I read that laughter lowers stress; but I already knew that: an unflappable first-grader gave me the gift of laughter when I was a first-year principal.
It was a tough day to be in charge. The temperature hovered near zero. Heavyweight snowflakes fell as though poured, and freezing winds whipped an icy playground. So I imposed indoor recess and discovered, as the day and the storm dragged into the afternoon, that young students don’t respond well to captivity.
Next, the copy machine gave up; the central office notified me the buses would be late; and the cap fell off one of my heels so when I walked, I clacked like a riveter.
Clicking along a hallway to check on demented laughter coming from the boys’ bathroom, I spotted Gus, a first-grade student and a favorite because we spent time together. “Guess what?” he yelled in his indoor voice, “I went to the dentist. He checked me and all my teeth.”
“Wow. Are you perfect?” I asked.
He furrowed his brow, considered my comment, and bellowed, “No. He didn’t say I’m perfect. But I’m pretty damn good.”
Stress flees in the face of laughter.
I also read laughter promotes health and healing, but I already knew that as well, having learned it from my dad years ago. At eighty-five, after a bicycle accident and two surgeries, my optimistic, active father, who considered taking aspirin a sign of weakness, began to shrink and withdraw. Mom and I sat with him and watched his zest for life decline as one dreary hospital day followed another with no good news.
One afternoon, I went to a bookstore to buy a book Mom wanted. I also picked up a new book by Roald Dahl, Revolting Rhymes, a retelling of fairytales. If Mr. Dahl wrote it, I knew I’d like it.
At the hospital, Dad, with closed eyes and sunken cheeks, didn’t return my greeting.
When I showed the book to Mom, she suggested I read something from it to her as she crocheted. I chose Cinderella, and we were soon giggling at the unusual retelling of the classic tale. Dad opened his eyes and turned his face toward us. I continued:
“Quickly, in no time at all,
Cindy was at the Palace Ball!
It made the Ugly Sisters wince
To see her dancing with the Prince:
She held him very tight and pressed
Herself against his manly chest.”
Dad laughed. I increased the drama. By the time Cindy ran out of the ball in her underwear, the three of us were laughing at length and volume. During the following days, we read all of Mr. Dahl’s poems and repeated our favorites. Nurses began dropping by to join the merriment.
I know laughter hastened my father’s healing. He soon mended to the point he could leave the hospital and eventually travel home; and when he did, he took Revolting Rhymes with him.
If we want to live well and age well, we need to look for opportunities to laugh each and every day.