Deposit photos

If you want a better life, that is.

You and I can fundamentally improve our lives by working on three seemingly simple, but profound things this year. They have nothing to do with buying anything, or taking an online course. Not at all. All of this starts with us.  What they take is the choice to do it, and the perseverance to stick with it.  This is what self-mastery looks like.

Let's get to it:

1. It's not always about you. So, stop taking things so personally. Much of the stress and anger that I see expressed on line has to do with people's assumption that everything is all about them. Nope. It isn't. When you can back off this mindset, and realize that people's opinions or ideas are not about you at all, but simply an expression of how they feel, which is legitimate, you are free. Free of the need to bash or attack or be angered. Free of the blood-pressure-spiking over-reaction to something that frankly, has nothing whatsoever to do with you. Free. Nice word, that.  Want a little further reading on this?

See this article by Forbes.

Deposit photos

2. To build on that idea, Learn to look for the funny. In other words, stop taking everything especially yourself, so seriously. While there are times to take things very seriously, like health symptoms that are troubling (like, you can't breathe), most of the time, what happens in life is pretty minor, meaningless and banal. In fact, when you begin to learn how to twist life's vicissitudes into long, stretchy pieces of salt water taffy, you have learned the secret to comedians like Robin Williams. Some of his funniest work is drawn from his darkest moments of addiction. This is how we master what threatens to master us.

If you're a football fan like I am, you might recall the time that Broadway Joe Montana saw actor John Candy in the stands right when things looked pretty dim for the 49ers in the 1989 Super Bowl. They laughed, they won. Or, if you're a Bronco fan, when John Elway engineered The Drive. Down at their own 2 yard line,

Broncos offensive guard Keith Bishop said of the Browns, "We got 'em right where we want 'em!" Cleveland could not force a fourth down against Denver.

Everybody cracked up and The Drive went down in history as one of the single greatest offensive drives ever.

You relax when you laugh, you get creative when you laugh, you survive the worst when you laugh. Gallows, or black humor in medicine is a coping technique. It works. For sometimes it is the only thing you have got left. It's also the most powerful skill you have.

Laughter wins games. Laughter rocks the game of life when you are down on the two yard line.

This is the resource I used to build this skill. It's a life-changer:

Your Seventh Sense: How to Think Like a Comedian by Jay Arthur and Karyn Ruth White.

Deposit photos

3. Only focus on what you can directly control. All right, this has parts.

First: the more time you spend on social media, whose algorithms are designed to create outrage, the more depressed you will be. Research bears me out. So...kinda, back off, maybe? Second, as my buddy Dr. Rosenna Bakari loves to say, "Don't pick it up, don't put it down." I can't solve all the world's problems. Heck I can hardly solve my own. So if I work with what I can, am patient with the process, have a good laugh along the way, I am far more likely to experience successes. I can't solve racism, but I can open doors for Black allies. I can't solve animal cruelty, but I can treat animals I work on with love and kindness. I can't fix democracy, but I can vote. See what I mean? Otherwise I am swept under the tsunami of media-induced outrage every day, all day, particularly if we're still under quarantine. You and I might be better served reading a book, watching a movie, going for a walk.

Want more on that? See this article from Inc.

For example, in three weeks I turn 68. Darn man. Yesterday I was 30. Now I'm almost seventy. Holy Cow!What CAN I control? What I eat, how I exercise, and how well I manage my mind and mind my funny bone.Which reminds me.  There's one more:

The bonus round: Fail to plan to fail, and you will fail, so be sure you plan to fail, and when you fail, you'd have planned for it.

I fail at that all the time. Which is part of why my funny bone is the strongest one in my body. That mashed-up quote is attributed to a man with whom I share a birthday, Benjamin Franklin.

The man had his failings (pun intended) but he was a remarkable success nonetheless. Why bother with any of the above?' Simple. Because being offended and outraged all the time over things that neither have anything to do with you nor are intended for you personally not only ages you but makes you ill. Life is awful and you die younger. GAH! Is that worth it?

Deposit photos

Finding things that would otherwise bother you funny is freedom. To wit: I lost ALL my teeth to forty years of eating disorders. That condition is now one of my best sources of hilarity. To wit: I save more money at Halloween. All I gotta do is take out my toofs, open the door and grin. The kids run like crazy, I get to keep the Snickers bars (I have to put my dentures back in, of course) and everyone's happy.

I own my story, I make it funny, the story doesn't own me.

See what I mean? Your life, your choice. The way I see it, mastering ourselves makes way for freedom to spend our time not being manipulated by media, by others, and most especially by our own internal stories. I hope you find your funny this year, and along the way, a much happier, live-out-loud life on your terms.