“A Time to Laugh”
ANIMALS cannot laugh. The enjoyment of laughter is reserved exclusively for humans. For centuries research has gone on to find out why people laugh, but it is still largely a mystery.
Do you enjoy a good laugh? Is it beneficial to laugh?
There are different views about humor. Some stress the negative side, viewing humor as “aggressive,” tending to belittle other people. On the other hand, laughter has been called “a prerequisite to a well-rounded personality,” “wonder drug for depression.”
But there is a need for balance with regard to humor, for it has often been misused. The Bible wisely states that there is “a time to laugh” and, consequently, a time to refrain from laughter.—Eccl. 3:4.
Humor’s Many Benefits
Humor is helpful in coping with difficult situations. The Encyclopædia Britannica says concerning laughter: “One might call it a luxury reflex. Its only function seems to be to provide relief from tension. . . . The explosive exhalations of laughter seem designed to ‘puff away’ surplus tension in a kind of respiratory gymnastics.”
Laughter can play an important part in promoting peaceful family life. Illustrating this is the experience of a father who became provoked at his young son for leaving a new bicycle out in the rain overnight.
“Put it out in the driveway and let me run over it,” the father said bitterly. “We might as well finish it off.” As his anger flared, the father grabbed the bicycle and wheeled it onto the driveway.
Then the boy’s younger sister and mother made some remarks to provoke laughter in the angered father. What happened? The man explains: “After a moment I smiled. Then I laughed. The moment I laughed, I could sense the tension ebbing away. A feeling of relief took over. Sanity had returned. Everyone joined in the laughter.” Reflecting on the benefits of humor in trying situations, this man stated:
“More and more I am convinced that humor is a sixth sense, as important to our enjoyment of life—even to our survival—as any of the five physical senses. And if there is any place it comes in handy it is in the home. Ours, anyhow.”
Humor can brighten up even an apparently hopeless situation. Readers Digest of May 1973 relates an experience of psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl, who was imprisoned in a German concentration camp during World War II:
“Piled on top of malnutrition, exhaustion and disease, suicidal despair was the big killer in these citadels of degradation.
“As a psychiatrist, Frankl knew that humor was one of the soul’s best survival weapons, since it can create, if only for moments, aloofness from horror. Therefore, Frankl made a rule that once each day he and his friend must invent and tell an amusing anecdote, specifically about something which could happen after their liberation.”
Doing this helped to make the torturous experience of life in a concentration camp more endurable. The article concluded: “If humor can be used successfully against such odds, what can’t you and I do with it in daily life?”
Does your occupation require you to persuade others of the value of some product, of the need to take a particular course of action, or of the reasonableness of certain arguments? How can you convince your hearers to act upon what you say? William J. McGuire, of Yale University’s Department of Psychology, writes concerning persuasion: “The use of humour in the message can enhance yielding; apparently it puts the recipient in a more pleasant, agreeable state.”
But laughter may be a warning sign too. The Bible, at Proverbs 14:13, states: “Even in laughter the heart may be in pain.”, Concerning children a psychologist noted: “A sensitive parent can learn a great deal from observing when and why his child laughs just as we learn from observing in our clinical work. . . . Relaxed laughter is healthy, but distorted, artificial laughter can be a cover-up for troubled feelings.”
Aid to a Healthy Mind and Body
An article entitled “The Sense in Humor” points out that some psychologists and psychiatrists “have begun to explore the possibilities of using humor therapeutically. They are attempting to encourage their patients’ sense of the ridiculous as an antidote to emotional distress.”
On the other hand, persons with no sense of humor often show symptoms of emotional disorders. Dr. Margaret Prouty, a retired pediatrician, made an interesting observation concerning children who developed ulcers due to stress:
“Years of observation have convinced me that one of their chief personality defects is an almost total lack of a sense of humor. Life is indeed real and earnest, and they have no ability to laugh at themselves or at others.”
