Tuesday, February 20, 2018

what is laughter?

Everyone knows the old adage that laughter is the best medicine. In most cases, I actually believe that this is true. I can't tell you how many times I've been bummed out, sick, or generally uninspired and simply putting on a comedy special has turned it all around for me. Dare I say, even inspired me.

But what is laughter and why do we do it? I think about this daily.

I am embarrassed to say that I have (what I consider) to be a less than feminine laugh. Even the best sounding laughs out there are fundamentally a weird series of sounds. People are basically doing a mixture of grunting and hyperventilating when they laugh.

This is totally bizarre.

It's also bizarre that laughter is often reactionary and involuntary. Some people (like myself) even have a different kind of laugh for nervous responses. Laughter is often used to mock or show sarcasm. Even animals laugh. Did you know there are scientists that tickle rats to record their laughs? That's ridiculous and hilarious.

I've read a lot that laughter is a form of communication but I don't know exactly what we're trying to communicate. I don't think it's any one thing we are trying to say. However, I feel like it IS a universal language. There are no barriers to laughter. We know this because even babies do it.

In all my research about the topic it seems that the answers are nebulous. We know about brain chemistry and how genuine laughter releases all these good brain chemicals. And yet we have a hard time describing why one thing might be funny and the another is not.

My personal conclusion is that laughter is the language of joy. It is acceptance of self and others. It is both pure and flawed. It's how we brighten up all the little moments in life. And I know it's good for me. I need it. So, this is a public reminder (to myself ) to remember to laugh.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

having manners is pretty cool (11 ways to be a better human)

I wasn't always aware of how cool it was to have proper manners and etiquette. Some of this, is my fault. I was (and perhaps still am) a bit of a hellion. Some of this, was because my parents failed to teach me these invisible social rules, as they don't have very good manners. Sorry, guys....ya don't. 

So, for a long time I was just wandering around being rude both unintentionally and intentionally. Until my closest friends started pointing these things out.

Since ignorance is the fault of the community allowing members to fall through the cracks, I thought I would post a compiled list of what I have learned over the years. Often the hard way unfortunately.

1.) It's more than, "minding your please and thank yous".

