Sunday, November 22, 2015

Lighten Up!

At a Washington press dinner thirty years ago, fun-loving Washington Redskins running back John Riggins turned to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and jovially barked, "Lighten up, Sandy, you're too tight!" If there was such a thing as going "viral" in 1985, Riggins' quip went viral. 

I relate and understand exactly where Mr. Riggins was coming from as I often tell people to lighten up as well. You see, I too love to laugh and have always been considered "Happy-Go-Lucky." In fact, I was nominated to that category in my high school yearbook by my classmates. I am often told that I laugh and/or smile regardless of how bad the situation may be. Yes, I tend to see the humor even in the most morbid of circumstances. So when someone appears tight or heavy burdened to me, I tend to offer the same advice as the former Redskins running back.

As I was thinking about those words today, it dawned on me that "Lighten Up" could be construed in more than one way. Most often we think of lightening up as taking the weight off or loosening up hence the B part of Mr. Riggins' quip of "you're too tight."  In other words, you are too serious or too rigid. But it came to me today that "lighten up" could also be interpreted as one who needs to rid themselves of the darkness that is inside of them. Depression is darkness. Anger is darkness. Fear is darkness. Jealousy is darkness. Bitterness is darkness. Holding a grudge is darkness and this list does not stop here.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in one of his speeches that "Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that."  There are many parts of the Bible that mention light as detailed below:
  • Psalms 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.
  • Matthew 5:14 You are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
  • Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
  • John 1:5 And the light shines in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
  • John 8:12 Then spoke Jesus again to them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
  • John 12:35 Then Jesus said to them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness come on you: for he that walks in darkness knows not where he goes.
  • Ephesians 5:14 Why he said, Awake you that sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.
  • James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no fickleness, neither shadow of turning.
  • 1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light;
  • 1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleans us from all sin.
  • Revelation 21:23 And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.  
So it would behoove all of us to "LIGHTEN UP" in order to bring some light to a dark world that is getting darker. Recent headlines such as Suicide bombing in Nigeria kills 8, Mali hotel attack: Gunmen barged in, shot at 'anything that moved' Cameroon: At least 6 killed in suspected Boko Haram suicide bombings and Paris Terror Attacks  illustrate for us just how dark our world is.

One common denominator for both definitions of  lighten up is laughter and humor. A sense of humor and laughing drives darkness from within as well as loosens up those who are tense, always serious, and rigid. According to a study by psychologists Herbert Lefcourt, of the University of Waterloo, and Rod Martin, Ph.D., now at the University of Western Ontario.Stressed-out folks with a strong sense of humor become less depressed and anxious than those whose sense of humor is less well developed. In this article printed in its entirety appearing on the MAYO CLINIC website we learn the following about laughter/humor and its benefits.

By Mayo Clinic Staff 
 When it comes to relieving stress, more giggles and guffaws are just what the doctor ordered. Here's why.
Whether you're guiltily guffawing at an episode of "South Park" or quietly giggling at the latest New Yorker cartoon, laughing does you good. Laughter is a great form of stress relief, and that's no joke. 
 Stress relief from laughter
 A good sense of humor can't cure all ailments, but data are mounting about the positive things laughter can do.
 Short-term benefitsA good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn't just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughter can:
  • Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
  • Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response and increases your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
  • Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress. 
Long-term effects
 Laughter isn't just a quick pick-me-up, though. It's also good for you over the long haul. Laughter may:
  • Improve your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. In contrast, positive thoughts actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.
  • Relieve pain. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers. Laughter may also break the pain-spasm cycle common to some muscle disorders.
  • Increase personal satisfaction. Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.
  • Improve your mood. Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter can help lessen your depression and anxiety and make you feel happier.
Improve your sense of humor
Are you afraid you have an underdeveloped — or nonexistent — funny bone? No problem. Humor can be learned. In fact, developing or refining your sense of humor may be easier than you think.
  • Put humor on your horizon. Find a few simple items, such as photos or comic strips that make you chuckle. Then hang them up at home or in your office. Keep funny movies or comedy albums on hand for when you need an added humor boost.
  • Laugh and the world laughs with you. Find a way to laugh about your own situations and watch your stress begin to fade away. Even if it feels forced at first, practice laughing. It does your body good.
  • Share a laugh. Make it a habit to spend time with friends who make you laugh. And then return the favor by sharing funny stories or jokes with those around you.
  • Knock-knock. Browse through your local bookstore or library's selection of joke books and get a few rib ticklers in your repertoire that you can share with friends.
  • Know what isn't funny. Don't laugh at the expense of others. Some forms of humor aren't appropriate. Use your best judgment to discern a good joke from a bad, or hurtful, one.
Laughter is the best medicine
Go ahead and give it a try. Turn the corners of your mouth up into a smile and then give a laugh, even if it feels a little forced. Once you've had your chuckle, take stock of how you're feeling. Are your muscles a little less tense? Do you feel more relaxed or buoyant? That's the natural wonder of laughing at work.
So let's all follow the advice offered by John Riggins 30 years ago and "Lighten Up" in both senses of the phrase. Let's unburden ourselves with some things that we can let go of. Let's not be so tight and rigid because at the end of the day, it really is not that serious. We must also free ourselves of emotions such as depression to rid the darkness inside of us so that we can be light bearers in the world.

If you are a light, when you walk in a room, everyone will know it. When you are making life better for someone else, you are being a light. When you are just fun to be around, you are being a light. Reiterating Dr. King's quote,  "Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that." Let's go out there and be some light.

Something to critically think about. You are invited to join me live each Saturday at 6:00 a.m. ET on and in northern NJ on FM radio WP88.7 FM. You are also invited to follow me on Twitter @thinkcritical01 and readingcircle01.

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