Have you ever had a terrible day, and somehow somebody or something gets you to crack a smile and maybe emit a chuckle? Have you noticed how much better you feel afterwards? It’s amazing, isn’t it? Laughter contributes to happiness, and happiness begets more happiness. Conversely, misery and anger breed more of the same. I’m not sure why people insist on heaping sadness on top of sadness. Even in times of terrible loss, I have used laughter as an antidote for grief.
I remember the day of my father’s funeral. I’m 9-years-old, waiting at home with my family to pile into cars to drive to the cemetery. It’s an appropriately dark, grey, drizzly day and everyone is correspondingly somber. Somebody says or does something funny—maybe an impression of how my father would have had a conniption over the rings forming from coaster-less cups on the furniture—whatever it is, I burst into giggles. I feel a release—finally, some relief from the past three days of sadness.
I’ve mourned the passing of a number of loved ones over the past 21 years. Reflecting back, I’ve noticed that the people who heal more quickly from devastating loss are the ones who can find the opportunity to laugh and share silly memories of the person who has passed, making everyone smile through their tears. Laughter isn’t a sign of irreverence; it can be a valuable tool for letting go of negativity, for making an unfortunate situation better, and under certain circumstances, it can be cathartic.
Overcoming challenges with laughter is applicable in business settings as well. In my late twenties, I found myself working as a project manager for a company that manufactures and installs hotel door locks. Project management, with its checklists, calendars, and color-coding, is a career well-suited for someone like me whose mild, self-diagnosed case of OCD makes me mindful of every little detail. But installing door locks is about as inspiring as it sounds. To overcome the risk of severe boredom, the company sponsored an official committee to boost morale. It was called “The Fun Committee,” and I was asked to be on it. (Yes, this was the real-life equivalent to The Office’s “Party-Planning Committee.”) Our job was to make employees feel like part of a family and to feel appreciated. We organized company parties, theme days, and monthly events, like chili cook-offs and bring-your-child-to-work day.
It sounds like a laughable and insignificant responsibility, but honestly, with the addition of the Fun Committee activities, I felt the attitude shift in the workplace. There was an increase in camaraderie around the office and a clear reduction in employee turnover. Sure, you could cite other possible causes for why people did not leave the company over those years, but I believe employee happiness influences whether someone chooses to stay in or leave their job. That experience taught me so much about being an agent of positive change. So many people are discontent with many aspects of their lives—their jobs, their bank accounts, their bodies—that the unhappiness festers under the surface and then spreads to other individuals with an unkind look, a word, or a gesture. Think about a time when someone was in a bad mood and took it out on you undeservedly. I’ll bet it soured your attitude, and even further, I’d venture to guess that you passed that feeling along to someone else, too. So, imagine how the world would be if each of us worked on being our happiest self, passing our positive feelings on to others. What a ripple effect that could have on the world.
After I graduated from college, I had an opportunity to spend a year in Paris, but instead I chose the safer, more conventional route, as most of my friends from school were doing, and accepted a full-time position at a company that led to years of more unfulfilling corporate work. With 20/20 hindsight, I now know I made a mistake by passing up a chance to live abroad. Not a day has gone by that I haven’t explored the question, What if I had gone to Paris? What kinds of experiences would I have had? What kind of impact could I have made? How different would my life be? How different would I be as a person? I don’t have many regrets in life, but choosing not to live abroad after school has been my biggest one by far. As much as I loved The Fun Committee, the routine of the job and lack of significant contribution to society made me itch for something more.
To change directions, I explored graduate school offerings and decided on business school because it afforded me both the opportunity to acquire pragmatic, real world skills and to explore the world of social enterprise that would enable me to do good through business. I knew I would join Net Impact and seek a leadership position even before I created my prospective school shortlist. Doing well (financially) and doing good (socially) have never been and never will be mutually exclusive to me. Seizing the opportunity to go to Morocco and do something with a positive social impact is not just a step towards my own contentment, but also a step towards becoming the change I wish to see in the world.
Joining MWB also rectifies my past mistake of choosing convention over adventure. With MWB and VEGA (Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance), I will be able to help SICOPA (Société industrielle des conserves d’olives et produits alimentaires) expand their business in the United States. I aim to put my propensity for appreciating different cultures and languages and my recent education and experience in branding and marketing to work assisting an emerging market agribusiness in achieving greater success, both in traditional business metrics and in less quantifiable social terms. But Morocco is only the next adventure—I know I’ll never stop being an agent of positive change through laughter and positivity.
Jeni Wang is an MBAs Without Borders Advisor in Morocco working as an Enterprise Development Specialist. Jeni graduated from New York University with a degree in French and History and a minor in Spanish. Jeni attended UCLA Anderson earning an MBA in Marketing and Brand Management and discovering the belief that doing well and doing good are not two mutually exclusive achievements.