I'd met Tara at a town hall I had participated in that explored the future of technology and the American dream. The event had been held on the campus of Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. Some are inconsequential, but others have the ability to shift our life path and completely alter our trajectory, and we won't always know the difference between the life-changing ones and the more seemingly mundane ones at the time these decisions arise. It's by glancing back through our lives that we can clearly see that our course was adjusted by a sole decision, or series of decisions, that we made. There are three sides to every story: yours . Since we're emotional beings, it's fair to say that our choices, actions, and behaviors can be emotion-led--influenced by an internal reaction to an external situation, conversation, challenge, or event. When something makes our blood boil with anger, or fear makes the hairs on the back of our neck stand on end; At that moment, though, we're put to the test. We have choices (we always have choices): volatility or calm, a measured approach or a spontaneous one, irrational or strategic, to seek clarity or to dive in with blinders on. Emotion derails our rationale and logic. How many times have we fired off a text message in the heat of the moment, only to regret it later? Perhaps we have a forked tongue when angry and we say things that aren't at all a true representation of our real thoughts and feelings: that time we honked our horn from frustration or lashed out because we felt jealous. Outside of the studies in a musty old journal, however, we see this finding echoed around us; This isn't a callousness on their part; However, in that line of work it is a fact of life that you cannot endure the most tragic parts of the job without being able to shake up your colleagues' perspective with a dry and witty rejoinder to the senselessness of the world around them. Although their example is extreme, it also serves as a lesson for how we ourselves can work to not take life so seriously. It's important to seek levity, especially during troubling times. To this end, humor is not only a form of entertainment; Continuously flipping our thoughts over so that we can avoid drowning in what brings us down, and instead reach out towards the things that are going well, is a key ability that helps us stay empowered and at ease as we paddle through life's troubles. This can sometimes be all it takes to kickstart ourselves on a path towards finding greater gratitude and unlearning helplessness.

Harnessing Your Humor Although we most commonly associate humor with jokes, it can be found in stories, video games, tabletop games, and any other activity we might choose to do just for the sheer joy of it. That was a few years ago, and those years had not been kind to Tara. She had experienced some mental health issues, which had then spiraled into financial troubles. You have a future, I texted. I have $300 in my bank account, rent is $1,100 and it's due in two weeks. Tell me what I'm supposed to do with that future? Call me when you can, I replied quickly. Let's talk. Tara had reached out to me about a month before. She had filled in the gaps since we last met on the campus of the university. We had chatted a few times about her future in general, but I hadn't realized it had become this dire. Those emotional reactions are based on what's gone before, our unique take on any given life event; There's a quote by movie producer Robert Evans: There are three sides to every story: yours . No one is lying. Memories shared serve each differently. While we share some universal truths that are based on fact, when we reminisce with people, the way a memory is told might differ from how we remember it. Nobody is remembering wrongly, necessarily; When it comes to how others might react, their reactions stem from the same place. What we can do is create and hold space for the feelings, to allow ourselves to feel whatever it is we are feeling.

What we can do is create and hold space for the feelings, to allow ourselves to feel whatever it is we are experiencing. It's akin to pressing a pause button, which in turn gives our emotions time to cool down and makes way for that logical reasoning side to pop its head up. You may have already reconnected with several of these activities by now. To get the most out of this, you might want to create what the punny comedian and humor engineer (yes, it's a real job! At this point, there might not be as many things bothering you as even just a few weeks before, but it never hurts knowing this skill for emergencies. To create a To Don't list, take a moment to think about the ten biggest stressors in your life, then reject as many of them as you healthily can. A big culprit tends to be the drama we receive via news; You might be stressed out by children, or by a spouse. You almost certainly wouldn't want to reject them, however, so don't be afraid to return to journaling so you can get specific. A common way to healthily reject the stresses caused by those closest to you is through asking them to help out a little bit more, enlisting their aid in other areas that are stressing you out. This helps foster gratitude, gets you out of the mindset of seeing your loved ones as a stressor, and helps diminish whatever stressor they were helping out with to boot! It is when we cannot reject a stressor (or do not want to due to an underlying value we hold) that humor can most effectively be brought through to help us reframe it. What Tara didn't know was that I was familiar with the view from the bottom. I'm comfortable having these conversations. Turns out I know a few things about having limited resources, feeling financially helpless, and living down to your last penny. In August of 2001 I was a founding member of a technology start-up. It was a technology that I had a lot of faith in, and my work as a futurist pushed me to believe that there would be a melding of the internet with TV. This was long before the iPhone, long before the smart TVs I would build with Intel. I really believed. Because I believed, I dumped all of my savings, credit, and assets into the company to help get it off the ground.

Then 9/11 happened. With the economic slowdown that followed, all the investors we had lined up for our little company pulled out. That pause is oh-so-precious because it allows us to examine the other sides of the story, to exercise compassion and self-compassion, to find calm within the chaos, and to communicate in a fair, considered, and nonreckless way. Most of all, it allows us to make sure our decisions lead to an outcome that supports our values. Boundaries Can Feel Like Rejection When our boundaries are all wonky and we're met with someone who has less wonky boundaries, we can feel blocked by them, uncared for, and as though they're unavailable to us. This is especially true for those of us who are new to this boundary stuff. If we would bend over backward for others, jump to their needs and do whatever we can to help them, and that's not returned, it can feel as though the non-returner is uncaring and doesn't hold us in as high esteem as we hold them. It can really hurt. That is, until we realize that their boundaries have absolutely nothing to do with us. Nothing at all. But our boundaries--they're completely our business. Part of the reason sitcoms and similar media catch on so well is because they take events from everyday life, and push them further until we see the absurdity in it. When we expose ourselves to this media, we in effect train ourselves to apply a similar perspective to life around us. A caveat, however, is that you should do your best to keep clear cognition of your core values, so you do not take on a mindset that you do not want. That said, the power of something like Fawlty Towers to showcase the silliness of married and managerial life, or Mr Bean to highlight how good graces can help us make it through even the strangest holes we might dig ourselves into, cannot be overstated. Even something like The Office can demonstrate the laughability inherent in the mundane awkwardness and tense neuroses of the standard work environment, and that can be enough to prod us into viewing life differently. You will do yourself a great service when you can find a comedian (or several) who resonates with you. Even if you do not think of yourself as terribly funny in nature, you can still help your brain reframe trying circumstances through becoming a curator of funny things; Don't be afraid of going macabre.

Sick humor is only a sign that we're trying to get better. Did your steak taste funny last night? We went broke. I lost all my money and eventually had to file for personal bankruptcy. I know what it means and how it feels to be at the end of your rope. That's why I will always take calls from people who, for whatever reason, find themselves in a hole. I've been in a hole too, and so I might be able to help find the way out. My phone rang. You must be frustrated, I said calmly. Yes and no, Tara replied. Yes, I feel frustrated, thank you. I could tell she was trying to be polite, but fear and frustration were gnawing at the edge of her voice. You see, we have to get to a place where a no from someone doesn't impact how we feel about ourselves. It's their right, as much as ours, to say no--we can't, and shouldn't, tie our self-esteem to the actions of others. Sometimes it is our expectations that are too high, too assuming. When we give, we should do so with no agenda. We must only give when we're 100 percent willing to do so, with no obligation on the recipient to return the favor. We don't give to receive; In valuing ourselves and all that we are and all that we have, we must also value the same in others. If, when limits are communicated to us, the story we tell ourselves is one of abandonment and rejection, then we might avoid asserting our boundaries, as we don't want others to feel abandoned and rejected by ours.