Disclaimer: This post is not in any way meant to ignore or diminish anyone’s pain or struggles. If you have trouble being happy, if you never laugh, if there is no joy in you then I believe you would benefit from professional help.
Having said that, let’s talk about joy & laughter.
Joy, according to the apostle Paul, was one of the fruits of the Spirit. In other words, you can tell when someone is more connected to God and the energy of the Spirit flow when you sense joy in them. This does not mean they have to be telling dirty jokes, but that you feel a “lightness” about them, they smile easily, they laugh heartily and often… and despite sometimes rotten situations they can still manage to find some humor. Now, I recognize that joy and a sense of humor are two different things; however, I believe they go hand in hand. Even Gandhi said, “If I had no sense of humor, I would, long ago have committed suicide.”
You know the song “They’ll Know We are Christians by our Love”? Someone once suggested to me that we should change it to “They’ll Know We are Christians by our Joy.” A spiritual person should be identifiable by that deep joy that stabilizes them and bubbles out of them. And yet, studies show that the more “religious” a person gets (the more conservative or fundamentalist), the less of a sense of humor they have. The old adage appears to be true: “Found religion, lost their sense of humor.” We shouldn’t ever be too pious to laugh at ourselves, others or a good (even bad) joke. In fact, I would stake my life on Jesus having had a sense of humor. Who else puts wine in bath tubs?
I was reading a book by author Sara Beak who was fortunate enough to meet the Dalai Lama on her 21st birthday. In my opinion, the Dalai Lama is one of the happiest, most joyful looking people I’ve ever seen, despite watching his country be destroyed over the last 50 year. Anyway, he told them a wonderful story about a conference he had just attended. At the conference, he said, there was a very prominent and well-respected religious leader who was very, very serious and very proper. People were in awe of him… opening doors for him and bowing to him. Well, this holy man gave a speech that was very solemn and stoic. When he was finished and was moving to sit back down, the large string of prayer beads he was wearing around his neck must have caught on the microphone or something, because suddenly they broke and flew everywhere, bouncing off the microphone, the podium, another attendee’s eyeglasses, landing in a few water glasses and basically flying all over the room. Well, every religious leader in the room was very quiet and respectful and acted like nothing had happened, but the Dalai Lama thought it was hilarious and immediately cracked up, laughing and laughing, not trying to hide a thing. Sara said, even as he told them the story, he was laughing so hard again that he got tears in his eyes.
I know sometimes life is so difficult that it is hard to find joy. We may have days, weeks, months, where it feels impossible. And that’s ok… for a time. Still, I know that I’ve had times where finding humor in even little things kept me from falling deeper into the darkness. If I didn’t laugh, I’d cry. And certainly, if great spiritual leaders like Gandhi and Dalia Lama, who both experienced huge amounts of tragedy in their lives, can enjoy a good, belly shaking laugh, why shouldn’t everyone? Joy and laughter help us to heal and to move forward.
Reflect with me for a minute… have you ever been invited out with friends and not wanted to go because you were too sad or angry or lacking energy? But you went anyways and you allowed yourself to laugh and have fun and pretty soon you were out of the funk you were in? Or at the very least, the funk didn’t seem so daunting anymore? This is how joy and laughter helps us to heal.
Not only is this spiritually true, but physically true as well… perhaps you’ve heard the story of Norman Cousins. He was editor of the “Saturday Review” for 35 years, very active in the peace movement and an author of numerous books. At the age of 51 he was diagnosed with a terminal illness and given six months to live. As he looked back on his life he found that it was full of depression, worry and anger and he realized that it had deteriorated his health. He wondered if positive emotions – joy, laughter, love – could help him to heal. So, in addition to getting off some of his meds and taking high doses of Vitamin C, he checked himself out of the hospital and into a hotel room. Then he rented hundreds of comedies, hired a nurse to read him funny stories and asked his friends to call him with jokes or funny things that happened to them. Amazingly it worked… within a few months he was back to work and on the way to a full recovery.
Not only does laughter release great things in the body to help us physically, but it also heals relationships, gets us out of our own negative stuff, and puts things back in a better perspective.
Have you ever been in an argument with someone only to have something ridiculous happen in the middle of it that makes you want to crack up? You try not to laugh because you don’t want to let go of your anger, but then one of you can’t help it and a smile cracks and then it is all over from there. You both burst out laughing, suddenly whatever you were fighting about now seems much less dire and dramatic. You may even realize it was a silly argument and let it go. Or if it was a serious disagreement, at least now you can perhaps move forward in a more positive manner. Laughter is amazing.
I believe humor, laughter and joy is truly a gift of the spirit… we feel lighter, we feel more whole, we heal ourselves and we help other heal. Don’t just try it… make it part of your life.