The Worth of Mirth

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.”

Scared cartoon boy visiting the dentist.

“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.

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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.

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70 thoughts on “The Worth of Mirth

  1. I love your stories! And tying together the “damn good teeth” with the “prest against his chest” made me smile too! We’ve both lived such wonderful lives! I definitely need a copy of that book to share with my granddaughter. She loves funny stories like her grandma 🙂

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  2. This is EXACTLY what I needed today. I’m on my way to Massachusetts to help with my mom, who is in the same shape as your dad was. (Two weeks ago my dad was hospitalized–thank God for my two sisters and brother).
    I’m getting that book!

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    • Oh, Shelley, I’ll be thinking about you and your family. Hospitals can be so dreary, loved ones so vulnerable, and caretakers so stressed and sad. Anything that can help, like gentle humor, is welcome. I know you’ll do well.

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  3. Ahh, Janet…you get me every time. I love Roald Dahl, so much! Love to know we share that in common. I haven’t heard of this book of poems though…I have to pick it up today, for myself and my youngest we have a similar affinity for words. Your words made me smile on the inside today, thank you!

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  4. Laughter is truly the best medicine. What memories you brought back Janet. I remember that time so well. It also reminded me of when Blaine & JL took Dad out of the hospital in Utah AMA. Dad was going downhill fast (he believed when you went to the hospital, you went there to die) and your brothers basically told the Drs. that they were taking Dad home. I can just see them freeing Dad from the hospital. There was a horrible snowstorm as they drove home that night. When Blaine dropped JL off in Rock Springs, JL felt that Dad would not survive the night. But, getting your Dad out of the hospital was all that he needed. He survived to live another day.

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    • I think of that time as well, Janice, and how his hospitalization in Carson City was a precursor to the more serious episode in Salt Lake City. I, too, have quite a visual of my two big, strong brothers taking their dad home.

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  5. My handicapped father had been taken by ambulance to the hospital while assuring them he was OK, he was released after 3 hours when they agreed with him. As we picked him up to take him home, his pants fell down. He stood in the pouring rain and laughed.

    Yes, laughter is the best medicine.

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  6. Long, long ago I read of psychiatrists in a clinic for people with depression holding Marx Brothers marathons and noting the improvement in most of the patients. I personally believe that a dark sense of humor has saved many souls.

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    • During my professional years, Martha, I taught a workshop about the benefits of laughter in a classroom and did a fair amount of research to substantiate my claims. There are several studies similar to the one you describe, but I didn’t find it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I think the evidence about the healing properties of laughter is irrefutable.

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  7. The vision of your dramatic reading, and the three of you heartily laughing, makes me smile. As their favorite teacher, my children loved how you brought laughter to your classroom.

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    • It was a trying situation, Mary, but one that feels warm and happy in my memory. I’m so glad your children remember laughing with me; and you know that they tickled me in return. Not surprising at all, because their mom raised them with laughter and the ability to find humor in every situation.

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  8. Yes, and we need to start by laughing at OURSELF! 🙂 I find it disheartening when I read people making negative comments criticizing others ability to laugh at themselves or find humor in our otherwise tragic life….We’re not DENYING reality when we do so, just “taking a breather” from an otherwise difficult life some days, that’s all. As long as people’s silliness is not done in a mean spirited way, I say “go for it.” I “assume” Gus and you spent “time together” because he was one of our more “challenging students” or was it some other reason??? I, too, enjoyed reading your other guest comments and as usual, love your writing….YOU do realize, that you’re now one of my “mentors”, right? I love your writing style and will keep reading you and learning from you every chance I get! 🙂 ❤

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    • Oh, Lucie, such a compliment to think that you, a lady who radiates humor and writes it so well ,would think of me as a mentor. Thank you. Yes, Gus and I often chatted in my office about the need for rules. I loved him. He insisted on being himself, but now and then would agree that it might have been a wiser choice to do something differently. Also, I agree wholeheartedly with your defense of silliness and laughing at ourselves. I appreciate those who can do so.

