Susan Steen

"Laugh, and the world laughs with you;

Weep, and you weep alone;

For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,

But has trouble enough of its own."

— Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “Solitude”

The video is so funny.

A man is sitting on a couch preparing to eat a meal while his dog is sitting beside him. As the man takes a bite of food, the dog looks at him with a longing for a tasty morsel. As the man turns to look at the dog, the dog quickly turns his head in the other direction, as if he weren't looking at the man while he ate. This happened several times, and it was impossible not to laugh at the scene. 

If you have a pet with personality, you can probably picture how funny it would be. After watching the video several times, I chose to share it with friends. Sharing laughter is a rich experience for everyone, and as Wilcox notes – when you laugh, you draw in the world, and when you weep, people tend to scatter.

My grandfather used to say we should have a little fun every day, and for me, with the fun comes laughter. Silly jokes are great, but one of the most important lessons I've learned about laughing is that it's something I need to do when I've made a mistake or taken myself too seriously. 

The alternative is to pretend that I'm perfect, making those around me and myself miserable. My sons are adults now, and we have had some great laughs at some of my parenting choices when they were younger. At first, it stings a bit to know how people might have looked at you or thought of you, but the ability to admit that maybe you took a poor approach and can now laugh at yourself is good medicine, indeed.

It is good medicine, you know. When my father was sick, I remember learning about Bernie Siegel's book, “Humor and Healing.” Had we had more time, I would have brought all the humor I could find into daddy's life. Since then, I've learned a lot from Norman Cousins, who overcame his own illness by taking megadoses of vitamin C and filling his time with comedies. He once said that 10 minutes of watching a comedy could bring him two hours of sleep. For a man in pain, that's meaningful.

Can you see why this works? Laughter releases endorphins, and pain tolerance is increased. If you are sad, if you are hurting, the ability to laugh not only takes your attention in another direction, it physically changes the way your body is responding. Additionally, laughter and all it brings with it gives your immune system a boost, helps keep your heart healthier and can take away some of the burn of anger.

“Laughter serves as a blocking agent. Like a bullet-proof vest, it may help protect you against the ravages of negative emotions that can assault you in disease,” said Cousins.

"Remember that time?" she asked. We both nodded and began to laugh. No other words had to be spoken because the moment in our shared memory said it all. Listening from another room, I can hear my husband laughing in a conversation with an old friend. 

This happens frequently, and it is easy to forget they are 60-plus years old, instead of teenage boys. We can choose to share held grudges or funny memories with people we know. It's a choice we have, and the research shows the value of one far surpasses the other.

“That is the best – to laugh with someone because you both think the same things are funny,” said Gloria Vanderbilt.

Physical and mental health, relationships and perspective all benefit from laughter, so how do we bring that into our lives when we're stressed over how to pay bills, worrying about making too many people happy and dealing with grief over lost jobs or loved ones? Like most everything else in life, we have to be intentional. 

Help Guide's suggestions include:

• watch a funny movie, TV show or YouTube video.

• invite friends or co-workers out to a comedy club.

• read the funny pages.

• seek out funny people.

• share a good joke or a funny story.

• check out your bookstore’s humor section.

• host game night with friends.

• play with a pet.

• go to a “laughter yoga” class.

• goof around with children.

• do something silly.

• make time for fun activities such as bowling, miniature golfing or karaoke.

Sitting with a couple of friends recently, we were taking a picture of ourselves, when we did what I often ask clients to do – laugh. Instead of just smiling, we forced a laugh. It felt awkward at first, and other people tell me it feels awkward when I ask them to do it, but what begins as awkward becomes genuine laughter and creates some of the most wonderful photos. Give it a try.

Sometimes, it feels good to weep, and really, it's often nicer to weep alone, but laughter brings people into your circle. The world is a serious place, and your ability to laugh will draw people in who are looking for something to lighten the mood. Laugh and the world will indeed laugh with you. All of us will be happier and healthier with a little funny every day.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Sometimes, she matches her words and pictures. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others.

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