Try these tips to become more affable and serene.
Is there a formula for being good-humored? Are there any exercises I can do to be in good humor more often? Is there a prayer for good humor?
Carlo De Marchi, Italian priest and author of The Good Humor Formula: 5 Remedies against Sadness (available only in Italian here), says there is indeed such a formula. Here is a cheat sheet to some of the best insights from his book.
God and the Good Humor formula
The starting point of the “good humor formula,” the author argues, is the certainty that when God looks at us, he smiles. He smiles because he looks at us affectionately, because he finds us likable. Starting from this fundamental smile, everyone can learn to get a fresh perspective on themselves and their defects without dramatizing them, without taking them too seriously.
This gentle way of seeing ourselves makes us more affable and gentle with others, both strangers and the people we meet regularly.
It is a discovery that is at hand for anyone. It does not require complicated courses and techniques. The formula is simple and requires only a little practical engagement: to welcome the smile of God, to smile while looking at oneself, and to smile when meeting others.
A lesson in affability
At the same time, there are some practical exercises that we can do to become more affable. First of all, try to measure your own “affability level” through a sort of self-assessment. Just observe your own behavior for one day, paying attention to each of the points indicated below (greeting, smile, way of talking, written communication).
If you are feeling brave, ask a trusted friend for help in evaluating you on each point. (This is certainly one of those times when friendship and a self-deprecating sense of humor help!)
Whether you self-assess or have a friend evaluate you, the goal is to focus on the aspects you need to develop more. Think of it as a customized gym workout that focuses on the muscles or skills that need more attention. Which ones are hardest for you? Where do you feel that you fall short in the list below?
1. Smile and greeting
Try to be the first one to smile:
- At home: when you see a family member for the first time in the day; when you return home; when you say goodbye at the end of the day
- At work: when someone passes you in a hallway at work
- Out and about: when you run into someone by chance; when someone makes a joke (you do not have to laugh loudly, just give a nod of friendly feedback to someone who is trying to lighten the mood and get others to laugh).
2. Body language
When you are meeting someone new or catching up with friends or colleagues, make sure your body language shows kindness and openness:
- Offer a firm handshake, carefully avoiding the “limp fish” syndrome and also an excessively long or strong grip (especially with new acquaintances)
- Make eye contact with the people you are talking to (without exaggerating or becoming intrusive)
- If someone speaks to you as you are walking along, stop and turn to listen without giving the impression of running away
- Address a person by name when you say hello (not just colleagues, but also acquaintances).
3. Discuss without arguing
The great obstacle to a good discussion is quarreling. So take the time to find out when you are most crabby and most “at risk” of arguing and losing your calm. Some possible “at risk” moments are:
- In the morning, for example during breakfast
- When returning home or when a family member returns home
- At the beginning of the day at the office.
Also try to find out what are the best (and worst) times for your spouse, parents, or your superiors or close associates, and try to find the optimal time for both of you to discuss sensitive issues.
Train yourself in two more strategies: 1) how to handle yourself when you feel that you are about to fall into arguing and 2) how to defuse the situation when someone else seems intent on picking a fight with you.
A fundamental rule is: don’t play with fire. When you know you are nervous, it is better to postpone a sensitive discussion, meeting, or phone call.
4. How to handle meetings gracefully
Arguments can erupt particularly during meetings. Maintaining affability and good humor during a meeting is not easy, especially when they are long and numerous. Here are some principles and practical exercises that can help.
- Initial and final greetings (and compliments) can create a friendly environment and are not useless formalisms
- In tense situations, such as with problematic customers or colleagues, increase your affability. Don’t reduce it for fear of seeming weak;
- It’s always best to tell the truth: always try to tell it like it is, and in the right way.
- Speak well of people who are not present at the meeting.
- Do not look at your phone or take calls. Put your smartphone face down and keep the ringer off.
- When it is clear that you and a colleague are on opposite sides of an issue, it can help to summarize the other person’s point of view, to express true interest and the desire to understand it well.
5. Memo writing tips
Here are some famous rules for written communication by David M. Ogilvy, the founder of the communications company Ogilvy & Mather.
- Write the way you talk. Naturally.
- Use short words, short sentences, short paragraphs.
- Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious person.
- Never write more than two pages on any subject.
- Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning—and then edit it.
- Check your quotations.
The Good Humor Prayer
In addition to the exercises, there is a prayer that can help us “catch” good humor.
It is the so-called “Prayer of Good Humor” written by Thomas Henry Basil Webb (1898-1917), but traditionally attributed to Thomas More:
Grant me, O Lord, good digestion, and also something to digest.
Grant me a healthy body, and the necessary good humor to maintain it.
Grant me a simple soul that knows to treasure all that is good
and that doesn’t frighten easily at the sight of evil,
but rather finds the means to put things back in their place.
Give me a soul that knows not boredom, grumblings, sighs and laments,
nor excess of stress, because of that obstructing thing called “I.”
Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humor.
Allow me the grace to be able to take a joke to discover in life a bit of joy,
and to be able to share it with others.
This article was originally published in the Italian Edition of Aleteia.