I more than realize that there are many serious issues that we humans face, but I often wonder if we have generally become far too humorless. I believe that there is no better cure for what ails us than a really good belly laugh, but these days cracking a joke is akin to walking through a mine field. There will almost always be someone who takes offense from words intended only as a joke. As a society we just don’t seem to have a healthy sense of humor anymore, and I suspect that being that way has become the source of many of our problems.
The old saying suggests that if we laugh the world will laugh with us. I tend to believe the truth of that platitude, as long as the comedy is not intended to be mean spirited or cruel. It’s been proven time and again that laughter is indeed a form of medicine, but we have become very thin-skinned and more and more likely to find offense in what once might have made us roar with delight. I think that people would find themselves to be less likely targets if they would instead simply enjoy the humor and join the fun. I’ve found laughter to be an incredible release of tension that has the power to join people together rather than pull them apart. God knows that we could use a bit of unity.
I heard about a school in India where children are literally given classes in laughter. They are encouraged to learn how to engage in deep belly shaking howls of hilarity that bring grins to their faces and make them feel renewed. While it may seem like a somewhat strange concept, the reality is that the ability to laugh is one of nature’s greatest gifts to us that we sometimes forget to use.
Some of my fondest memories center around hilarious moments when I laughed so hard that I literally had tears streaming down my face. My best teachers were the ones who engaged us with stories that made us chuckle and those who were willing to join us in our merriment. I recall the time that we created hydrogen sulfide in the science lab and then blew the rotten egg smell toward our mathematics teacher’s classroom. When we enticed him to open his door we grabbed our sides with glee even as he feigned anger to please us.
Then there was the occasion when our English teacher recounted his trip to a proctologist. We nearly fell out of our chairs we were laughing so hard. Few comedians have ever entertained me as much as our beloved instructor did. He definitely secured our attention and kept it even when he needed to be serious. We loved him so much that we were in awe from the moment that we walked into his classroom each day. The fact that he encouraged us to enjoy a good joke with him was a powerful motivator and one of the most powerful tools that he used with us.
There are movies with scenes so classically funny that they tickle me every single time that I see them. Mel Brooks was a master at creating situations that were hilarious, and it’s almost impossible to watch Monty Python without breaking out in a great big grin. We revisit movies like Christmas Vacation and Elf year after year because they make us smile, something that always feels good no matter what our life has otherwise been like.
I always appreciated that both George W. Bush and Barrack Obama were willing to become part of jokes about themselves. They enjoyed the idea of humor rather than feeling hurt by the skits and word play. They were eager to be part of the fun because they understood that we can’t be serious all of the time. Sometimes laughter is our saving grace. The trick is in knowing when it is appropriate and when we must be more solemn.
Years ago when my husband Mike was receiving chemotherapy for a very serious fungal disease a friend of his came to the hospital to visit. He had us in stitches with an imitation of a farmer providing advice on how to get rid of the offending infection. He suggested that Mike should get some Green Light fungicide and create a curative cocktail. He went on and on with the joke until Mike almost fell out of his bed with unrestrained laughter. It was the best medicine that he had received and the first time that he had felt so good in many weeks.
Much like Mike’s irreverent friend the Irish are known for their wakes that often become rather raucous. I once worked with a teacher from Ireland who told us tales of one occasion when she and her friends went to great pains to install a spring inside the coffin of one of her relatives. When unsuspecting visitors were kneeling in front of the deceased, they would push a button that caused the corpse to rise into a sitting position. She and the other pranksters would howl with delight as the frightened guests nearly fainted from fright. My friend impishly told this story with a mischievous twinkle in her eye and as we laughed at her antics I always found myself wondering if she had actually put one over on us with a fictional tale or if her story was actually true. Whatever the case she always noted that the purpose of the trickery had been to bring some levity into an occasion that was far too laden with tears and that their plan actually worked.
We may not be quite ready to follow my Irish friend’s lead when it comes to funerals but the point is that laughter can be a cure for the blues. Instead of huffing with indignation so often, we would do well to let ourselves go and put ourselves on the bright side of life.