by Nicole Walton
When my mental meter is buried in red, digging a spiritual hole to China, I don’t reach for a wine glass and a bottle of white, or for high-powered aerodynamic sneakers that propel me over hill and dale. I reach for the phone and dial the number of a friend who I know will make me laugh. “Hey wench!” Sonya will answer, using her pet name for me, a moniker generated long ago in a now-forgotten but undoubtedly thigh-slapping conversation. I smile and am on my way to feeling better.
Laughter nourishes me like nothing else (except maybe house special egg foo yung). Aside from the fact that the act of laughing releases endorphins, diminishes the intensity of pain and lowers the level of stress hormones, it’s just plain fun. Laughter breaks me loose from my intellectual bonds and springs me into a much lighter atmosphere where I can deal with my issues in a less bleak way. It lets me know that life is good and should be enjoyed wherever and whenever possible, even when it seems no light can penetrate the fog.
A cousin of mine was involved in a terrible car crash when I was 13. My mom and I headed downstate to help her family, and as I walked into her hospital room, I burst into tears. She was in a coma and I didn’t know how to handle it. As I was led into the visitor’s lounge to compose myself, an older woman sitting in one of the chairs looked up and saw my obvious upset. “Hey there,” she said, very kindly. “Those are some pretty boots you’re wearing.” I looked down at my brown leather zip-up boots and thanked her. “Where did you get them?” she asked. When I said they were a Christmas gift she responded, “Oh! So did you get one from your momma and one from your daddy?” I laughed. And I think that was the very first time I recognized the healing power of laughter. A woman I’d never met before knew I needed to be taken out of my situation, just for a moment, so she made me laugh. I was lifted up and out, carried away to a better place, enlightened.
Let’s face it: it’s just really hard to feel horrible when you’re guffawing, chortling, and chuckling.
I also get a big charge out of using humor to get a reaction out of others. “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people,” Victor Borge said. It breaks down barriers and creates the common ground upon which we meet in jovial sister- and brotherhood. Our defenses drop and intimacy is allowed to blossom. I always feel more connected to the person who giggles at my jokes.
I have a feeling some people envision spiritual practice as being strict and serious. I’d like to remind them that Jesus laughed. Buddha laughed. They knew that a good ole joyful hoot rejuvenates body and soul, creating greater balance within and allowing a greater flow of energy. I always feel more open to the world in general when I laugh, much like a child. And how do we enter the kingdom of heaven, according to Jesus? Like little children. Perhaps there’s much more of a connection between humor and spirituality than most people think. I’d like to believe so.
So whenever my batteries need a jump, I just remember the film Monsters, Inc. At the end, the monsters discover they get more power by collecting kids’ laughter instead of their screams. As their energy cylinders are quickly filled with each belly laugh so are my own energy centers recharged and replenished, helping me live a more nourished and complete life.
Nicole Walton is a broadcaster, writer, and human companion to two intelligent and slightly pushy felines.
Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Winter 2011 – 2012