I love to laugh, and it’s no wonder. I grew up in a family that had an unwritten rule: Don’t say anything straight if you can say it funny. My father was the ringleader when it came to humor, and we vied with one another to come up with a line that would make him laugh—or match his own zingers.
Not that he, or we, always reached the pinnacle of wit. Dad could be corny. He never warned us to limit our use of electricity; instead, he’d say, “Turn off some of these lights. This place is lit up like Coney Island!”
Once Dad took our car to a shop that repairs mufflers. The mechanic put the car on a lift and began suggesting other repairs that would have jacked up the price a lot. Dad listened and then asked, “Now, how much will you charge me to get the car down off there so I can drive out of here?”
Coming from a family that loved to laugh, I was delighted one day to hear a speaker declare that laughter is good for you. I was covering a catechetical congress in the Bronx with at least 1,000 catechists attending. The keynoter was a Maryknoll Sister who was a medical doctor. This was decades ago, and I don’t remember her name or what she said about religious instruction. But something she said leaped out at me and burned itself into my brain.
“We don’t laugh enough,” Sister said. “Laughter is good for the liver.”
She didn’t explain how laughter benefits the liver, medically speaking, but I didn’t care. Who doesn’t want a healthy liver? Obviously, my family was on the right track, and what’s more, this official approval of laughter was delivered at a Church-sponsored, spiritual event for people who teach the faith. For me, no further proof was needed to show that laughter is good. I decided that Sister’s message, while not exactly part of the Gospel, ought to be spread, too.
Laughter is a sign of joy, and that connects it to faith. Nothing is more joyous than our belief, as Catholics, that Christ’s death and resurrection have restored the life of grace that humanity lost in the Garden of Eden. Grace—the lifeblood of God—fills our souls, and the gates of heaven are open again. The Gospel is good news indeed; faith gives birth to joy, and joy can burst forth in laughter. Some of the happiest people I’ve known—joyful in spirit and quick to laugh—were, and are, people of deep faith.
Laughter really can make us feel better. It can calm our nerves and help us to see problems from a more hopeful perspective. It’s no coincidence that Hollywood turned out some of its funniest comedies during the Great Depression. The people who watched those movies weren’t just indulging in escapism; they were using humor as a means to cope and survive. Laughter lightens the heart, and having a light heart can make the difference between persevering through trouble and giving up. Laughter says that difficulties pass and endurance leads to better times.
A friend of mine who is a priest says that when we laugh, our internal organs get a good shake-up, and it makes them feel and perform better. I think he’s right; if exercise benefits our muscles and bones, why not what’s inside, too?
I don’t mean to suggest that laughter is a cure-all or that it’s always appropriate. So many people struggle—with illness, pain, depression, spiritual darkness, poverty, the loss of people they loved. For some, laughter might provide a respite; for others, it might be impossible.
When the sun goes down, the world turns dark. But no matter how long the night, the sun returns to dispel the darkness. The light doesn’t cease to exist; it just isn’t visible for a while. Like the sun shining on the other side of the Earth, joy is on the other side of suffering.
Sometimes, laughter is the sound of joy on its way back.