The year is 2004. The place: Local grocery store. There’s a long line of impatient customers in one of the check-out lanes. Among them are myself and my eight-year-old daughter. We’re all standing around, shifting from foot to foot in a blatant display of grouchiness, as the line slowly edges forward. Too many customers, too few cashiers. Unless you count irritated sighs, none of us are speaking.
As you know, children have a tendency to speak loudly no matter the environment (and by “some children,” I mean mine) so when my daughter starts talking, everyone in line can hear her. She holds her tummy and groans. “Mom, I’m starving! Can we pick up a hamburger on the way home? I really need to eat. I’m sooooo hungry!”
“No,” I reply. “I’m cooking tonight.”
She immediately says: “Nevermind, I’m not hungry.”
The line laughs. The mood changes. My daughter’s unintentional joke has lightened the air around us. No more irritated sighs. No more shifting from foot to foot. The man behind me strikes up an amusing conversation with my daughter. It’s all at my expense, of course, but that’s okay – I can take a joke.
If so, you may have the power to heal yourself, and others.
We all know the old cliché about laughter being the best medicine, but few of us know the actual science behind it. Research shows that laughter exercises the internal organs, gets more oxygen flow to the brain, improves a patient’s chances of recovery following an illness, gives your endorphins a lift and strengthens the immune system. Plus, it’s free.
Unfortunately, society has convinced us that when you become a grown-up, you are only allowed to laugh at certain things. Woody Allen films? Yes. “Dumb and Dumber”? No. Past a certain age, “funny” becomes “immature.” Let’s face it, you don’t see many forty-year-old men sticking straws up their noses or forty-year-old women giggling over a group of middle-aged men in the mall.
Still, there’s lots of room for silliness in a grown-up world. I’m not an expert on how to live a joyful life filled with sunshiney days, but I like funny. That much I know. What’s surprising is how many people don’t. Even in a laissez-faire place like Southwest Louisiana, there are lots of serious people who make the air around them heavy by throwing down the gauntlet of grown-up conversation. It goes with the territory of adulthood. But there are times when I’m in the mood for nonsense. Like Dr. Seuss said: “I like nonsense. It wakes up the brain cells.”
Just because we’re adults doesn’t mean we shouldn’t appreciate the value of silliness. Yes, the world is a serious place and there are all kinds of things to be serious about – but that’s exactly why we need to laugh.
I’m not always the best with remembering names (to be honest, I’m not the best with remembering anything; sometimes I think my brain only stores information for two weeks at a time) but if you make me laugh, I will remember. That’s the thing about laughter. If you do it enough, it sticks.
When you look for humor in the world, you find it. And one thing’s for sure: When you’re laughin’, you ain’t cryin’.
February 8-14 is Love Makes the World Go Round But Laughter Keeps Us From Getting Dizzy Week, so be sure to celebrate.
The column appears in the February issue of Thrive Magazine.