“Laughter is the best medicine.” The origin of this quote goes back to Proverbs 17:22 in the Old Testament which says, “A joyful heart is good medicine” or literally “…causes good healing.” It’s true. Scientists have studied the physical benefits of a good laugh and found that laughing can actually strengthen the immune system and promote healing of diseases. There’s even a name for the science of laughter. Gelotology is the term coined in the 1960s by Dr. William F. Fry, a psychiatrist from Stanford University, California. According to Fry, laughter produces chemicals (endorphins) in the body that relieve stress and enhance physical and mental health.
Throughout the four months in which COVID-19 has ravaged the earth, many of us have shared jokes and comic strips with each other via text, email and social media as a way to ease the stress of isolation and quell the worry about ourselves, our loved ones, and our world. At this writing, more than 120,000 Americans have lost their lives to the virus, and while there are areas of our country where the spread of this terribly contagious disease seems to be leveling off, cases are spiking in other areas. That’s no laughing matter, especially to those who are ill or have lost loved ones or watched in helplessness as patients in their care died of the disease.
The second part of that quote from Proverbs is “But a broken spirit dries up the bones.” I’m convinced it is the loss of hope that causes a broken spirit. When someone’s spirit is broken, it cannot be restored by reading a joke or taking a laughter pill. To one who has lost hope, laughter is empty and mocking. To one who is hopeless, people who make jokes seem insensitive and devoid of empathy.
People who are broken-hearted and broken-spirited need time to grieve. Trying to cajole them out of their sadness, trying to make them laugh when they need a good cry serves only to stall their healing. If we encounter someone on a window ledge contemplating suicide, do we tell them a joke? Of course not! Instead, we attempt to offer them a glimmer of hope. Once we have talked them off the ledge, we must allow them time to grieve, time to deal with the cause of their despair. We need to assure them that even in their darkest hour, there is hope, that life is worth living. They might require professional help, but they also need a reminder of God’s faithful promise in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
So, let’s take another look at King Soloman’s proverb. It doesn’t actually say, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Rather it says, “A joyful heart causes good healing.” Yes, laughter promotes the release of healing chemicals. Yes, laughter is good for us, but we can’t expect those whose hearts are broken by suffering and hopelessness to feel like laughing again until first they have walked through the dark valley and shed cleansing tears of grief.
During this pandemic, it’s important to remind each other that our sovereign God loves us and wants to hear us laugh again. When we place our trust in the God of the universe, God infuses our fear and sadness with comfort, comfort that we can share with others. When we feel weak and anxious, God gives us His strength and replaces our hopelessness with joy…if we remember to call on Him…yes, joy even amid problems, disappointments, and seemingly impossible circumstances. Only God can give us a joyful spirit amid tragedy, sustaining our hope until we can laugh again.
Cindy L. Freeman is the author of two award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cindy.l.freeman.9. Her books are available through amazon.com or hightidepublications.com