Making Time for Awe and Laughter Enhances Life
San Francisco author Allen Klein, 85, shares his philosophy far and wide
On any given day, author Allen Klein may be riding a Ferris wheel with his daughter, working on a memoir, enjoying a cabaret show, promoting one of his many books, getting rid of superfluous possessions or posting his Mid-Month Mirth Memo on Facebook. "I like to do new things," said Klein, 85.
A resident of San Francisco, Klein has written more than 30 inspirational self-help books, many of them celebrating the therapeutic power of humor. Appropriately, he is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement award from the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor, an international organization that "advances the understanding and application of humor and laughter for their positive benefits."
"I believe in serendipity, but I think of it as mini miracles, unexpected opportunities for awe that are all around us and that enrich the moment."
Klein also spends time marveling at the many serendipitous moments in his life. For example, the day after he mentioned he'd retired from public speaking, Klein was invited to deliver the keynote at a conference on aging in Hampton, Virginia. "I believe in serendipity," he said, "but I think of it as mini miracles, unexpected opportunities for awe that are all around us and that enrich the moment."
His latest book, "The Awe Factor: How a Little Bit of Wonder Can Make a Big Difference in Your Life," explores how we all can become more aware of awe and wonder and offers tips on how to get more of that in our lives.
"I wrote the book to serve as a personal trainer, and I filled it with inspiring examples," Klein said. Author and motivational speaker Jack Canfield penned the foreword.
Go For an 'Awe Walk'
"Awe — which is all about mindfulness and paying attention to detail — is a hot topic just now," Klein said. "One study showed that an 'awe walk' for just 15 minutes a week boosted older adults' emotional health over an eight-week period, and research shows that little bursts of awe on a regular basis can make a big difference, make you feel more alive."
In the book, Klein shares personal stories plus passages from others about everything from the breathtaking glory of the Grand Canyon to the wonder of watching lima bean vines twist around the metal railings of a fire escape. Awe, he says, can be found in nature, in the arts, in good company or alone, in secular situations and in the divine. Spirituality and Practice, a multifaith website, hailed "The Awe Factor" as "one of the best spiritual books" when it was first published in 2020.
Klein shares personal stories plus passages from others about everything from the breathtaking glory of the Grand Canyon to the wonder of watching lima bean vines twist around the metal railings of a fire escape.
A 77-year-old reader sent Klein this rave review: "I have never exercised while reading a book — until now! While reading 'The Awe Factor,' my facial muscles worked overtime, smiling, while my neck moved up and down in agreement with so many of the brilliant insights shared in these pages."
Klein's first book remains his favorite. He wrote "The Healing Power of Humor: Techniques for Getting Through Loss, Setbacks, Upsets, Disappointments, Difficulties, Trials, Tribulations, and All That Not-So-Funny Stuff," after his wife died at age 34 in 1978. "It came out in 1989," he said. "I was a pioneer in that field, and now the book is in the 40-something printing and has been published in 12 languages."
About a year after his wife's death, Klein met Dave Cooperberg, and they have been together for 43 years. They married in 2008. Currently, Klein is writing "little stories" about his past. "I took a memoir class, mostly to learn how it was taught, but I started jotting stuff down, like the time I was in the same men's room as Robert Redford," Klein said. "I have about 40 stories now, some funny, some touching. I don't know if this will be a book or not — I just enjoy writing. Once you have that creative bug, you can't stop."
A Zest for Life
Klein said he has always valued the power of humor, and as a boy growing up in the Bronx, he was influenced by his mother's willingness to look at the lighter side of any situation. That's why all his books are filled with quotes and anecdotes that highlight positivity, he said. (My favorite is "You Can't Ruin My Day: 52 Wake-Up Calls to Turn Any Situation Around.")
"Even if I live to 100, I don't have that much time left."
Klein's first career was designing sets for "Captain Kangaroo," "The Merv Griffin Show" and "The Jackie Gleason Show." He also designed opera sets, worked in theater and once owned a silk-screening business.
After his wife's death, Klein's life changed direction. He attended and then directed a program on death and dying at the now-defunct Holistic Life University in San Francisco and he became a licensed home health care aide and hospice volunteer.
Working with the dying, Klein noticed the role that humor played in their lives. He enrolled at Saint Mary's University in Winona, Minnesota, where he earned a master's degree under the direction of the late Dr. William Fry Jr., a leading researcher in applied and therapeutic humor. Since then, Klein has considered himself a "jollytologist"® and he has taken his message to audiences in 48 states and in Canada, Israel, Australia and Hungary.
Klein's work has complemented his zest for life and his "can-do" spirit. He has marched in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and given a Tedx Talk. For his recent birthday, Klein wrote an hour-long show about Broadway songs that have had an impact on him, and then presented it at a nightclub for his nearest and dearest. He and Cooperberg travel often to New York to see theater and cabaret, and they are familiar faces at San Francisco entertainment venues as well.
Still, Klein noted that his life has slowed down a bit in the past few years. "Even if I live to 100, I don't have that much time left," he said. "Where in the past I'd put this off or postpone that, now I don't. There is so much richness to take in, so much of life to participate in — now more than ever."