By Sister Sallie Latkovich
Recently, while visiting sisters in Cleveland, I had the opportunity to join some of them for a simple supper. While we were all together, we told each other stories and joined in laughter around the table. That laughter was just wonderful, refreshing and energizing.
In reflecting on that experience with joy, I realized that we have all been so very serious over the last year of the pandemic. As we begin to recover and return to life, it is important that we recover laughter. It really is the “best medicine.”
A little research shows that there are both physical and mental health benefits to laughter and humor.
Some physical health benefits include: boosting immunity, lowering stress hormones, decreasing pain, relaxing muscles, and preventing heart disease.
Some mental health benefits include: adding joy and zest to life, easing anxiety and tension, relieving stress, improving mood, and strengthening resilience.
Although life has been very serious over this last year, laughter is very natural to us. Infants begin smiling during the first weeks of life and laugh out loud within months of being born.
Even if a person did not grow up in a household where laughter was a common sound, one can still learn to laugh at any stage of life!
Here are some ways to start:
- Smile: Smiling is the beginning of laughter, and like laughter is contagious. When you look at someone or see something even mildly pleasing, practice smiling.
- Count Your Blessings: The simple act of noticing what is positive in your life will distance you from negative thoughts and feelings that block humor and laughter.
- When You Hear Laughter, Move Toward It: When you hear laughter, seek it out and ask: “What are you laughing about?” Be quick to respond by joining in the laughter.
- Spend Time with Fun, Playful People: The playful point of view and easy laughter are actually contagious. I went out to lunch with friends who were fairly new. There were puddles in the parking lot, and so I jumped in a puddle on our way out. They were caught off guard and responded with laughter and jumping in puddles themselves!
- Bring Good Humor into Conversations: Ask others: “What’s the funniest thing that happened to you today? This week? In your life?” I recently cracked an egg into a bowl, covered it with a coffee filter and put it in the microwave to cook. I had forgotten to pierce the egg! You guessed it, it exploded all over inside the microwave. I could only laugh at myself and at the exploded egg!
- Do Something Silly: If nothing comes to mind, ask others for advice or to join in the silliness.
- Be Aware of What Media You’re Consuming: Do not watch TV or movies that are overly serious or even violent. At least, do not make a habit of taking in frightening, dark entertainment or reading. This input does indeed block lightheartedness.
If you remember the movie Mary Poppins with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, there is a scene with Ed Wynne who sings the song: “I love to laugh, loud and long and clear. . .” The world would be a better place with more humor, laughter and joy. May we be instigators of these virtues for the good health of all.
About the Author
After nine years at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Sister Sallie Latkovich was elected to and currently serves on the Leadership Team of the Congregation of St. Joseph.