You probably know some persons who take themselves very seriously, walking about with a ‘chip on their shoulder,’ so to speak. Are such people happy? Do they contribute to the happiness of others? The solution may be no more involved than learning to laugh at themselves. Psychiatrist Smiley Blanton stated: “I’ve seldom been called on to help a person who had a sense of the ridiculous, and I’ve never had to treat anyone who could really laugh at himself.” Can you see the humorous side of your life?
The Bible makes an interesting observation on mental health, at Romans 12:3: “I tell everyone there among you not to think more of himself than it is necessary to think; but to think so as to have a sound mind.” Yes, “a sound mind” goes hand in hand with a modest view of oneself. You will more easily develop that view if you learn to laugh at yourself.
What about the effect of humor on physical health? Dr. James J. Walsh, in his book Laughter and Health, explained that the up-and-down movement of the diaphragm in laughter affects internal organs in a manner similar to exercise.
Laughter gives a gentle massage to the heart, improving circulation. A like effect upon the liver and intestines aids digestion and elimination of wastes. Dr. Walsh points out that persons with blood-pressure problems would do well to “keep laughing.” Results of experiments revealed that people with blood pressure of 180 or above experienced—through laughter—a drop of 10 or more points; those with low blood pressure (below 120) showed a rise of 10 points or more.
But there are times when laughter is out of place.
Times NOT to Laugh
The Bible makes an interesting observation about laughter at Ecclesiastes 7:2, 3: “Better is it to go to the house of mourning than to go to the banquet house . . . Better is vexation than laughter, for by the crossness of the face the heart becomes better.” Does this mean that God disapproves of laughter and of having a good time? No, for the Scriptures encourage rejoicing on proper occasions. (Phil. 4:4) But there is also a time to be serious, to reflect on how quickly life can end and how important it is to use our lives wisely to build up a good “name,” or reputation, with the Creator. (Eccl. 7:1) “Exclusive reliance on humor,” notes the recent book Family Communication, “is a defensive reaction to unbearable anxiety.”
An example of when not to laugh is if a friend or an acquaintance becomes grief-stricken due to some unfortunate turn of events. In such a case the Scriptures admonish: “Weep with people who weep.”—Rom. 12:15.
What should a person do when confronted with one of the seemingly endless stream of “dirty jokes” that feature sexual immorality as their theme? Here, too, is a time to refrain from laughter, for the Word of God commands: “Let fornication and uncleanness of every sort or greediness not even be mentioned among you, . . . neither shameful conduct nor foolish talking nor obscene jesting, things which are not becoming.”—Eph. 5:3, 4.
The Scriptures, at Proverbs 26:18, 19, warn about another type of unbecoming humor: “Just like someone mad that is shooting fiery missiles, arrows and death, so is the man that has tricked his fellowman and has said: ‘Was I not having fun?’” This would rule out for Bible believers “practical jokes” that could cause harm to others. An example of the folly of such misdirected humor is the case of a teen-age boy who faked a phone call to his home saying that he had been kidnapped. The boy’s father collapsed and later died of a heart attack. The mother and aunt required medical attention.
The magazine Science Digest observes: “Like a coin, humor appears to have two sides. . . . Sometimes wit is used either consciously or unconsciously as a weapon. There is a saying, ‘Laughter kills.’” This is particularly true with regard to young children. Never should a child be the victim of derisive “humor.” Nor should children be allowed to use such a “weapon” on other youngsters. This is a sign of insecurity and parents should be quick to correct whatever is wrong. To avoid hurting another be sure you laugh with him, not at him.
A fine principle to keep in mind with regard to humor is found in the Bible at Matthew 7:12: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.” Following this “golden rule” of Christian conduct precludes use of caustic humor or sarcasm.
Indeed, there is a time to laugh. Hearty, relaxed laughter can benefit you mentally, physically and emotionally. But be careful not to engage in laughter at the wrong time, or to use your sense of humor to hurt others.