This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Gifts of Imperfection" by Brené Brown. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Why is it so important to laugh, sing, and dance? How can you overcome the feelings of self-consciousness that come with public displays of enjoyment?
In the book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown says that making time to laugh, sing, and dance is the final guidepost to living Wholeheartedly. The importance of fun shouldn’t be overlooked, partaking in these activities can have a significant impact on your life.
Continue reading to learn about the importance of fun and how to overcome the fear of embarrassment.
Laugh, Sing, and Dance
The final guidepost for living Wholeheartedly is making the time to laugh, sing, and dance. Watch an episode of your favorite comedy show during your lunch break. Sing along to the radio as you drive to work. Even better, find a way to laugh, sing, and dance with other people. Dance around your kitchen with your family as you’re cooking dinner. The importance of fun shouldn’t be overlooked.
You might think that you’re too busy with work or family life to joke around, sing, or dance. However, it’s important to make time for fun even for just a few minutes a day. If you do, you’ll reap these actions’ benefits—benefits that strengthen the values of courage, compassion, and connection that are necessary for Wholehearted living.
The Importance of Fun
Laughing, singing, and dancing has numerous benefits. First, these activities can lead to elation: the enjoyment that comes from expressing yourself freely. If you’ve ever laughed until you’ve cried, belted out a song you love, or danced your heart out, you’ll know this feeling well. Chasing the feeling of elation helps to bolster your courage. It’s brave to stop caring what other people think, express yourself freely, and dance like no one’s watching.
Second, singing and dancing can help you to express and manage your feelings. Finding a song that matches your mood and singing or dancing along may soothe you. It will also remind you that you’re not alone: that other people have experienced the emotions that you’re struggling with, not least the person who wrote the song. You may feel a sense of connection with the artist, and feel compassion for them.
Finally, laughing, singing, and dancing with another person creates a shared emotional experience that strengthens your connection. For example, if you and a friend are singing along to a sad song because you’ve both been through a breakup, you’ll share your heartbreak and feel closer because of it. You’ll also feel true compassion for each other, because you’ll each understand exactly what the other person is going through.
Fun at the Expense of Others
Not all laughter is equally beneficial to your mental health and happiness. Some forms of laughter can be actively harmful. For example, laughing at someone in a mean-spirited way will damage your connection with that person. Laughing at yourself in a critical or self-deprecating way isn’t very self-compassionate.
Brown argues that you should only engage in “knowing laughter.” This is laughter that’s a true expression of happiness and joy. It’s also laughter that’s with someone, not at someone: laughter that strengthens your connection with another person rather than damaging it.
The Problem of Self-Consciousness
There is one major barrier that can get in the way of laughing, singing, and dancing: self-consciousness. Self-consciousness is the fear of others ridiculing, shaming, or judging you if you go against societal ideas of acceptable behavior.
Society often expects us to act in a “cool” and controlled manner, and not to draw attention to ourselves. Laughter, dance, and song go against this norm. They’re noisy acts that take up space and lack restraint. Therefore, they’re often seen as socially unacceptable behaviors.
How Can You Overcome Self-Consciousness?
Your default response to self-consciousness may be self-protection. You may refuse to laugh, sing, or dance in public so that you avoid shame, blame, and judgment. You may even stop doing these things in private. Some people’s self-consciousness is so strong that they’re afraid of breaking social norms even when nobody is around to see it happen.
However, if you take this path, you’re fundamentally betraying yourself. You’re going to miss out on all of the benefits of laughter, dancing, and singing: all of the joy, emotional relief, and connection with others that they can bring.
To break free from self-consciousness, be courageous and give yourself permission to ignore societal expectations. Recognize that these norms are harmful and only serve to limit your capacity for happiness. Prioritize your health and happiness over conformity, and remember that your worth comes from who you are, not from others’ opinions of you.
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- How to stop feeling like you're not "good enough"
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