Is Laughter Really the Best Medicine?

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

-- Proverbs 17:22

How can one have a cheerful heart in this time of global climate change, natural disasters, and violence on every hand in nearly every land? How can we speak of humor, levity, jesting, and laughter when our world is in such pain?

Having a cheerful heart, as the author of Proverbs put it, does not mean that we avoid engagement in serious peacemaking work. What it means is that humor can provide interludes in many of the deepest reaches of seemingly desperate situations.

There is a time and place for humor. As it says in Ecclesiastes, "There is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance." Humor -- like art, music, and dance -- is essential for the well-being of the human spirit.

Healthy humor is inviting and forgiving, never hurtful, and often involves some kind of pleasant, incongruent surprise. For example, I recently heard a 4-year-old (whose parents live in Ohio and grandparents in Iowa) ask his mother if he was a Buckeye or a Hawkeye. His mother wisely replied, "Ivan, you can be anything you want to be," to which the boy replied, "Good, then I want to be Chinese!" We have all heard comedy routines, at stand-up clubs or on TV sitcoms, that are sarcastic, acerbic, and hurtful to one population or another. This is not healthy humor.

It is well documented that stress has negative effects on our immune systems and our general health. While there have been few studies on the positive effects of healthy humor, and the scientific evidence is still unfolding, available information strongly suggests that humor, with its inherent laughter, has many benefits:

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