A few years ago I was traveling home from a convention in Indianapolis with two of my coworkers when we suddenly found ourselves way off the beaten—and correct—path. Armed with only a GPS on one of our phones, we slowly worked our way through the back roads of Indiana on our way home. It was a much longer route than we had originally planned, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.
That’s because the longer we were lost, the more we laughed. We laughed when we stopped at the store named “Store.” We laughed when we got stuck in the traffic caused by a Thomas the Tank Engine train ride. I don’t mean snickers and giggles. I mean whole-body, coming from-the-stomach, makes-your-face hurt laughs for a good two hours. It was wonderful.
It was also the first time in way too long since I had laughed like that. And I really enjoyed it. Over the course of the next few weeks, my coworkers and I continued to relive our trip—and continued to laugh each time.
Why So Serious?
After I got home from the trip, I started thinking more about what had just happened: Why don’t I laugh like that anymore? Too busy? Too pessimistic? Too serious? None of the possible reasons seemed good enough.
It’s not that there aren’t things to laugh about in my life. After all, I have four kids who provide me cause for laughter almost daily with their antics and the things they say. But I suspect most of the time I fail to stop and appreciate it because it happens when I’m fixing dinner, I’m too tired, or, worst of all, I just don’t think it’s a good use of my time.
It seems these days we are surrounded by troubling news, suffering, and contentious arguments and issues. Cases in point: the upcoming elections, health-care reform and HHS mandates, the Vatican investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and many, many more.
Are we so inundated with troubling news these days about COVID-19 and racial unrest that we’ve lost focus on the joys of life?
Let’s be honest. We need to laugh. Studies have shown that laughter and happiness are good for us, both physically and mentally. Shortly after I got back from Indianapolis, I received an e-mail from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society promoting a new program. One of the facilitators is Shawn Achor, a researcher who has worked at Harvard in the field of the science of happiness. If the fact that they’re studying this stuff at Harvard, and it’s considered a field of science, doesn’t give credence to the importance of happiness, I don’t know what does.
And if that’s still not enough for you, in his bookBetween Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life, Father James Martin, SJ, points out that there was plenty of joy and laughter going on among the saints and other holy people. In fact, he says, “faith leads to joy.”
So really, we have very few excuses for not being happy and laughing. But, unfortunately, somewhere along the line as we grow up, we start to think of things like silliness, play, and laughter as frivolous. But they’re not. They’re good for us.
Have you ever noticed how when one person starts laughing it’s hard not to join in? Or when you start laughing when you’re not supposed to that it’s almost impossible to stop? We are wired for happiness, and yet we continually try to contain it for the sake of looking as though we’ve got it all together. And we’re killing ourselves—and our spirits—in the process.