Laughter: Good for the Body, Good for the Soul
by Gert Slabach
This article first appeared in the Spring 2017 print edition of Daughters of Promise.
We had attended the funeral of an uncle and then met at my sister’s house later for supper. My mother and her sister (siblings of the deceased) joined us, visiting together in the living room. Our children played together while the adults gathered around the dining room table to play Taboo. My brother-in-law Ralph, who rarely plays table games, decided to join us. We had no idea when we started the game that his participation would be the best comic relief of the day. As it turns out, it was just what we needed.
Comic relief is described as “relief from tension caused by the introduction or occurrence of a comic element.” With comic relief comes laughter. Everybody needs laughter. Did you know that people who laugh are healthier than those who do not? Studies have proven this over and over again. Perhaps that is one reason Readers’ Digest calls Laughter “the best Medicine”? This is why comic relief is so important in stories, plays, and in real life.
In our Taboo game, we clipped along, spitting out clues right and left. Finally, it was Ralph’s turn. He pulled up his card, frowned, and then triumphantly yelled as he flailed his arms, “Stretched out! Been there a looooong time!”
Try as we might, his team couldn’t guess the word. Despite the fact that he told us, “You should know this one, after today!” we were clueless.
The word that Ralph wanted us to guess was “rigor mortis”.
How we laughed! It might not be funny to you now, but if you had been there, you would have laughed - either with us or at us. That incident happened over two decades ago, and we are still laughing about ‘rigor mortis’ in our family. Why was it so funny? There were several reasons. Ralph is a jolly fellow, and he was laughing at himself as hard as we were. Sometimes just seeing someone else laugh can make us laugh too. Laughter can be a gift, and sharing this gift brings great comradery and closer relationships.
Another reason for our family’s puzzlement was that his definition did not make sense to us. Yet he could not believe we did not guess it, because we had just come from a funeral. Perhaps the most pertinent reason was that in the past few days we had all experienced grief. Our grief had brought more tears than laughter, and we all needed an emotional reprieve. My mother and my aunt, watching us from the next room, laughed as hard as we did, telling me that our fun was medicinal for them as well.
When a story line becomes tense for too long or there is too much sorrow and grief, writers inject humor. The reader’s tension diminishes as laughter overcomes him. Having someone with whom to share the laughter is even more healing. After the laughter, the reader is refreshed and can handle more literary excitement.
This is also true in life. I am not diminishing the importance of taking time in the Word, and spending time praying when life is difficult: for these are things we must do. Yet, the fact remains, laughter does a body good, especially when life is hard.
Which would you rather have - a merry heart or dried bones? Proverbs tells us that a merry heart is like good medicine. Medication heals and cures; so does laughter. What dries the bones? A broken spirit. Depression saps our strength, often causing us to withdraw from others. Depression can make it difficult to see beyond our own feelings and self. This is why laughter is so important. How many times do we see a depressed person laugh? Like a fountain of water, laughter gives light and warmth to our souls.
When we find time to laugh, we are taking a good dose of medicine, and our spirits will not become broken. (Prov. 17:22)
Scientific studies show that laughter has much to offer us. Not only do we experience emotional relief, we also experience physical benefits.
Can a laugh every day keep a heart attack away? Maybe so!
Laughter with an active sense of humor may help protect you against a heart attack. A study at the University of Maryland Medical Center found that people with heart disease were forty percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease.
Dr. Michael Miller, a cardiologist, stated,
“We don’t know yet why laughing protects the heart, but we know that mental stress is associated with impairment of the endothelium (the protective barrier lining our blood vessels). [Stress] can cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and ultimately to a heart attack.
People with heart disease responded less humorously to everyday life situations. They generally laugh less, even in positive situations, and they display more anger and hostility. The ability to laugh - either naturally or as a learned behavior- may have important implications in societies such as the U.S. where heart disease remains the number one killer.”
Here are some things laughter does for us:
Boosts the Immune System. Stress decreases your immunity because of the chemical reactions that occur from negative thoughts. Laughter boosts anti-viral and anti-tumor defenses. It stimulates the heart, lungs, and muscles, increases oxygen intake, and increases endorphins released by your brain. Laughter is a natural antidote to many of the illness-causing effects of stress.
Burns calories. Laughing ten to fifteen minutes a day can burn forty calories.
Improves your mood. Many people experience depression for various reasons. Laughter helps lessen depression and anxiety and may make a person feel happier.
Increases personal satisfaction. Laughter can make it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps us connect with other people.
Relieves pain. When laughter occurs, pain thresholds increase as our bodies produce their own natural painkillers. In addition, endorphins released from laughter raise our ability to ignore pain.
Soothes tension. Tension blocks emotions. Laughter helps dislodge those emotions. Suppressed or blocked emotions can cause ongoing physical, mental, and emotional problems, and stress. Their release can be life-changing. Laughter provides an excellent non-violent method for emotional release, helping to activate and relieve your stress response.
Stimulates circulation and aids in muscle relaxation. A rollicking laugh is great for stress. It accentuates and then cools down stress response. Laughter can increase heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
It really is true that one of the best ways to stay healthy is to laugh a lot!
Years ago, my husband and I faced a crisis. For weeks, we talked, cried, and prayed about it together. One evening we reevaluated our situation again on our way to a program by a Christian comedian. By the end of the evening, our abdomens hurt because we had laughed so hard that we cried. The problem had not disappeared, but the tension was gone. We felt relaxed and able to face it the next day. It was the best thing we could have done for our stress.
When life seems bleak, when life is hard, when there are more tears than songs, find someone who can help you laugh. It just might be the best medicine you can take - and a sleeping potion that will end up giving rest to your soul.
Our laughter must never be at the expense of others, or in making fun of others: We do well to remember that. We are to encourage and build each other up. This is not what happens when we laugh at others. Laughing with each other gives support. (1 Thess. 5:11)
Laughter is the most natural medication God has given. Take a dose of it every day and experience the difference it makes!
rigor mortis: stiffness; when the limbs of a corpse become rigid after death