Laughter: The Best Medicine. It has been a regular feature in Reader’s Digest for years.
Patch Adams. Robin Williams made his Gesundheit! Institute famous as the place where laughter is curative.
Norman Cousins wrote Anatomy of an Illness in which he recommended a good belly laugh everyday as a cure for Cancer.
Secrets of a Happy Marriage. I couldn’t resist investigating this workshop at a counseling conference. The secret? Yep, a shared belly laugh, most every day, will keep your marriage together. And, I should add that it has worked. Every once in a while I heed this advice. I break out into a belly laugh for no apparent reason while my wife is in the room, she belly laughs in response, and we are still together! It might even have a secondary benefit of strengthening our abs.
I actually don’t know if laughter is therapeutic, and I can’t be sure if it is the secret to a happy marriage, but I know this – laughter is a sign of good character. I want to do it better.
Other than Sarai’s somewhat cynical laugh (Genesis 18:12) Scripture doesn’t identify too many jolly folks, jokesters, or moments of laughter. The New Testament spotlights the appropriateness – the blessedness – of mourning, assuming that we are mourning for the right reasons. But Christians should also be laughing.
We know the ending. The reason we can laugh is that we know Jesus is returning and he will make everything right. Human history, for those who are with Jesus, ends well.
I remember the first time I saw the movie version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing. I was on edge of my seat and found very little that was funny, but the movie, to my relief, ended well. The second time I saw the movie I was laughing the entire time. Only when you know the end can you laugh. This, as I understand it, is the difference between comedy and tragedy. Comedy ends well, tragedy doesn’t. This means that Christians are the only humans who can genuinely laugh. We live during a battle, but we know who wins.
Some mourners feel as though it would be disrespectful to ever laugh after having lost a loved one. This perspective might give them freedom to both mourn and, in hope, laugh.
Now consider lesser matters. How often do we get crazy angry over a car, a detour, an inconvenience, spilled milk, a ding in a treasured possession, a spouse’s inadvertent mistake that costs us money or time, and so on? What a fine time to consider the end and how joy will be the tone of heaven. What a fine time to laugh, or at least smile. No doubt, such a response would leave a few people speechless.
Everything Doesn’t Have to be So Personal. This reason is related to our hope that all will be well, but it adds a dash of humility and the gift of overlooking minor slights. It is simply this, STOP TAKING EVERYTHING SO PERSONALLY, and try laughing instead of being angry. Stop acting like a local god who is unyielding and legalistic in demanding perfect protocol and utmost respect.
Two anecdotes. The first is from a good friend who has been married since the early 1980’s. While driving to the wedding ceremony with his future wife in the car, she exploded because he was combing his hair – or, more accurately, since it was a distant era, he was picking his afro. I remember the first time I heard the story I was thinking, “there is no way I could marry a person who would freak if I combed my hair in the car.” His response? He laughed. Then she laughed. Insert anger in the place of his laughter and they probably aren’t together today. They probably wouldn’t be married. He has been a don’t-take-it-so-personally mentor to me since I first heard this story. Of course, you have to be careful with this strategy because it can backfire if you laugh when the other person is after you for something especially important. When in doubt, ask your spouse or friend. When should you laugh? When should you never laugh?
The second was early in my marriage when I would react poorly to my wife’s tone of voice. Sometimes, it seemed to me, she spoke with a hint of contempt and condescension, and, if I ever caught a whiff of that, I would . . . not laugh.
Well, her parents came to stay with us after our first child was born, and the magical moment took place that very first evening they were at our house. My mother-in-law was saying something to my father-in-law that sounded strangely like my wife’s “Voice” (we had a name for it) only exaggerated. Here was my opportunity to grow in wisdom. How would my father-in-law respond? If he said something helpful, I would have an entirely new template for how to respond to my wife. I was confident he would do something wise, which he did.
He laughed, and that was the end of it.
Later that evening the Voice made a brief appearance. I laughed.
My wife hugged me, as if I had given her the best present ever.
I had two options. My preference had been, “How could you say that to me?” The second was, “If you think I am going to waver in my affection toward you because you sound a little testy, then you have another thing coming!” That moment was probably the first time I had chosen option two—and laughed—and I have been trying to stick with option two ever since.
I would like to say that I am highly skilled at laughing at the appropriate moment – my own stupidity, an inconvenience, a modest slight, another person’s over-reaction. But I’m not. “How could you say that to me?” still runs too deep. But, with a theology of laughter in hand, I am growing.
Here’s the funny thing. When I came home from that conference in which the presenter encouraged us to laugh with our spouse at least five days out of seven, my wife and I had a good laugh at a marital “secret” that was so superficial and silly. And, indeed, it could have used some biblical rationale, but today I am laughing with my wife about ironic events, our foibles, or even sins, and I am laughing about these things approximately four days out of every seven. She loves it. So do I. And I am aiming for five.
A brief postscript. My wife and I were getting ready to leave on a vacation for two weeks. In preparation, I over-watered a large jade plant, thinking that would last it for our entire trip. I couldn’t remember if I had drilled a hole in the bottom of its large pot, but I was in a hurry and wagered that I never did. Then I went off and started packing. Around a minute later both Sheri and I walked by the jade plant and watched a river – about 3 feet wide and 10 feet long – flowing from the pot. It made me think of the water flowing from Ezekiel’s temple. I had, indeed, over-watered. Normally, I would get frustrated by something like this, especially given that we had to leave very soon. But, as the perpetrator, all I could do was to find some rags and wait for my wife’s response. (Did I mention that we just installed new hardwood floors?)
Her response? She laughed. I had told her earlier in the day about my updated thoughts on laughing, so she laughed. Her laugh was as phony as could be, but it said “if you think a little water on our new hardwood floors, which was a result of you hurrying around and not really thinking about what you were doing, which might leave a stain and send water into the basement ceiling, could cause me to waver in my affection for you then you have another thing coming.” It was the best start of a vacation ever.
Ed Welch is a counselor and faculty member at CCEF.