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It's good to smile out loud

This week, we celebrated spring with a neighborly gathering in our yard. We've had other such get-togethers, but I cannot recall a time where everyone laughed so much.

It could be the addition of a totally hilarious, no-holds-barred, newer-to-the-neighborhood funny fellow and his lovely wife. Maybe it was our youngest neighbor's contagious, bell-like laugh or the synchronized one-liners of the 80something couple from across the street.

Was it the fact we were playing "Catch Phrase," a game that's billed as "a combination of Scrabble, Pictionary and charades?"

What makes people laugh? What makes you laugh? I'm trying a small experiment this week because I want more giggling and guffawing in my life. I thought a comic strip might get the day off to a jovial beginning. So I looked at "Pickles," which showed an aging man defending his decision not to work in the yard. His response to an arms-on-her-hips wife, "I was on my way and I walked by the couch and it grabbed me, wrestled me down and pinned me on my back. I struggled, but it wouldn't let go, so I had to surrender."

Sounds a little like something my husband might say. Only he would follow it with, "Not to worry — tomorrow there'll be a rematch."

My husband makes me laugh. It's a combination of his quick retort and the fact that he doesn't take himself too seriously. I over-think my humor. He just offers random comments with dry, often-unexpected wit.

Years ago I was writing a column, and he happened by and asked, "What's the topic."

"Breathing," I replied.

Without missing a beat, he asked, "So, are you for it or against it?"

To this day, people tell me they recall that particular column. Nice job, dear.

But, let's stay with the topic. Was it husbands or was it humor? Sometimes I get them mixed up — it's a good thing.

We spent the weekend doing yard work. Most people would say there's nothing very funny about working in your yard. Let me suggest otherwise.

The trolleys you put under plants can be a hoot if your deck has a slight slant. Pulling weeds on a slippery hill can be hilarious once you realize you can only do it safely by sitting on your tush and sliding to and fro, up and down. It's particularly amusing to passers-by if you happen to be wearing ear buds, have music playing, and get caught up in the beat.

Almost anything can be more fun if you let yourself get "caught up" in whimsy. Take life a little less seriously. Smile out loud a bit more often.

One final illustration: I recently returned at the end of a long day, and a vigilant neighbor advised me a skunk had gotten trapped in a tree well between our two properties. Our neighbor had arranged to have it removed.

When my husband arrived home, the lingering smell of skunk in the air, I told him the story.

He immediately picked up the phone, called the neighbor and said, "Have you seen my pet skunk?"

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 541-776-7371, ext. 210.