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Inside Looking Out: You decide

Published July 06. 2018 10:32PM

I have a good friend of mine who has been through every hardship you can think of in his life. Listening to his struggles from his childhood until his middle age makes me think I’ve lived with the “Brady Bunch” in comparison.

Mark is a master at many trades, but his profession of choice is playing high stakes poker. He’s known at the casino tables as Mark the Shark because he plays the game in attack mode and has a reputation for clamping his jaws upon the inexperienced player. He lives his life the same way.

What fascinates me about him is his practical philosophy. Everything comes down to a decision you make. You decide to play the hand you’re dealt or throw the cards away for a chance at better success. When it comes to love and marriage, he’ll tell you he’s failed at both, but he’s cut his losses and learned a powerful lesson.

Love is a decision you make every day, not a starry-eyed feeling that comes and goes with the full moon. Decide to love. Decide to commit and you give the best of yourself to someone who will realize that love is not a stop-and-go event. It’s a 24-hour, 365-day commitment from your heart to another’s.

Decide to love, especially during those times you want to fold up your card and quit. Stay in the game. You’ll win big or lose big, but either way you will have given the gamble your best shot and isn’t that what we always should do?

On a much less serious note, but certainly relevant to anyone’s life of struggle and stress is something very important that Mark believes you should search for in your daily hunt for happiness. Find opportunities to laugh. Not just a giggle or a chuckle, he’ll say. Look to laugh from your gut, where every part of your body shakes like thunder until you have to sit down to catch your breath.

Search for the holy grail of ha-has every day. The cure for your ailments doesn’t always come in a medicine bottle. It’s a force of the funny, an outburst of laughter that will make others envious and think, “Now, why can’t I do that?”

Find a reason to belly laugh and no matter where you are when you feel that urge, let ’er rip!

Those who cry the hardest laugh the hardest. Their lives are defined by the same description of these opposite emotions. Love hard. Live hard. Cry hard. Laugh hard!

Eighty-two-year-old entertainer and peace activist Wavy Gravy said, “Laughter is the valve on the pressure cooker of life. Either you laugh when you suffer, or you got your brains on the ceiling.”

I have known a few people whom I have never seen laugh even when everyone else in the room is on the floor in tears. They stay serious. Stay mature. Stay in control. Really?

Scientific studies show that laughing reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and feeds the immune system with antibodies to fight off the bad guys who try to poison your insides.

Lots of laughter can make you look younger, too. Sometimes you can tell if someone laughs a lot or hardly at all. You see a road map of lines and creases across the face from too many frowns. Laughter exercises the cheeks, creating blood flow and makes you look younger than your years.

Now Mark says it doesn’t matter where you see or hear something that makes you want to yelp out a chorus of cackles to the ceiling. I suppose he wouldn’t exclude a church service or a funeral either, because any site that demands serious behavior is primed for something funny to happen.

I’ll share this quip about a young boy who was crying loudly to his mother in a Catholic church and yelling over and over again during the communion that he was scared and wanted to go home. He pointed to the priest through his tears and screamed, “That man in the dress is a zombie! He just ate Jesus’ body!”

Would you have kept a straight face if you had been there?

Day-to-day misfortunes make us laugh, but not at the moment they occur.

So your girlfriend dumped you? You got laid off from your job? Your car needs a new transmission? Nothing to laugh about with these calamities, I know.

Someday, though, you’ll be in the right place and in the right time with the right people and you’ll tell any one of these stories and purge yourself a cannon ball blast of laughter straight from deep in your gut and all will be good with the world again.

Mark the Shark might put it this way. “If your queen of hearts comes up a loser and your ace is on the bottom of the deck, you can still be the king of the clubs in your life and take home a jack pot.”

Go for that jackpot today. Make the decision to love, to live and to laugh.

Rich Strack can be reached at

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