HAVE YOU heard any good jokes lately? When was the last time you laughed yourself into tears? Humorist Mark Twain put it this way: "The human race has only one really effective weapon, and that is laughter." Wish I'd said that. :)
That little symbol is an emoticon, and if you text or email, and it’s meant to insert a smile so that the reader who may be a million miles away knows the emotion that goes with the sentence.
Interesting world we live in where we feel the need to explain ourselves so fully. Emoticons are a far cry from the sheer joy of living.
I recently traveled with my husband to visit his son in Seattle. David has a motorcycle that he loves to ride on the open back roads of Washington State. One morning on our way to meet friends, I surprised myself and asked to join him on the back of his quiet-running Triumph, leaving my husband to follow in the car.
I pulled on the heavy, padded protective jacket, strapped on a helmet, climbed on behind David, gripped the passenger handles, and off we went. We were using city streets so our speed wasn’t that high, but sitting on that motorcycle, I was sure we were turbo-charged! I realized I was grinning ear to ear. I had the helmet on so I couldn’t feel the wind in my hair, but I was exhilarated in a way I hadn’t experienced for a very long time.
And that’s the point: somewhere on the journey from childhood to adulthood, we become serious about life. We are responsible – for ourselves, our families, and our employers. The burdens are heavy, and our emotions follow right along. Solemn. Severe. Somber. Stern. No wind in our hair.
Yet, here come the scientists with a solution for that heaviness. Their prescription reduces pain, increases job performance, lowers blood sugar levels, increases glucose tolerance, and increases the flow of blood to your heart and brain. No, not a pill. Laughter. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
Think of laughter as inner jogging. Laughter makes us breathe with our diaphragms and helps us to take fuller breaths. The more oxygen that comes in, the more toxins are expelled when we exhale. Laughter creates body chemicals called endorphins – the body’s natural painkillers – that give you a “high” and make you feel more energetic. And laughter strengthens the body’s immune system.
That’s all well and good you say, but it feels wrong to be talking about laughter in the face of community tragedy and tension or when someone is facing a serious illness or loss of a job. It’s hard to smile when politicians are amping up the negative dialogue before the November elections, and when much of what is happening is out of a person’s control.
Even during life’s most unpleasant moments, we can explore the possibility of finding joy. Perhaps it’s connecting joy with gratitude. We can call upon gratitude whenever we choose. For example, if a loved one is near the end of life, we can focus on the gifts they have given us that will persist beyond their passing. The idea is not to replace feelings of sadness or loss with joy, but rather to expand and experience to include joy or gratitude.
Joy is an experience that is available to everyone at any moment because joy is something we can create for ourselves. We don’t need to wait, and wait, for the ship to come in, or for someone to give us permission.
My high school and college friend Bowen White, M.D., became a medical doctor after traveling to many countries to learn about the many types of healing that exist in the world. Bowen loves to greet people, not with a simple hello, but by asking them what trouble they’ve caused recently, what they’ve done to be disruptive, to do things a different way, to have fun.
Bowen treats children who are facing life-threatening illnesses by bringing laughter back into their lives. He gives them red clown noses or Groucho glasses so they can surprise their doctors and nurses, creating laughter, which is just what children are supposed to do. He teaches them to juggle, and explains that unlike adults, kids don’t get upset if they drop the balls while they’re learning. They keep right at it, balls dropping everywhere, until they get it. In contrast, most adults don’t want anyone see them dropping balls. Yet, that’s where the fun is – in the trying and failing and trying again.
So here’s a challenge for you. Halloween is coming. For many adults and children, it’s a day to get a little crazy with costumes and antics. What are you planning to do? Watch from the sidelines? Why not get into the fun? Put on a silly wig or try out some vampire teeth. Shake things up a little and have a good laugh.
Now, here’s the real test. In a few weeks when Halloween is past, recall the laughter and make it happen for yourself again. Let go of what’s serious and solemn in your life and take a hearty dose of one of the most powerful medicines we have: laughter.
“We do not laugh because we are happy, we are happy because we laugh.” That’s a quote from William James.
And Jan McIntire. :)