When I introduce myself in India to someone for the first time, the stereotypical question I often get asked is “So, are you very serious”? Gambhir means serious in Hindi and you can imagine why that would be a routine ice-breaker question!
Now, in real life, I am not entirely sure how well I am doing to live up to my last name! I have always tended to have more of a serious side. However, I have tried to find a better balance between a serious demeanour and also savouring the lighter moments in life. This journey was made a lot more fulfilling when I met my life partner Roopika 18 years ago. Roopi (as most people know her as), has such an amazing zest for life. In fact, she refused to take my last name because it meant “serious”, which she said doesn’t suit her!
Recently, Roopi was diagnosed with typhoid. And while she was in hospital for a few days getting all the tests done, I asked her if she would write a piece for #monday8am.
Here is Roopi’s take on why we should take laughter and play more seriously, both at work and in our lives outside of work.
Please read on…
It was one of those long travel days when everything was getting delayed. Hours waiting around at the airport. We perched ourselves in one corner of the airport and before the iPads and mobiles could come out, we started telling stories to the kids of other funny travel fiascos. It launched us into perhaps one of the nicest conversations we have had as a family recently. From crazy mad travel stories, we moved on to generally funny things that have happened to us. With almost 18 years of togetherness, Vivek and I have a decent collection of madness and hilarity. The funny part was not only the stories themselves, but what each of us chose to remember and re-tell. How we remember and share a memory tells us more about a person than the perhaps the story itself. Between Vivek and I, as different as we are, we remember things in entirely different manners.
For example, a few years ago, we had just arrived into Bogota, Colombia for a family trip. The hotel had organised a car for pick up. We met the man who carried a sign board with our names and then he said that he would go get the car. As we waited, another man who looked similar, appeared and waved to us. We thought it was the same person and jumped into his car enthusiastically. We assumed he knew where he was going since the hotel had organised the car. But he had no idea, spoke no English and we spoke no Spanish and it was 3 A.M. I had to call the hotel staff, who also spoke little English and asked them to speak to our driver. They were confused since their driver was calling them saying that the family that disappeared and he was worried. Finally, it hit us that we had jumped into a random taxi and left the hotel driver at the airport, looking for us after we had said we would wait. Oops. When we reached the hotel after laughing in the car like fools, we saw the original driver – and smiled at him sheepishly. The drivers didn’t look alike at all – one had a beard and was tall and skinny. The other guy was bald and much older!
The kids were giggling watching us go back and forth trying to recall the story. We kept interrupting each other and adding to each other’s stories. 2 out of our 3 kids (age 14, 12 and 3) are old enough to have their own version of our stories. Then when we got to the stories they were a part of, we had 4 different versions of memories. We pieced the stories back with our different memories like a puzzle. What started out as a grumpy travel day became one of the highlights of the trip. We hadn’t even arrived at the destination and it was the favourite part of the entire trip. In the 4 hours we spent killing time at the airport, we laughed until we cried. We looked like a bizarre little family having a laughing fest at the airport.
In the rest of this holiday, since we had so much fun reminiscing, we began making a list of the top 50 funniest stories of our lives. I told Vivek – this is the treasure of our lives. As we age and grey together, we need to remember all the hilarious times we have had. As our memories start to fade as we grow older, we now have a list to jog our memory and giggle away together.
Some of our best family times have happened like this – spontaneously, in unexpected ways and places. At another airport delay in Jaipur airport, there were lines of balloons across the waiting lounge hanging high everywhere for some festival. Our kids sat down grumpy, when the flight delay was announced. I looked around me and hatched a plan. I ran around and recruited some airport staff to help us. The rule abiding ones refused. We found one young security guard who agreed to help us. The kids and I stacked up suitcases on chairs and stood on wobbly objects. I carried our 3 year old on my shoulder and managed to extricate a few balloons hanging high above our head. We finally started a game of foot and hand volleyball with the balloons at the airport. The net was the row of balloons. We made rules and boundaries using other objects. Random airport strangers joined in our game – people pointing and laughing at us – they took photos and videos of our merry making. Our kids were beyond thrilled – sweaty, laughing, exhilarated. We were slipping and sliding around in socks, diving to get the balloons over the net. Vivek was of course initially embarrassed with all the fuss and attention but then kicked his shoes off and got all into it. When the flight was finally announced, the kids were actually disappointed – oh no – can’t we keep playing – they asked.
And now as I sit and write this in the hospital, Vivek and I are still managing to have fun and be silly. When the nurse came in to take me for an ultrasound, my IV line was off. I had refused to wear the hospital gown, so she didn’t know who the patient was. When she asked who the patient was, I pointed at Vivek. She grabbed Vivek’s arm gingerly and asked him to sit in the wheelchair. Vivek looked around all confused and saw me chuckling away and knew that I had confused the poor nurse. The nurse also started laughing. Later, as I was feeling better, I convinced Vivek to lie down with me on the hospital bed. The nurse walked in and smiled. Vivek got embarrassed and sat up. I asked the nurse in my semi-fluent Hindi (not realising that I was being scandalous) – “Hamare husband hamare saath so sakte hospital bed mein?”. Vivek’s face turned bright red. I knew I had said something wrong. The nurse smiled awkwardly and said sure and ran away. Vivek told me what I had just said and we had another laugh. Vivek said, “Roopi, at least in the hospital, can’t you be a bit serious”? To which, I replied, “No, there can be only one ‘Gambhir’ in our family’!
We have all heard the adage “Laugh, and the world laughs with you”. Laughing makes us more relaxed, more positive and more optimistic – and more alive. However, in general, it feels like we are laughing less. It is hard to pin point the causes. Perhaps, we are more distracted these days. There may be many more things that demand our attention. We are more cynical and negative. We get too get caught up in the banalities of everyday life.
In a post in the Harvard Business Review, author Peter Bregman writes, “We aren’t laughing anymore because we aren’t fully present anymore. Physically we’re in one place but mentally, we’re all over the place.” Think about some recent phone conversations you’ve had – and then consider what else you were doing at the same time. Were you surfing the web? Reading and deleting emails? Shooting off a text? Sorting through mail? Or maybe you were thinking about any number of problems – a renovation, a recent argument, a never-ending to-do list — unrelated to the topic at hand. Unfortunately, being fully present in the moment has become a casualty of our too full and harried lives”.
Stanford research scholar, Eric Tsytsylin, talks about working adults being in the midst of a laughter drought. He has found that babies on average laugh 400 times a day whereas working adults, only 15 times a day. The research organisation Gallup found that people laugh much lesser on weekdays than on weekends.
So, do find it within yourself and your surroundings to learn how to laugh again.
There are plenty of reasons around you to smile and laugh. Look for them. Find ways to make work more fun. You will be happier and more productive. Your team will work better together. And laugh together with your family; it will make you feel much more connected.
When you get a chance, do take a look at this video in which Eric talks more about why we should all laugh more.
So, don’t be afraid. Let laughter in. Why not start your day with a good laugh?