I am one of more than half a million followers of Shane Burcaw’s Laughing At My Nightmare blog. I’m also greatly impressed with the nonprofit organization he co-founded with his cousin, Sarah Yunusov, with the mission “to spread a message of positivity while providing equipment grants to those living with muscular dystrophy.” The popularity and growth of LAMN’s brand has Shane and Sarah giving presentations throughout the U.S., so I was thrilled when they planned to speak at a “hometown” event in Bethlehem, PA, where I could hear them.
Their presentation was phenomenal – filled with the candor, humor, and positive perspective that characterizes Shane’s writing. I met with both of them recently, and we spoke about the critical need to embrace a positive attitude. Since Shane is busy writing his blog and has a new book in progress, I asked Sarah to share her thoughts here.
QSM: How did you and Shane get into speaking about the topic of positivity?
Sarah: Shane and I grew up in a family that was always laughing. Big family dinners occurred about once a month at our grandparents’ house, and the signature activity at these gatherings was making fun of each other. Most of our family has a twisted, sarcastic sense of humor, and once the jokes would start, they would never stop. This was the case at weddings, birthday parties, and even funeral receptions (it sounds wrong, but what better way to celebrate a life than by remembering the best moments with laughter?).
At an early age, we learned how incredibly powerful humor was when dealing with adversity. Fast forward to Shane starting his blog. His blog was basically just an extension of the mindset instilled in us by our family. It’s about the hilarious and crazy experiences Shane has had living with muscular dystrophy, but more than that, it teaches readers that a positive attitude can help them effectively cope with stress and adversity.
Science has proved this idea to be true. Studies show that “happy” individuals not only experience better life outcomes (such as higher income, better rates of marriage, etc.) but they also tend to be more productive than “unhappy” people.
The best part is that advances in neuroscience and positive psychology are showing us that it’s totally possible to actively increase your overall chronic happiness. Our happiness is composed of three basic parts: set point, circumstances, and intentional activity. Set point is your genetic happiness level. It accounts for about 50% of your overall happiness. Circumstances are things like job, geography, income, etc. These are the daily realities that we “think” have a huge impact on our happiness. Interestingly, though, studies suggest that circumstances only account for about 10% of our happiness. The last slice of the happiness pie are intentional activities—all the thoughts and actions we “choose” to think and do. These activities, which make up 40% of our happiness, are the key to becoming happier people. By learning techniques to live and think more positively, you can quite literally change the chemical functions of your brain to become a happier person. We think that’s pretty freaking cool.
QSM: What’s the key message in your presentations?
Sarah: The key message of our talks is that we have control over our happiness, as per the science I just described. We use funny stories from Shane’s life of living with a disability to illustrate these concepts. We’ve also done talks about inclusion and diversity, as well as anti-bullying themed presentations.
QSM: Your speaking engagements involve two distinct types of audiences: schools that range from elementary to high school, and businesses that include private companies and pharmaceutical firms. How do the responses you get from these diverse audiences compare?
Sarah: There are definitely some differences and similarities between the schools we speak at compared to the businesses. With kids, our message is more about showing them that we have choices about how we respond to adversity. Kids are endlessly curious too, which we love, because it allows us to understand the preconceptions they have about disability and gives us an opportunity to educate them. Adult audiences are more interested in the science and the concrete methods they can employ to become happier people.
QSM: How can your message of positivity help people today?
Sarah: We live in a time when fear and negativity are attacking our minds often, and in a variety of ways. Now more than ever, we need to remind ourselves why being alive is so beautiful. We believe our message can change the world with that very simple idea.
QSM: An inspired message and important goal, indeed. Thank you, Sarah!