By Valerie Minard
There is a hilarious Youtube video of a man waiting at a train station in a kind of “Candid Camera” situation with hidden cameras rolling. The idea is to see how others will respond when they see him howling with laughter. When he enters the train station, all his fellow-commuters have glum faces. Then he starts to chuckle, then laugh, and this laughter wells into a belly laugh.
At first, everyone acts suspicious of him— perhaps wondering about his mental stability. But then gradually each person begins to smile and finally laughs out loud himself or herself. I think those people were so ready for a good laugh, that once they had begun, you could see all the stress, frustration, and bitterness disappear from their faces. I think we all can agree that laughter is contagious. But do we realize why laughter does us so much good?
According to Dr. Robert Provine, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland, laughter is a universal language that all people share as a social cue for peaceful and happy interactions. It “provides powerful, uncensored insights into our unconscious…It simply bubbles up from within us in certain situations.” It signifies playful intent, such as laughing with or at something, Provine says. Could this unconscious bubbling up from within that uplifts our spirits, be related to our connection with a fundamental joy that’s at the core of being itself? If so, does this help explain the power behind a good laugh?
More and more studies show that a good dose of laughter improves mental and physical health, relieving stress and even increasing longevity. It changes our perspective and makes room for joy. Long before the empirical analyses of today, the Bible’s book of Proverbs affirmed, ”A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.”
Thinking of joy as a spiritual quality like love, or integrity, makes it independent of material circumstances, organic chemistry, or family history. In fact, a burst of humor inspired by the divine Spirit can even lead to healing of what look like very material problems.
It played a pivotal role in a healing one of my colleagues had. One New Year’s Eve, Mark and his “blind date” were invited to go dancing with a large group. His date was very shy and didn’t talk much, so Mark did everything he could to make her feel comfortable and give her a good time.
Soon the dancing picked up and Mark’s date started to smile and have a great time. Mark, who is an athlete, did a couple of standing back flips— leaping in the air, tucking his knees in, flipping over backwards, and landing back on his feet. Even his date laughed at his antics. However, on the third attempt, he landed on the floor where some liquid had spilled. He did a face plant and felt he’d broken his nose. But not wanting to leave his date in the lurch, Mark kept on dancing. Though his nose was crooked and bleeding, he had confidence, based on other experiences, that he could never be beyond the divine help that prayer could give.
That confidence helped him keep up the joy through the evening and he continued praying the next day. For inspiration, he turned to the book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, that explains how health is gained through a spiritual understanding of our being. For example, “Let the “male and female” of God’s creating appear. Let us feel the divine energy of Spirit, bringing us into newness of life and recognizing no mortal nor material power as able to destroy. Let us rejoice that we are subject to the divine “powers that be.””
At first Mark said he felt ashamed for having been silly enough to break his nose on the dance floor. But prayer lifted his thought, and he soon started to laugh. “I could see the startled look on that poor girl’s face as I continued to dance after falling,” he said. “I could tell she was thinking, “I will never go on a blind date again!””
As humor and joy opened Mark’s heart to spiritual inspiration, God’s goodness and allness became so real to him that he wasn’t as impressed by or afraid of what his face looked like. That evening his nose was straight, the next day the soreness was gone, and there was never any bruising.
Of course we’re talking about a right kind of humor here. Laughter based on ridicule, sarcasm or sensuality would have no healing element. But Mark’s experience shows how harmless laughter can help break the hypnotic fear that keeps us fixated on a problem.
So if you’re feeling weighed down by troubles, take a cue from those folks at the train station. Open your heart to God’s goodness and have a good laugh. It will lighten your load, uplift your spirit and can even bring healing!
Valerie writes regularly on the connection between consciousness, spirituality, and health. She is a Christian Science practitioner and the spokesperson for Christian Science in New Jersey. Contact her at email@example.com or @valerieminard.