Where has all the laughter gone?

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Have you ever had a song pop into your mind and just keep playing over and over? The other day, the song ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?’, an anti-war song written by folksinger Pete Seeger in the 1950s, popped into my head and just wouldn’t go away. You might think this would set me to thinking about war and peace, or the peace protests of the 60s, but it didn’t. It made me think about laughing.

My mind works like that sometimes. There’s no rhyme or reason, it just does. Laughter, though, is a serious subject for me, because over the past few years, decades actually, I’ve noticed that laughter is in short supply. That’s right, folks. It looks like we’re losing our collective sense of humor, and that’s a tragedy.

Laughter is not just random noise, or a nuisance. It’s important to our physical, mental, and spiritual health. Studies have shown that people who laugh actually feel physically and mentally better. Kids do it naturally. The average child laughs as many as 200 times a day, while the average adult is lucky to hit 20. That might explain why kids are generally healthier than their parents.

Laughter can lighten even the darkest situation, it can cause barriers to crumble, and it can just make you feel a whole lot better.I’ll give you an example of how it can help your mood. I walk a mile almost every morning as part of my exercise regimen, usually between 5:30 and 7:00. I prefer the earlier hours because there are fewer people and I have time to think without interruption.

One morning recently, as I was about a block away from my house at the end of my walk, a gentleman backed his car out of his driveway, nearly hitting me. I banged on the rear of the car as I jumped out of the way, but he kept backing. So, I ran to the front and banged on his window. He looked at me in surprise, and when I said he almost hit me, he said, “Oh, I didn’t see you.”

I’m nearly 6 feet tall, weigh just under 200 pounds, and was wearing light colored exercise clothing. Oh, and it was 6:45, so the sun was already up. I snarled that he should look in his rearview mirror when backing up because we have kids who bike on our neighborhood streets, and he could have hit one of them. He looked puzzled and drove away.

For a few seconds, as I continued my walk home, I was steamed. But then, I realized that I was allowing his carelessness to spoil my day, and when I pictured the dumbfounded look on his face, I started laughing. Suddenly, I was no longer angry. I was unhurt and fuming about it wouldn’t change a thing. The rest of my day went well.

Another thing laughter can do is help you connect with others. Once when I was serving as the diplomat in residence at the University of Houston, a prestigious local organization invited the secretary of state to speak at their annual function. She couldn’t make it and deputized me to speak on her behalf.

Needless to say, when I was introduced to a crowded ballroom of some of Houston, Texas’ wealthiest residents, they didn’t look at all happy. Not an auspicious beginning to my speech, let me tell you. As I sat there watching the frosty expressions, a local news anchor introduced me. The poor woman droned on for nearly five minutes, reciting my entire biography, including every one of my diplomatic assignments. I’d been a diplomat for over 23 years at that point, so the list was quite long.

When I got up to speak, a little gremlin in my brain said ‘put the prepared remarks aside, and ad lib to get their attention,’ so I opened by saying, “After listening to that glowing introduction, I really feel that I should be lying in a box with lilies on my chest. One seldom gets to hear one’s eulogy. I suppose that’s one of the hazards of getting old.”

There was a stony silence for all of 10 seconds, and then the whole room erupted in laughter. Expressions relaxed and even got friendly looking. The rest of the speech went well, and afterwards several people came up to me and said it was the best annual dinner they’d been to.

See what laughter can do for you. Where has the laughter gone? Will someone help me find it? – NWI