“My giggle is gone.
I can’t seem to laugh
and I don’t know what’s wrong.
from Henry Hyena, Why Won’t You Laugh?
written by Doug Jantzen
illustrated by Jean Claude
Simon & Schuster/Aladdin, 2015
accessed on YouTube 2/13/23
Mom would be putting the finishing touches on dinner when Dad got home from work. We kids would be belly-laughing at the Three Stooges on TV in the living room as Dad hung up his hat, loosened his tie, and joined us. Mom muttered about insensitivity, lack of empathy, and how hurting someone isn’t funny as she called us all in to eat dinner.
Mom had a great sense of humor. She just didn’t get the stooges, or any other slapstick, either. Some people are like that.
Usually, if we look for it, we can find the humor in most situations. Time and distance sometimes need to work their magic, but even the blackest cloud can sport a silver lining, if we look hard enough in the right places.
Humor comes in many guises, not only slapstick. And a side-splitting belly laugh, no matter where it comes from, really is good medicine.
The Idioms website attributes the phrase all the way back to Proverbs 17:22 which states “A merry heart does good like a medicine: but a broken spirit dries the bones.” (I updated the translation a little.)
In modern times, Norman Cousins brought the phrase into public awareness and Patch Adams, a real doctor who believed that the core principles of love and laughter should be the basis of a physician’s bedside manner, brought the phrase to life. Robin Williams’s portrayal of the doc in the 1998 film, Patch Adams is worth a look.
But is it true? Can laughter really heal us? According to lots of research, the short answer is “yes!” Now I will not discount modern medical breakthroughs, including aspirin, plaster casts, and chemotherapy when necessary, but a good dose of laughter, the more raucous the better, helps, too.
Laughter is an antidote for stress. A hearty laugh increases our intake of oxygen which increases circulation which helps control the amount of cortisol flowing through our bodies. Cortisol is an important hormone that manages blood sugar levels, reduces inflammation, manages metabolism, and triggers the fight or flight response. But too much cortisol and we feel stress.
A rollicking laugh increases then decreases our stress response. The wonderful result is that relaxed feeling we all seek.
True laughter increases our pain tolerance by releasing endorphins, our bodies’ own natural painkillers.
Long term, laughter can improve our immune system. An article from The Mayo Clinic says negative thoughts cause chemical reactions that bring more stress into our systems. Our immunity decreases. But positive thoughts release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially fight off more-serious illnesses.
In our 2023 world full of real suffering, anxiety, and existential threats, (you know what they all are) laughter can help lighten stress, decrease depression, and bring a little more joy into our lives.
And here’s some more good news. Laughter can be learned. We can all improve (or discover) our own sense of humor. That same Mayo Clinic article tell us how.
Add more humor to your life.
Read funny greeting cards at the corner drug store, grocery store, or look on-line. Hang up funny comics from the newspaper on the bathroom mirror or refrigerator. (I know I’m dating myself here, but I still support our local paper). Watch a funny movie. Young Frankenstein, Meet the Parents, Patch Adams anyone?
Find the joke section in the local library’s children’s section (793.7 if your library uses the Dewey Decimal System) and look for the corniest ones there.
I just found out about laughter yoga. It’s a fake it till you make it situation. At first your laughter is forced. As you continue, it becomes more spontaneous. And it has the added benefit of laughing in a group.
Humor takes many forms. Look for what tickles your funny bone. Irony, witty puns, self-deprecating humor (try David Sedaris’s “The Christmas Elf”), dark humor (anything Roald Dahl), or a good parody.
To me, there’s nothing too much funnier than a gooey, pie-in-the-face slapstick routine. Those three stooges, Larry, Curly, and Moe (and later, Shemp and Joe) were timing masters and guffaw-inducing geniuses. That is, if stapstick is your thing, too.
I finished Black Faces, White Spaces by Carolyn Finney (University of North Carolina Press, 2014). She uses a variety of sources including magazines, film, interviews, and popular culture to examine why Black people are underrepresented in America’s National Parks, local parks, and the outdoors in general. It’s an interesting and important premise, but a little fact-heavy and a little narrative-shy.
-—stay curious! (and seek hilarity)