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‘A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.’ Proverbs 17:22

Laughter is the best medicine is a well-known adage, and it’s right there in the Bible. It’s important to have a good laugh; we’ve even run clergy laughter workshops in the Diocese. Pathways asked Ian Macdonald to explain how laughter can lift all of us up in these challenging times.

There’s a photograph doing the rounds on social media of two pieces of graffiti on a whitewashed wall. The first artist sprays the stark statement, ‘Life is Pain!’ A second person has added ‘au chocolat’. The meaning is now completely changed, and it’s both funny and brutally profound. Life is tough… but we can still find the humour in it.

Laughter is extraordinary, beautiful and absurd. Science backs this up. Laughter lowers adrenalin and cortisol in our systems, releases feel-good endorphins, acts as a natural pain-killer, boosts the immune system, increases the oxygen supply to our body and brain, brings people together and lifts our mood.

‘laughter is carbonated holiness’
Anne Lamott

Did you know that 80 per cent of our laughter as human beings is not derived from jokes? Laughter mainly happens as part of our social interaction, play and communication. Most of the time we are choosing to laugh or laughing because laughter is infectious. This is the principle at the heart of our clergy laughter workshops.

Can you really choose to laugh? Yes, you can. You can probably recall people laughing when the boss cracked a poor joke, or even in response to a predictable sermon joke. Consider how easily and often children laugh (and are freer to cry). Perhaps that’s why Jesus suggested we should become like them. Laughing is a way of recovering the joy and emotion that we may have lost or suppressed along the way.

Here are two lovely examples from a laughter workshop:

  • A man followed the suggestion of choosing to laugh when he woke The absurdity of it, and the sound of himself laughing, made him laugh even more.
  • A woman shared how much happier she feels after using part of her car journey to work to practise

Life is hard at times. Verses like ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted’ and ‘Jesus wept’ show that God is with us in our troubles. Equally, he understands our need for laughter and joy.

“Now Sarah said, ‘God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.’”
Gen 21:6

‘He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouts of joy.’
Job 8:21

Laughter facts

  • laughter is something you get better at with practice
  • laughter is infectious
  • learning to laugh at ourselves is incredibly healing
  • in laughter workshops, we always laugh with others

Dig deeper

James Cary is a BBC sitcom- writer, a theologian and a member of the General Synod. His new book The Sacred Art of Joking has been described as ‘…part radical pamphlet urging Christianity to embrace its latent sense of humour.’

Photo composite: Shutterstock / Emma Nawrocki / Gavin Micklethwaite