monster named Grover, "Where there is life, there is hope." If a Muppet gets it, you have no excuses.

Kathleen Passanisi is a hilarious motivational speaker who focuses on the value of humor. A member of the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame, she has engaged audiences nationwide. Visit Kathleen's site at http://www.kathleenpassanisi.com today for more information or to schedule an appearance.

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