Saying please and thank you was the ONLY manners my parents taught me. They did not explain to me there was more to this (like saying excuse me or pardon when you need to grab attention or pass by). Nor did they explain the proper ways to apologize. These things are a matter of respecting others and anticipating what they might be feeling. It is important to remember that one should place value on these micro moments. It feels natural when others do it for you so please reciprocate. 
2.) Try to smile.
This does not have to be huge toothy grin that makes you appear like a maniac. It is simply a universal tool to allow others to feel comfortable. I know there is a lot of talk about "being told to smile" is a "misogynistic slight". Maybe in certain situations, but in this case it is simply gender-less advice.
Psychological research has classified six facial expressions which correspond to emotions recognized around the world: disgust, sadness, happiness, fear, anger, and surprise. Smiling being the signifier of happiness. Psychologists also have determined that there is something called facial feedback in which smiling can actually trick the brain into being happier. Similarly, there is something called social feedback where seeing someone smile can make you feel happier. 
What does this all mean? Smile for yourself and others. It could make everyone happier. 
3. ) Be considerate with your communication. 
This is more about how and when you choose to share information with others.
Similar to the way smiling goes a long way, your communication should always be 50% about you and 50% about the person or people you are talking to. Like when you use a turn signal or how you knock before entering a room. They are done as common courtesy and to protect both parties involved.
Other communications are about being courteous. Apologies and thank you should be sincere. This means you shouldn't wait for someone to force them out of you. And it is always a good idea to send hand written thank you messages to people, especially for when they have hosted events or weddings.
Another part of being considerate is knowing what NOT to say. Sometimes silence or minimal words can be best for a situation. Even a simple nod or a wave can send another party the signal that they are being heard.
4.) Make eye contact.
I hate this one. Eye contact makes me feel like I am touching someone else's soul.  However, for most people eye contact is very important. It makes them feel heard and understood. 
If you are like me and struggle with eye contact. Try to look at the bridge of the nose or forehead of the person. Then flick your eyes to theirs from time to time (if and when possible), returning safely to your "nose zone". 
When this is too difficult, tell the person you are bad with eye contact and watch their mouths as they speak. Let the person know THIS is how you pay close attention to what they have to say.
5.) Kill them with kindness.
I find this a general rule of thumb to live by. When someone is passive aggressive with me, I tend to just let it role off of me and be nice return. However, this technique is important in manners as well.
Manners of kindness can be something like; always offering to hold a door (no matter what gender you and they happen to be) and gracefully allowing others to decline. It can also be always offering your seat to an elderly person or an expecting mother. It can be offering impatient people to take your place in line or easing off the gas peddle when someone is trying to merge. It is offering your help when someone can't reach or are carrying too much. It is waiting your turn or letting others exit before you enter. 
These small acts of kindness can make someone's day, whether it be consciously or subconsciously. 
6.) Practice good social skills. 
Often socializing at a party or just being part of a group, can be hard for those of us that are socially awkward. However, there are some tricks of the trade that really work and most of them are simply practicing good manners.
First, when meeting someone (or a group of people) be sure to greet everyone involved. Give a firm handshake or for familiar interactions give your friend a quick hug. This is your opportunity to engage with people, ask questions and be sure to remember everyone's name. When you depart be sure to say farewell in some way even it is a casual meeting of a gaze across the room or a gentle wave.
It is also a good idea to be respectful of other people's time. Valuing other people's time is a social skill that people tend to forget. This means be sure to RSVP for any events you might be invited to, even it is decline. Be punctual or even ten minutes early. Even a text to your friends about your estimated time of arrival can be a good idea.
Please remember that your social skills do not necessarily equate to social media. Not everyone wants their pictures posted for all to see, nor do they want you to check them in everywhere. Many people keep their lives private, so it is always polite to ask before you post.
 7.) Be the most invited guest.
This works hand and hand with many of the aforementioned behaviors. Being a fantastic guest means that people will be more inclined to invite you places. This also means that you shouldn't be so arrogant as to invite yourself or show up with a surprise guest (this includes your pets). If you ARE invited, make sure that your prompt RSVP includes a conversation about who you want to bring (also includes bringing pets). Also, don't show up to people's houses uninvited. That is rude and stressful for more many. 
When you are invited be sure to bring a gift to parties or important functions, otherwise you look like a jerk.
8.) Cleanliness is a virtue.
Marie Kondo is super popular right now. I think it's because everyone feels better when things are clean. However, social hygiene is just as important. 
A fundamental part of this idea is to keep yourself clean. Sounds super basic right? And yet there is a lot of people who don't practice self care.
 For those that need a reminder, that means bathing, brushing teeth, wearing the right deodorant for you, reapplying when needed, keeping your clothes and shoes clean, and trying to remain presentable when you leave the house. It also means that you are committed to cleanliness maintenance all day. As in, always washing your hands after you use the bathroom and doing the after you eat. 
If you have to cough or sneeze, do this into the inner elbow area. If you have to blow your nose, take care of it in a private area. YOUR GERMS ARE GROSS!
There are also cleanliness rules like always using coasters, foot mats, and coat racks. Use them even when it seems redundant. It is also always polite to take off your shoes when you enter someones home.
And the last one is my personal pet peeve...
Wipe down gym equipment you have used when you are at the gym. Please and thank you.
9.)  Be conscious around food.
This one can be split into two parts; at the grocery store and at a restaurant. I will address being at the grocery store first.
At the grocery store: As a person that worked at a number of grocery stores, I can tell you that this is a sensitive issue. I have never seen a place where people are more unaware of what is polite than here. 
First, if you wipe down your shopping cart do not leave the dirty wipe in the cart for someone else to deal with. Second, be aware of how much space your cart takes up. When pushing your cart leave it in open areas like at the end of an aisle and retrieve the item needed. Also, follow the same rules of the road. Do not leave unwanted items around the store, either put it back where you got it or tell the cashier you changed your mind. At the register, push your cart ahead of you when checking out and always put a divider behind your order, even when there isn't a line. 
At a restaurant: There are many places online where you can find information about good table manners, table manners by Etiquette Scholar being the best one I've seen. There is actually a lot remember when you dine. However, I think the most important things are as follows. Chew with your mouth closed and cover your mouth if that is not possible. Elbows and personal items are never to be placed on the table. Always put your napkin in your lap. Wait until everyone is served and follow cultural etiquette. 
In addition to these, always be sure to inform those serving you food of special dietary restrictions or allergens before they prepare the food. You don't want Aunt Martha making you peanut butter gluten balls if you have Celiac Disease and a severe peanut allergy. 
Unless it is absolutely necessary, DO NOT send food back. Dietary reasons and allergies are good reasons to send food back. Not liking something is NOT a reason and probably the rudest thing a person can do. Put your adult pants on and eat it.
Lastly, always push your chair in when you leave. Neither Aunt Martha nor your waiter need to take a dive over an unexpected chair that you couldn't be bothered to move a foot towards the table.
10.) Be even better online 
Everyone knows that digital media gives us the ability to say whatever we want. It gives us a platform and sometimes we don't think about the consequences of our actions. Point blank, digital etiquette is vital. 

The first part of this is about cellphone etiquette. I can't tell you how many times that I have been sitting in a public bathroom listening to someone having a very intimate conversation while flushing the toilet. Needless to say; you shouldn't do that.

Cell phones should be answered at appropriate times and places. If you're in a social situation and you have to answer your phone, take the call to a private place or outside. 

In general cell phones should be invisible in social situations. This means that if you're talking to a person, your should be away in your pocket and if you're having dinner, do not put your phone on the table; keep it out of the way.

The messages you send whether it be: social posts, emails, or texts; should be within the context of the situation. There are many websites that will give you an outline on appropriate professional digital etiquette, like this post by the Huffington Post. I suggest  that you should adhere to these guidelines carefully. 
Social posts, texts, and emails can be approached more casually. However, even then there is some rules to live by. First, you should never respond to a message when you are angry, frustrated, or drunk. If you DO have to answer, just tell the person that you need time to think about what they have said and return later with a crafted response. Finally, and this goes without saying, but TURN OFF your cell phones when you are getting on an airplane or about to watch a movie.
11.) Pets need to be considered. 
Pet etiquette is often ignored completely, whether it be how you have your pet trained or how you approach other people's pets. 
Do not assume the other people's pets are as pet-able as you would like without asking first. A pet have just had surgery or is going through some sort of behavioral training so please keep that in mind. 
If you have a pet that you are taking on a walk ALWAYS keep them on a leash and ALWAYS pick up their poop if applicable. Also, if you're walking a pet try to avoid other pets that are in the environment. Often, other people's pets aren't as well trained as yours and aren't ready for a social engagement. 
Lastly, be aware that some pets love to go outside even when they are not supposed to. When visiting a friend or family member be prepared to stop an escaping animal as you're entering their place.