Think about the last time you had a really good laugh. Not just a slight chuckle, but an all-out, full blown, uncontrollable shaking laugh. When you lost complete control of your body, your mind went blank, your eyes watered and your stomach hurt. If you refer to it by the shorthand ROTFLWPIMP (rolling on the floor laughing while peeing in my pants) you know exactly what I mean.
Think about how you felt. Last time that happened I was still smiling hours later, and didn’t even mind having to change my pants. Somehow everything in life looked a little better.
I love laughing.
I must admit, sometimes I laugh at inappropriate times. Some people think I have a third grade sense of humor. They could be right. I have been known to laugh so hard in church that I‘ve distracted the pastor. I have fallen off my chair in a restaurant and stayed under the table because I couldn’t stop laughing. I’ve laughed irrepressibly at funerals, weddings, speeches, and other solemn occasions just because some random turn of phrase amused me.
So perhaps my love of laughter is a little over the top.
But laughter has gotten me through the hardest times in my life. When I’m down, I find laughter is the best therapy. It takes my mind off what’s in front of me, even for a few minutes. And long after I’ve stopped laughing, I’m in a happier mood.
I’m not the only one who sees the benefits of laughter. There’s actually scientific evidence that laughter is good for us. I did some research and found laughter increases the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. People who laugh a lot really do feel better. Scientifically. They are less prone to depression. They can better deal with life’s traumas. They enjoy life more.
These benefits weren’t that surprising to me, but I was blown away by the physical health benefits of laughter. Laughter strengthens the immune system, boosts energy, decreases blood pressure, increases blood flow, improves sleep patterns, reduces pain, and alleviates stress. Seriously. Doctors have found a really good laugh (the ROTFLWPIMP kind) is comparable to a strenuous 10 minute workout. This is excellent news for me, since apparently now I can get ripped abs while watching Seinfeld reruns.
One of the things I love most about laughter is that it makes me feel connected to people. When I can lose myself in laughter with someone, I feel a strong bond with them. Shared laughter draws me closer to people than most other shared events because we can often relive the experience with a simple, “Remember when…”
Because of that, my fondest memories are laughing with family and friends. Though I love deep, meaningful conversations, I enjoy them even more when they are interspersed with laughter. For me, it strengthens the relationship. It also reduces tension; it’s hard to be mad at someone when you’re laughing.
Before I started writing this post, I never really thought about the benefits of laughter. I just knew that I loved to laugh. Laughing has always made me feel better, especially in difficult circumstances. God has used laughter to pull me out of the pit of despair. But when life is hard, laughter is hard to come by. I’ve had to actively seek it out. These are some things that I’ve done to increase the amount of humor in my life.
1) I laugh at myself. This is easy since I’m constantly doing humiliating things. Things like entering a highway on the exit ramp and seeing oncoming traffic. Or accidentally hitting “reply all” with a confidential response to a friend. Or serving guests a casserole that I had completely dumped on the kitchen floor. (Don’t worry, I scooped it up and added bread crumbs.)
Sharing embarrassing moments is one of my favorite pastimes. Mostly because it helps me reframe the event as it is happening. I consider what might be funny in it, what I can share with others, what details are the most ridiculous. Just thinking about how to retell the story invariably takes the sting away. It helps me laugh at myself in the moment, when I’d otherwise just be mortified.
I usually memorialize these experiences in our annual Christmas letter which details all of the absurd, awkward, and abnormal things that our family has done in the past year. Nothing is off-limits as I recount the highlights, or rather the low-lights, of the year. Whenever I make a mistake or do anything embarrassing, my one consolation is that I can write about it in the Christmas letter and make people laugh.
2) I seek out people who love to laugh too. People who find humor in everyday situations. People who are willing to laugh at themselves. And people who can make me laugh, even when I’m down. Those friendships are invaluable to me, because they help me see beyond myself, and make me a happier, more balanced person.
Laughter is contagious. It brings people together. When I’m with friends who laugh a lot, I laugh more. When I hear someone laughing hysterically, it’s hard not to start laughing myself.
3) When I need laughter on demand, I like watching funny movies, random animal Youtube videos and comedians. My favorite comedians are Tim Hawkins, Chonda Pierce and Bill Cosby. They can make me laugh till I cry. I’m positive I’ve had a serious cardio-vascular workout watching Tim Hawkins video “Full Range of Motion.”
Laughter helps me enjoy life to the fullest. For me, joy and laughter are linked; when I’m laughing, I’m automatically more joyful. Laughter is about delighting in the crazy awkwardness of life. It is relishing all that God has given me. It is noticing and appreciating His everyday gifts.
Laughter can help me pull away from my struggles, at least temporarily, and when I return, things are strangely better.
As Milton Berle says, “Laughter is an instant vacation.” I couldn’t agree more.
photo courtesy of Jonathan Davidar