Several years ago I was involved in a study seeking to identify the common characteristics of people who live longer and seem to get the most out of life. What is it that keeps people young at heart?
One of several common denominators we found was: “A sense of humor.” To be able to laugh at oneself, at the foolishness of the world, at problems, to laugh when things aren’t funny—is a secret of those who enjoy a long and happy life. There is physical, emotional, and spiritual healing in humor.
Learning to Laugh
Cultivating a sense of humor is much like developing a taste for music or fine arts. While a taste or sense may be more natural to some than others, we can all broaden our enjoyment of good humor.
Aristotle defined humor as “that which is incongruous — out of its proper place and time, yet without danger or pain.” The great Roman scholar Cicero suggested that “the most enjoyable kind of humor is when we expect to hear one thing but then hear another.” Cicero might well have enjoyed this true story of an early American preacher…
It was Temperance Sunday and the minister, in order to offer indisputable proof of the evil effects of liquor, had concocted an elaborate demonstration for his congregation—using a worm. First, as the parishioners watched with common curiosity, he dropped the worm into a glass of clear, sparkling water. The worm wiggled about in apparent delight. Then the minister removed the worm, dropped it into a glass of whiskey…where it promptly died. “Now,” the preacher asked, beaming with obvious self-satisfaction, “what does this show us?” After a slight pause, a red-eyed brother in the back of the church stood up and responded: “Preacher, does it mean that if we drink plenty of whiskey, we’ll never have worms?”
Here are four suggestions on how to begin cultivating your sense of humor:
Step #1: Expose yourself to good humor.
There are plenty of good humorous books that make for recreational reading. Authors like Erma Bombeck, Bill Cosby, Art Buchwald, Andy Rooney and others have created masterpieces of good humor. Watch 15 minutes of “America’s Funniest Videos” on YouTube every night for a week. Buy a DVD of a Christian comedian and go enjoy a good laugh.
Step #2: Do something silly.
We tend to lose one of the wonderful joys of childhood as we move into the self-conscious years of adolescence. Many of us never get it back. It’s the fun of being silly.
A few years ago my sister and her family came to visit us in California. It happened that on one night of their stay there was to be a full lunar eclipse. I don’t recall how the idea came up, but someone suggested we have a “moon party.” Now, no one had any experience at moon parties, so we all began offering our suggestions. It turned out to be quite an evening.
The party began with each of us receiving a spread of the local newspaper, scotch tape, and instructions to create our own unique “moon hat.” We then played a round of “moon charades” where one person acted out the name of a planet, star cluster, or some other astronomical concept which the others tried to guess. Following that, we adjourned to the kitchen for some “moon juice” (not moonshine, mind you). After a few more moon games we all went out onto the front driveway to watch the eclipse. Then, as we had earlier rehearsed, the moment the earth’s shadow moved completely in front of the moon, we all crossed our arms in front of us, shook them up and down, and let out the most unearthly “moon howl” you have ever heard. Our neighbor turned on the porch light to see what kind of animal had been injured! But we all had a wonderful time. (Maybe it is true what they say about the effect of the full moon on people’s behavior!)
Your assignment for this step is to go do something silly. It’s more fun when you do it with other people than behind a locked door. But if it helps, try a few silly things there first. Don’t worry about your reputation. If anything, it will improve!
Step #3: Laugh out loud, whether you feel like it or not.
Laughter is contagious. Go ahead. Try it. Just start laughing out loud. Go for five seconds if this is your first attempt. Then work yourself up to ten. As you do…listen to yourself. Pretty soon you will be laughing at your own laughing! And, if you think that’s funny, get three or four of your friends together and do the same thing. On the count of three everyone is to start laughing. Before you know it, you’ll be rolling in the aisles.
I remember a game we used to play when I was growing up. Everyone in our family would lie on the floor, each with his or her head on someone else’s stomach. Then one person would begin laughing. The chain reaction of head bouncing on laughing stomachs would spread and soon our entire family would be howling hysterically. As we thought about how silly we must all look, we found ourselves laughing even harder.
The next time you hear or see something funny, laugh out loud. Don’t just smile, or chuckle. Laugh! You’ll find that it is therapeutic and contagious. And, the time after that you’ll find it won’t be so hard to get the laugh out.
Step #4: Tell a funny story each day for the next two weeks.
You may have to find one from a good joke book or online. That’s okay. See if you can get one person to laugh aloud each day at something humorous you share. If you’re telling a joke, practice it to get just the right impact. And, when you tell the punch line, enjoy the joke yourself. Pretend it’s the first time you’ve heard it.
Speaking of good stories, I heard one the other day about a man who was praying…
God responded, “Yes?”
The guy said, “Can I ask you a question?”
“Go right ahead,” God said.
“What is a million years to you?”
God responded, “a million years to me is only a second.”
“Hmmm,” the man responded. Then he asked, “God, what is a million dollars worth to you?”
“A million dollars to me,” God replied, “is as a penny.”
So, seeing his opportunity, the man asked, “God. Can I have a penny?”
To which God cheerfully replied, “Sure!!…..just a second.”
Laughter…the good medicine you can take. And share. 😉
“A cheerful heart is good medicine” (Prov. 17:22)