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Your Happiness Project: Make A Joke Of It

Posted: 01/11/09 08:29 AM ET

I'm working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone's project will look different, but it's the rare person who can't benefit. Join in -- no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday's post will help you think about your own happiness project.

Everyone says, and it's true, that one of the most effective ways to handle negative emotions is to lighten up. If things are sad, try to find a reason to laugh. If you're angry, joke around. Easier said than done, however.

I had a chance to keep my resolution to "Make a joke of it" last night. As a consequence of certain marital negotations last year (not conducted in the most happiness-boosting way, I must confess), my husband took on the job of dealing with my daughter's adventure in orthodontia. The orthodontist's office is right around the corner from his office, and he agreed that he'd schedule the appointments and take her. Which was GREAT!

On our flight to Kansas City for the holidays, the Big Girl lost her "functional appliance" (the new-fangled thing she wears in her mouth, except when she's eating). We looked everywhere on the plane; it was gone. We got back home a week later, and the Big Man didn't call to make an appointment. Days went by. I reminded him periodically, but nothing happened.

Whenever I thought about this delay, I became extremely annoyed. Last night, I stomped into our bedroom ready to turn on my anger at full volume. "This really matters, this is important, she's growing now, what's the point, it's expensive, she'll only have to have braces longer, you promised you'd do it," etc., etc., etc. Then I thought, "Make a joke of it."

So I went over, put my arm around the Big Man, and said nicely, "You know what? If you don't call the orthodontist's tomorrow, I'm going to be furious, I'm going to be enraged, I'm going to be beside myself. I'm not threatening, just giving you fair warning." And I laughed while I said it.

"I know, I know!" he said, shaking his head. "I'll send myself an email right now." And he did. And today he made the appointment.

I'm not sure if making a joke of it was more effective than getting angry, but I don't think it was less effective. And it was a much nicer way to have that unpleasant exchange. I was happier about it, and the Big Man was happier about it.

I used the same technique on myself last weekend. I had a bunch of dreaded, dull tasks to take care of. I told myself, "I'm going to clear away a lot of these chores in the next two days. It's going to be the 'Weekend of the Dreaded Tasks'! Like the 'Rodents of Unusual Size,' in The Princess Bride." As I groaned to myself as I put away the holiday decorations, organized my address list for our Valentine's cards, finally dealt with the mail that came when we were out of town, and other things too dull to mention, I repeated to myself, "Oh well, this is the Weekend of the Dreaded Tasks." And just making that little joke to myself made it easier to tackle those tasks.

Of course, I recognize that in neither case when I kept my resolution to "Make a joke of it" was I really funny. My jokes weren't funny at all. But just the attempt to take a humorous attitude made a huge difference.

It's easy to say "make a joke of it," but it's hard to do when you're feeling angry, scared, bored, or upset. Have you found a way to get yourself to make a joke?

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Interested in starting your own Happiness Project? If you'd like to take a look at Gretchen Rubin's personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email her at grubin, then the "at" sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than "Resolutions Chart" in the subject line.

 
 
 

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