Have You Tried Laughter?

by James Rudy Gray

People who laugh do better than people who don't, said Dr. Clifford C. Kuhn of the University Of Louisville School Of Medicine. What a statement! Does it apply to Christians?

Voltaire said, "The practice of medicine is amusing the patient while nature cures the disease." We do know that laughter can be a very positive and productive health resource. We also know that it is usually under-used. Dr. Kuhn reports that kids age 3-5 laugh 250 to 300 times a day, while adults age 30-35 average laughing 15 times a day. As we get older, do we simply become more mature and serious or do we miss out on the laughter our God has given us for our good?

Solomon observed that there is "a time to weep and a time to laugh" (Eccl. 3:4). Laughter can be appropriate or inappropriate, healthy or unhealthy, godly or ungodly. Humor itself seems to be something that is very individualized and personal. Proverbs 15:13 reminds us that "a joyful heart makes a cheerful face, but when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken." To be joyful is to be glad or merry.

The challenges of life can stress us and the demands we face can deplete our energy. Coping with various difficulties can be hard, and following Christ obediently is certainly serious. But there is a place for healthy laughter in our lives. In fact, we will likely feel better if we learn to laugh more often.

Today we know from various studies, research, and the writings and experiences of people like Norman Cousins that laughter can reduce stress, help ease pain, allow us to better manage anxiety, encourage us toward overcoming depressive feelings, and even aid in stabilizing our mood. There is less absenteeism and more productivity in a work environment where laughter is present. Victor Frankel, who was tortured in a Nazi concentration camp, wrote, "There were moments when laughter saved my life."

Despite the benefits of laughter, it is not a panacea, nor is it always appropriate. But it can be a tool that God has given us for our good. We know that healthy laughter moves us to a lower state of tension.

Unhealthy laughter is sinful. It feeds on what is wrong, victimizes another person, perverts what is holy, or distorts what is true. Dr. Kuhn has reported that unhealthy laughter does not take a person to a lower tension level, but actually increases the level of tension.

Healthy, godly laughter is okay. Christians, however, often need permission or even need to give themselves permission to laugh. Here is a prescription for healthy laughter:

In counseling, we should never laugh at counselees or about something that is obviously troubling them. However, when appropriate, we can encourage them to develop an outlook that makes room for laughter in their lives.

We should not laugh at people. We should not laugh at everything. We should not laugh like someone else laughs. However, we can and should laugh. In fact, healthy laughter may improve your disposition, your service, and your witness. It will likely make you more pleasant to others.

James Rudy Gray, who pastors Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C., is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors.