The Tao of Jimmy Fallon

Wisdom clothed in silliness 
Have you been watching The Tonight Show since Jimmy Fallon started hosting the show?  Or have you seen Late Night?  I have to admit that it’s hard for me to stay up that late, but I’ve seen enough to make a fun observation — each episode, Jimmy Fallon lays out a roadmap for happiness that reflects the best wisdom from both ancient traditions and current neuroscience.


Photo from Men’s Health Magazine

Channel your Inner Jimmy
The word Tao comes from the Tao Te Ching, a collection of verses by the Chinese prophet Lao-tzu.  Tao refers to the underlying nature of the universe, and is translated as “the path,” or “the way.”

So what is The Way of Jimmy Fallon, and how does it lead to happiness?  I propose that channeling your own “Inner Jimmy” can lead to greater happiness in your life, based on four principles that Jimmy lives in each of his shows:  Appreciate, Give Thanks, Give Love, and Laugh.

1. Appreciate
Justin Timberlake did this hilarious impression of Jimmy Fallon on Saturday Night Live a few weeks ago.  A big part of the shtick was that everything was “so great!”  The reason the audience (and lots of us at home) laughed so hard at this imitation was because this is just what Jimmy does.  He has this childlike wonder and appreciation for the simple goodnesses he encounters.  He stays in that place and even takes us there with him.

timberlake so great

Photo from “Hot News Gator.”

Last month in The Science Behind Milking It, I wrote about the work of neuroscientist Rick Hanson.  Dr. Hanson explains that we tend to remember more bad events and feelings than good ones because of our brain’s “negativity bias.”  This bias evolved so that we would store potentially dangerous circumstances in our long term memory, and helped our species to survive during times when there were many more life-threatening situations in our day.

Today’s lack of imminent saber-toothed tiger attacks means that this bias now perhaps does us more harm than good.  But by actively appreciating the good in our days, Dr. Hanson says, we can actually build new brain structures that enable happiness to be remembered and deemed as valuable. He calls this practice, “taking in the good.”

So I’m suggesting that, throughout your day, you look for simple good things and “take them in.”  Notice the good experiences, savor them, and allow yourself to keep enjoying them for 12-24 seconds, to activate this positive process in the brain.  Since that SNL episode, I’ve been having fun doing this the Jimmy (via Justin) way: “Birds singing! So great!”  “The girls are building things with sticks. So fun! SO GREAT!”

2. Give Thanks
There is a segment of the show where Jimmy writes his famous Thank You Notes.  These can be sarcastic, which is not really the kind of thanks I’m talking about.  But there are other times where he uses this segment to celebrate the wonder in the mundane.  Like, “Thank  you, pita bread, for being a great combination of wheat and envelopes.”  Really, he does have a point.

Late Night With Jimmy Fallon - Season 5Photo from

I have been trying to say more “thank-you’s” for everyday things, to people and just inwardly.  It feels good to actively give thanks in novel ways.  It creates happiness for both the thanker and the one being thanked!

3. Give Love
On his first episode hosting The Tonight Show, Jimmy interviewed Will Smith.  When Jimmy asked for advice for handling the new adventure that this show would be, Will Smith said, “You just keep loving people.”  He reminded Jimmy that his being chosen as the new host for this enduring TV success was due to his love for people and the fact that people feel that.

Alan Cohen,  author of the story Carpe Diem, from Chicken Soup for the Soul put it this way: “We believe that we are hurt when we don’t receive love. But that is not what hurts us. Our pain comes when we do not give love. We were born to love.  We function most powerfully when we are giving love… our well-being is dependent on our giving love!”

One small change I have been working on, along these lines, is to try to activelylisten to others.  It is a simple way to give of yourself, to give love — making eye contact with someone each day, while listening as if they are telling you the only thing there is for you to know in that moment.  Simple, but it doesn’t come so naturally on a busy day, when we’ve become so accustomed to multi-tasking.
OK, maybe not quite this active…


Photo from

I have been trying to give each of my daughters at least ten minutes of locked-in, rapt attention every day.  It’s really different from the kind of talking you do when you are also engaging in something else (or in another room!).  It’s actually harder than I thought it would be.  Sure, we play, we talk, we tell stories at bed time.  But for me, this kind of active listening, with complete attention, is taking some practice.  But it’s so worth it when I focus and remember to do it!

Jennifer Kolari, author of Connected Parenting, says that active, empathetic listening releases reward chemicals in the brain that stimulate positive emotions and create order and balance in the nervous system.  These benefits occur in both the talker and the listener.  From my own experience, I can say that there is a sweet feeling of connection that happens, and I can see this being registered in the girls’ eyes as we talk.

active listening photo by shannon mayhew

4. Laugh
This one will not come as a surprise to anyone, but it’s worth a look because it’s so important!  Laughter boosts the immune system, it stretches muscles, increases oxygen intake, promotes relaxation, and relieves pain.  It feels good.  We all know this.

Jimmy and Shaq

Photo from

I recently read an amazing book by Anita Moorjani, called Dying to be Me.  In the book, Moorjani describes her near death experience, and her rapid healing from stage 4B cancer after the experience.  While her organs were shutting down, Moorjani went into a coma, when she had the realization of her own inherent worth and “the true magnificence of each and every human being.”  She regained consciousness and was released from the hospital within weeks, cancer-free.

At the end of her book, she takes care to leave us with this wisdom:

“Finally, I can’t stress enough how important it is to enjoy yourself and not take yourself or life too seriously. One of the biggest flaws with many traditional spiritual systems is that they give you such a somber outlook. Although you know that I abhor creating doctrines, if I ever had to create a set of tenets for a spiritual path to healing, number one on my list would be to make sure to laugh as often as possible throughout every single day–and preferably laugh at myself. This would be hands down over and above any form of prayer, meditation, chanting, or diet reform. Day-to-day problems never seem as big when viewed through a veil of humor and love.”

Love and fun2

The Tao of Jimmy Fallon!  A simple, yet profound way to happiness.


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