Several years ago, a friend and I were bluntly told that we “laughed like unsocialized homeschoolers.” Perhaps there was something more insulting lurking beneath the surface of that comment, but I’ll choose to put a positive spin on it and take it as a sign that my friend and I never had our bubbling joy stifled by the institutional walls of the traditional classroom.
But, even if my laugh is a little more hearty than those of others, I think I can safely say that it doesn’t compare to those I heard the other day when I came across an old clip from a French television show. The show brought together a handful of people with unusual laughs that sounded like everything from a screeching seagull to a bike horn, and the laughter that ensued was at least infectious, if not side-holding!
I continued to chuckle about this video throughout the day, and it got me thinking about laughter, wondering why we don’t do it more. After all, laughter has many health benefits, both short-term and long-term, including stress reduction, immunity enhancement, and pain relief, to name a few. Indeed, after laughing heartily at this video, I felt tired out, but in a satisfied, happy, mood-enhancing type of way.
But author G. K. Chesterton hinted at benefits from laughter beyond health in an essay from his book The Common Man, noting the unfortunate fact that “the tendency of recent culture has been to tolerate the smile but discourage the laugh.” Three reasons for this discouragement of laughter come to mind:
1. Laughter Generates Connection and Community
“[T]he smile is always individual and even secretive (especially if it is a little mad),” Chesterton writes, “while the laugh can be social and gregarious, and is perhaps the one genuine surviving form of the General Will.”
In other words, when people laugh, it almost always breaks the ice, creating a commonality and thus a bond with those who share it. It opens channels for further conversation and activity, cheering the weary or discouraged.
Today, many bemoan the isolated nature of society. Unfortunately, such isolation was actively encouraged just a few years ago, and destroying community-building entities—such as the family, church, and neighborhood—seems to be a specialty of our culture. Thus, by encouraging more laughter, we can reignite the connections our culture needs to survive in a time when many of us are increasingly isolated and depressed.
2. Laughter Encourages Openness
It was probably rather embarrassing for the individuals in the video to come on the show and exhibit their unusual laughs to others. Yet they forsook self-importance, let their secret out in the open, and allowed their quirkiness to bring joy to others.
Laughter does just those things, Chesterton writes. It “lays itself open to criticism, is innocent and unguarded, has the sort of humanity which has always something of humility.” Furthermore, “it unfreezes pride and unwinds secrecy.”
We could use more of those traits in our world today. Sure, our culture encourages people to be open and honest (i.e. come out of the closet, speak your mind), but it simultaneously censors speech and promotes fraudulent façades through social media, propping up the self-importance of individuals through virtue signaling and air-brushed photos. Perhaps it’s time we took each other a little less seriously and made room for laughter once again in order to create true openness and honesty … and a little humility, too.
3. Laughter Points Us to the Author of Laughter
“Laughter has something in it in common with the ancient winds of faith and inspiration,” Chesterton writes. “[I]t makes men forget themselves in the presence of something greater than themselves.”
Popular thinking suggests that God is austere and stern, sitting up in Heaven waiting to zap us. In reality, God is the author of laughter, a fact which shines through both in His Word and in the unique and amusing creatures with which He filled the world.
And perhaps that’s exactly why we don’t laugh as much today—because we don’t know the Source of true joy, and in fact, have done our best to stifle any references or remembrances of Him. Thus, by allowing more genuine, wholesome laughter in our lives, perhaps we will open up the doors of communion and fellowship not only with others, but with Him as well.
Indeed, it just may be that merry hearts are exactly the medicine that this poor, sick culture of ours needs.
This article is republished with permission from Annie’s Attic.
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