Thursday, December 31, 2015

Why aren't more people happy?

Over the years, I have talked to and observed a lot of people on this planet - it's one of my favorite pastimes. And through my talks and observations, I have found that very few people are truly happy. Truly content with themselves or their situation. And I want to know why.

I have talked to people who earn hundreds of thousands of US dollars or Swiss francs per year yet still feel unfulfilled and fearful of the future. I have talked to people who are pursuing their artistic dreams but live in fear of paying next month's rent or saving for retirement. I have talked to people who have reached all their goals and have ended up having mental breakdowns or even taken their own life. I have talked to people who have never known real tragedy, yet are depressed.

So what's wrong?

What all these people have in common is this: FEAR. We all fear something. Fear of the unknown is one of the biggest fears that exists. And after all, what is "saving for retirement" other than a way of eliminating fear of the unknown? The future is always unknown, therefore we fear the future.

Two of the biggest money-making industries are banking and insurance - and are both built around the clients' fear. We invest and safeguard our money in banks for FEAR of losing it. For fear of not having enough. We pay huge premiums on all kinds of insurance for any kind of scenario, most of which end up never happening, for FEAR that it might. We pay a lot of money for peace of mind. And somehow, as in the real examples of the people I've talked to, it's still not enough. They are still unfulfilled.

As long as we chase money, we are chasing numbers. And we all know that numbers are infinite. Which means the money figures will never be enough. They will never be big enough. We will never have all the money in the world. Chasing money is like a dog chasing its tail. What we are really chasing is peace of mind - in other words, happiness. So how do we find it?

And what does this have to do with improv? Improv is all about losing your fear and letting go. And the way you do that is the same way you find happiness: you do it by focusing on the moment. You do it by not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. As an improv performer, you do it by not worrying or fearing what brilliantly witty thing you will or won't say in the next scene.

Recently I had the honor and pleasure of studying with Upright Citizens Brigade in New York City, one of the nation's top improv schools. On the last weekend of the intensive week-long course, we had a student performance at the theater in the East Village. In a group of 16, we were allowed to perform in two scenes, and had to initiate one. Having initiated an early scene already, a moment came where no one stepped forward. I had already initiated, so I held back and waited for someone else. No one stepped forward. An awkward silence filled the theater. This is going on for too long, I thought. Someone needs to step forward and start a scene. I knew why the others were hesitating - nothing "funny" came to mind. Practice what you always preach, I said to myself! So I jumped forward, not having any clue what I was going to do. I grabbed a chair, and immediately another actress came forward and joined me with her chair. Still not having any idea of where we were going, I mimed banging on the door separating us and said, "Excuse me, do you have any toilet paper?" What happened after that turned out to be a scene that our teacher described as "genius". And it all happened from trusting in the unknown, trusting in the self.

It's no coincidence that people in improv classes and workshops often remark on how "happy" they feel. They forget their troubles, they focus, they stay in the moment. They trust in the unknown.

Step forward in life, even if you don't know what's going to happen next. And create your own genius scene!