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“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” We find this sentence in Proverbs 17:22. Having grown up in a household where a ‘merry heart’ combined with a healthy dose of humor and lots of laughter, I’m here to say that I couldn’t agree more with that scripture!
Studies show that humor & laughter help people live longer, happier lives; be more creative & productive; and have more energy with less physical discomfort. I was going to list sources, but then I realized that we already know these things to be true, if we’re familiar with scriptures and example of many wise leaders. If we take life seriously when it comes to doing the right thing and doing right by others; yet don’t take ourselves too seriously, we can utilize that wonderful sense of humor. It will help us through tough spots as well as act as a tender healing aid when things are hard.
I have written before that I was very ill as a small child. Over and over again. And sometimes I would spend long spells of time in the hospital. My best healer, besides the Lord, was laughter. My mom would always come visiting with a funny story to share. My father was naturally a funny man. Almost always smiling, he had a quick wit and the ability to start the party – just because he had arrived. We still, 25 years after his death, use his made-up words (I got it honest – as they say in the South) and it brings us joy. We remember so many hilarious moments that were generated by my dad’s generous sense of humor.
When I remember the long stays in the hospital, or in bed at home, I smile when I remember my grandmother. When she could visit, it was always a boon to my health – because she was one of the funniest, most fun-loving people on the planet. Having her around was like a giant dose of ‘just the right medicine.’
As I think back on the years of extended family fun, my heart is filled with gratitude for my “Ma Ma Parker” who was wise enough to infuse most situations with a light touch of humor. When required, she would lead the charge in being off-the-charts silly – even when in her 80’s. Smart lady! Now our extended family enjoys files and files of happy memories centered around laughter together. What a great addition to a year’s supply!
I have tried to follow her example as a mom. Having gone through some dark and tough times, I’ve been the silly one in the house. Probably way too silly for my children, most of the time they were growing up. As they have gotten older and gained perspective, they’re beginning to see more clearly the reason their mom chose to act so ridiculous at times – to tell silly jokes – to start a laugh fest (or at least attempt to). Having that merry heart – type feeling helped to lift gloom, give strength, and grow hope. I’m sure there are many of you who do the same. It is a different way of offering service to our children; to our parents; to our siblings, or to friends who are fighting a battle – or who simply need a little dose of happy medicine!
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland reminded us that “Jesus found special joy and happiness in children and said all of us should be more like them—guileless and pure, quick to laugh.” (November Ensign, 1995.)
Many a tense situation can be loosened and lightened if we would tuck this advice into our hearts, using it as the tremendous tool it is!
As with any good tool given us, there are ways to best utilize the tool. Not that I’m any kind of expert. I simply have learned from the best, and learned from experience a few ways that help humor heal and lift:
1. Use it wisely. Of course we know that in certain situations it would be offensive or rude to be ‘funny.’
2. Use it kindly. We live in a world where it’s acceptable to use coarse language, to mock and ridicule, all in the name of “humor”. The kind of laughter we’re seeking is the kind that we could use if the Lord were with us. Placing that thought in the middle of our mind allows us to beware of sarcasm or hurtful “humor.”
My youngest son had a counselor in high school who once remarked, in front of me, him and a couple of other kids, “ I love kids. They’re good for fixing technology problems. And that’s about it.” It didn’t go over very well with me. And I imagined she must be a very sad, negative woman. Maybe she imagined herself being humorous. Yet, to me, it simply was not kind. And you know what they say; “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Ironically, I’ve written this negative example. I hope you take it only as a little example of how we may unwittingly allow our ‘laughter valve’ to wander away from the reason for its existence.
3. Use it earnestly. Some are more naturally funny than others. It is a trait we can improve upon. But trying too hard can be – not funny. Trying to be who we aren’t will backfire. Honest use of happy humor is what I’m trying to focus on.
4. Enjoy our laugh. I love huge, surprising laughs. Especially when they come out of a tiny person and it’s a shock! I love tiny giggles, and rolls of peeling chortles. The silent ones – where the mouth opens wide, the face turns red, but no sound comes out? That’s a great one, too. Whichever way we laugh, we should learn to love it!
It is part of us – part of our character traits, and people love us for our particular laugh. I spent years wishing I laughed differently. When I embraced it, I enjoyed it more. I’m glad I did.
5. Help family members learn the importance of laughter.
Teaching children ways to gracefully use humor arms them with an ability to help them all their lives. They can be the one to change what could be explosive situations to less tense ones. They may bring calm when pressure builds. They may help heal where there has been a rift, or worse.
Simple sunshine through simple ways will strengthen our youth. We all need that kind of strength to make things and people better. . . regardless of age.
6. Pray for ways to bless others with humor. If a merry heart is a gift- and it is – then it is something to give away. What a fine gift we each have in the gift of humor – of laughter. We can, with a twinkle in our eye and love in our heart, become the bearer of light and hope for people who know us. Just let it out and see how wonderful the returns are! Shared laughter is much better than laughing alone, right?
The excess of laughter we read about in Doctrine and Covenants is a good reminder to know boundaries. Sacred things shouldn’t be mocked or laughed about. There is a time for everything. This implies that most things are not universal (as opposed to eternal principles, which are to always be applied). So when teaching in church or standing at the podium, it’s not time to do a comedy routine. Right? That’s excessive.
President Hugh B. Brown once taught, “A wholesome sense of humor will be a safety valve that will enable you to apply the lighter touch to heavy problems and to learn some lessons in problem solving that ‘sweat and tears’ often fail to dissolve.”
Healthy laughter is lovely and delightful. Picture smiling, happy faces. It will bring a smile to your own face. Now picture how you can bring a smile to those faces you love, should they be frowning or sad. Sometimes, it will be through the gift of laughter that you help. Isn’t that a good trait to work at improving all the time?! Think of the blessing we are to others when we allow them a healthy laugh! It seems a sometimes overlooked present from heaven.