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  9. Great post Janet-I cannot imagine life without humor- apparently as a baby my brother fed me cow fly bomb- we were too young to tell the doctor when he came how much I ate, but as he tried to make me puke, I laughed, when given charcoal, I laughed, meaty fingers down wee throat, laughing as I heaved, stomach pumped, hilarious. Stood me well years later getting kicked out of C.P.R. training because it tickled…hysterics at funerals frowned upon, still I had to laugh. In grade two when we made father’s day cards, little Corrine De Marais put up her hand and yelled- “Do I make a card for daddy or mummy’s boyfriend?” sent me to the hall for laughing and Mrs Cox rummaging for her flask. Thank you for the jolly Guffaw! Wish you had been my teacher…

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    • Oh, how I would have loved teaching such a giggler and guffawed, Sheila. We would have had such fun. You do seem like a person who has to laugh and who finds humor every day. Your wonderful blog exemplifies your joy in life and ability to not only laugh but to make others laugh with you.

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    • Roald Dahl’s partner, Peggy Seeger wrote “Carry Greenham Home”, the anthem for our Peace Camp, and would come down to sing round the fire. At 8 when I had eye repair and could not see, everyone gave me books…one was called “Beastly Boy’s And Ghastly Girls” Disgusting, wonderful, long out of print. Forgot that book till now…but still sing when there is nothing outstanding to laugh at…

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      • How ironic to be unable to see and receive books as gifts; fortunately it didn’t seem to end your love of words. I think sometime in my past I’ve seen Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls. I’m going to have to google it to find out. And, yes, singing works as well as laughing, especially so since my singing makes everyone laugh.

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  10. Janet, this is delightful and full of wisdom. My father enjoyed laughter in his last days and his joyous look on life stays with me.
    I’m lucky to have married someone that makes me laugh too!
    😀

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  11. Thank you for helping me to start the day with a big smile. I love reading your contributions to the world of blogging, they cheer me up and bring back happy memories that make me smile too. Have a great day and I hope someone makes you laugh today 🙂 Linda

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  12. I loved reading this Aunt Janet! It’s been a busy, stressful week and as a result, I missed this on Tuesday. Bonnie reminded me on Tuesday night to read it, because she thoroughly enjoyed it. I am glad I did, because I wholeheartedly agree! Thank you for the reminder to laugh! In my experience, laughter and love often come in pairs. 😊 Where I find one, I usually find the other.

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    • I like your idea, Becca, that love and laughter come in pairs, and, thinking about it, I think you’re right. You know your dad had the ability to make me laugh, even when I didn’t want to, from the time he was three.

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  13. I’ll have to look for a copy of Roald Dahl’s “Revolting Rhymes”. Sounds like a good book to have on hand!

    Being able to laugh with others and at oneself is indeed a gift.

    I find it much easier to laugh on days when I haven’t read or watched the daily news!

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    • It was the right book at the right time for my family, Rita, but I’m not sure it ranks with Dahl’s great books for children like James and the Giant Peach and Danny Champion of the World. You are so right about having a happier day without the news. I sometimes wonder why I inflict it on myself.

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  14. Ah Roald Dahl. A huge part of my childhood and with good reason. So wonderful that he was able to lift your fathers spirits too.

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  15. I so agree with you. Like many others, my life has been heavy with loss. But I love to laugh–and find things to laugh about. Fortunately (or some would say unfortunately) I have a dark sense of humor. I am careful about my audience, but it lifts my spirits, and perhaps elevates courage, to laugh at the dark side of life.

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  16. Revolting Rhymes stood out as one of the most influential books of my childhood – the moment when reading changed for me from an enjoyable hobby to a passion. My eight year old self suddenly realised how much fun reading could be. I laughed all the way through it. I’m so happy you shared it with your father…laughter is a precious thing.

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  17. Oh, Aunt B, I am so excited to find this book and share with the grand – dollies! Perhaps they will enjoy as much as I will. Roald Dahl is a gem. As are your columns. Thanks for the smiles.

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    • I do think both you and your granddaughters will enjoy the book, though it may be a few years before they are ready to appreciate Roald Dahl’s fine wit. I’m so appreciative of your constant readership of my efforts, Audrey.

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