We all know the phrase “Laughter is the best medicine”. We cite a good sense of humor as a positive character trait, we fall in love with people for making us laugh. We watch silly movies to giggle at, tell jokes, listen to comedians. We love to laugh. So why is it that laughter seems to come less and less the older we get? When was the last time you laughed until you cried, until you gasped for air, until you doubled over? It happened all the time as a kid, I remember. Why does it stop? When did it stop? When did my moments of easy-going laughter get replaced with stressed out, breaking-point tension?
Sitting hunched behind the wheel of the car, smacking the horn and muttering “Idiot!” when someone cuts us off. Blinking back frustrated tears at the end of a long day when one more thing goes absurdly wrong. Snapping at our kids when they’re not listening or doing as we ask. How many of these things could we change just by laughing instead?
It’s hard, I know to love to laugh. I’ve been trying to make a conscious effort to lighten up, and the words conscious effort and lighten up almost seem like a contradiction. But it gets easier. And lighter. The more I let myself be goofy, appreciate silliness, the better I feel. I might not be able to turn the person cutting me off into a better driver, but if I yell a purposefully silly word at them – with the windows rolled up and a smile on my face – my children and I start giggling and I feel better.
Love to Laugh Makes Everything Better
When I’ve asked my daughter five times to brush her teeth and she’s still slowly meandering to the bathroom, I’m going to feel better if, instead of hissing “Bathroom now or not one book tonight!” through clenched teeth, I make a song and dance out of it. “Ooooh, no books tonight if your teeth aren’t brushed, oooh-weee what a bummer for us!” You can bet I’m clapping and dancing too. Most of the time, she’ll laugh, and she’ll want to listen. And if she doesn’t, and we don’t read books, I’m still not angry, and am probably singing “Oooh what a bummer, maybe next time you’ll listen…yeah!”as I tuck her in. Because once you refuse that anger, once you let the silliness in, it tends to stay.
I’ve noticed it with my husband as well. He’ll be tired from work, I’ll be tired from taking care of the kids, the kids will be tired and making trouble because of it. If, instead of gritting my teeth and silently blaming him for, say, the glue I now have to wash out of my toddler’s hair, I catch his eye and grin, we both usually end up laughing. There may be a tinge of hysteria to it, a little bit of how the hell did we end up here, with a howling baby and a gluey toddler and it’s past bedtime and the house is a mess kind of edge to it, but so what? We’re laughing together instead of silently seething at one another. That’s got to count for something.
Love to Laugh: Lighten Up!
I remember my mom telling me about a night when all four of my sisters and I were sick. Throwing up in the middle of the night sick. My Dad had to get up a five the next morning for work and my mom had to get up and deal with five sick kiddos. They had already spent a good portion of the night changing pajamas and sheets, wiping down the toilet and sponging up rugs, when another wave of sickness hit and we were all awake, throwing up again.
My mom remembered passing my dad on the stairs, him climbing up with the last of the clean sheets and her bringing an armload of dirty sheets to the washing machine, and just looking at one another, exhausted and a little bit vomit-coated, and bursting into laughter. Ringing, out-loud, goofy laughter until they leaned on one another, wiping their eyes. “What else were we gonna do?” she liked to say at the end of the story. What else indeed.
There are many other reactions to situations like that besides humor, but most of them aren’t nearly as fun and they certainly don’t merit a funny story if you don’t love to laugh. When we can let go, when we can poke fun at ourselves, sometimes even in dire straits, even when we’ve been taught that the situation is serious and calls for serious behavior, that’s when we can truly lighten up: lighten our loads, our minds, our hearts. Think of the word enlightenment. Think of your baby flinging his food at the wall through the eyes of your three year old – she thinks it’s hilarious.
Your husband stepped in poop before you even started your hike? You know if you were ten you’d be rolling on the ground. You tripped and fell in front of a line of people at the grocery store? They want to laugh. And if you do, you’ll give them permission to join in. Heck, you’ll probably make their day. There’s a wisdom to the cheesy phrase “Turn that frown upside down”. Because when you do, you get a smile. And the more frowns we turn into smiles – even when we have to practice, even if we have to try – the better, the happier, the lighter we are all going to be.