We are constantly searching for ways to increase happiness. From expensive vacations to self-help books and botox, we invest so much time, energy and money on feeling better about our plight. The most effective catalyst to happiness in my life has been participating in Improvisation and I am excited to share with you a few quick and easy steps to feel great without numbing your face! (Full disclosure: I teach improv and stand-up to kids at Second City)
1. It’s a Gift to Be Present! - In any beginning Improv class, the teacher will make it their mission to help you focus on what is happening ‘in the moment’. They don’t want you to come in the door with the weight of the work day on your shoulders or pre-planning your next physical comedy gag. The improv concept ‘Being in the Moment’ applies to the real world too! Research finds that people staying ‘in the moment’ are much happier! When we let our minds stray from the task at hand, we have a tendency to misplace emotions, get anxious and not enjoy the Now. “Ted Talks” Matt Killingsworth does a better job at explaining this phenomenon than me in his recent Ted lecture. Check it out here: http://www.ted.com/talks/matt_killingsworth_want_to_be_happier_stay_in_the_moment.html?
2. Yes And! - This term is at the foundation of how to improvise successfully. In an improv scene, you start from nothing and have to work together to create characters, environments, and funny situations. If a student negates a fellow player, their scene may never get off the ground. In our day-to-day lives, most of us rely on the habit of saying no to a number of things. While we can all agree that saying no to dangerous and unethical things make sense, we do not have to impulsively negate something because it’s a little different! With your free time, try saying Yes to something that you would never do and follow through! Companies like Dabble.co, Groupon and, of course, Second City, offer low-priced opportunities to get out of your comfort zone and try something crazy, like balloon twisting! At the office, maybe Bob from accounting has a zany idea on how to bring in clients. While it may initially sound silly to you, it may be worth listening to Bob’s thoughts and exploring some good ideas within his seemingly flawed creation. Heck, he might even buy you lunch.
3. Support Your Partner! - it’s important in an improv scene to help make your scene partner look good. If they start a scene as an Ukrainian ballerina, you can help move the scene forward by playing a ballerina, loving parent or harsh coach. This kind of support requires you to really listen to your scene partner and give them something to work with. Since you are surrounded by people every day of your life, you can try using this concept with friends, co-workers and significant others. While someone is talking to you, really listen to what they are saying and how they are saying it instead of thinking about what you are going to say as soon as they are done talking (raise your hand if you’re guilty of this one). Truly listening will open your mind to the subtext of what they really want or need. When you listen to them, figuring out the best way to support them and help them get what they want will become much easier. And doesn’t it feel great to help someone else out? No? Then stay tuned for my next guide to using Stand-up concepts to get what you want!
Andrew Thorp teaches Improv, Sketch, Stand-up and Clowning with The Second City Training Center- Chicago. He also founded Thorpedo Productions, a comedy-centric film and live event production company.