I can’t talk about laughter without telling you about Adi Menczel. Adi is a boisterous Israeli girl that I met at summer music camp when we were teenagers. She is one of those people who is funny by accident. The humor just is her. Knowing Adi is not about liking her jokes. It is about being drawn in by her belly-laughter. She has fingers like lightening as she flutters up and down on her flute and when she takes that instrument away from her lips she literally overflows with joy. Her irrepressible spirit is infectious.
That summer when I first met her, she won the illustrious superlative, ‘Person who can fit the Most Words into an Eighth Note Rest.’ I won ‘Volley Ball Queen’, but that had nothing to do with skill. I won by default because no other girls played.
She has a few different laughs and they are all uniquely hers. One is a resounding ‘whoop!’, and often gets heads in the restaurant turning, sometimes with great displeasure. I’ll admit we’ve been told ‘This is not that kind of place’ at a restaurant or two. Another of her famous laughs sounds a bit like African Ululations. If you don’t know what those are, check them out here. Please click that link. I promise it is worth it. Another of her laughs involves snorting and throwing her whole body forward then back in a full body convulsion. I’ll admit, that’s my personal favorite.
You might look at a person like that and think to yourself, “I’m just not funny,” or “I have a serious nature,” but did you know that psychologists extol the benefits of laughter for healing and health? This is corroborated by a Proverb that says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
So how do we make laughter a part of our lives?
1. Dwell on the Good
The brilliant writer Paul said it this way, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Often we do just the opposite, don’t we? Psychologists call these negative repetitive thoughts “rumination.” Ruminating is about as useful as spinning your wheels in the mud. The Anxiety Network says, “Thoughts grow with attention. If you focus on negative thoughts, they will grow and grow and become even larger.” Let’s instead make a conscience choice to dwell on what is praiseworthy.
As a child I got to know and love the great author Alex Haley. His favorite mantra was, “Find the good and praise it,”and he lived his life by that creed. He certainly found the good and praised it in me, and it literally changed the course of my life.
2. Cultivate a Grateful Heart
According to the New York Times, ‘Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners.’ When we cultivate a heart that is grateful, we also remove the focus from within and begin to look outside ourselves, acknowledging that in many cases we have done nothing to deserve the abundance we walk in.
Let me give you an example. I remember my father asking my first horn teacher (Dr. Little) if we could pay him more for my weekly lessons since he only charged $5 for half an hour and often taught me for much longer than that. He would never accept my father’s offer to pay him more and continued to give me books, mutes and music to listen to for free. Finally, my father stopped him in the hallway after one of my lessons and said, “We feel like we are taking advantage of you. You are going to have to let us pay you more. If you don’t I am going to pull her out of her lessons!” Dr. Little looked at my father and teared up as he said, “I should be paying you to get to teach a student like her. The only reason I charge you at all is so she will know this is worth something.” My 10-year-old ears heard that loud and clear. Here was a teacher who was grateful to teach me? What a beautiful and rare perspective.
3. Count it all Joy
The great composer Mahler wrote music that has this incredible mixture of sorrow and joy. Those two emotions are indelibly linked and wouldn’t exist as we know them without each other. I’m sure you have all experience bittersweet moments in life where your heart is pulled in two directions simultaneously. I remember feeling that as I played Mahler 3 in Avery Fisher Hall with my graduating class from Juilliard. It was an impeccable performance, but I knew that after this concert we would all move on in our own directions, never to play together in this way again. I remember my teacher from the NY Philharmonic came backstage to meet us right after the performance. He said, “Oh, to be young and fearless,” because we had played with such abandon. It was heavenly, but afterwards my heart ached a little.
So how do we experience joy when we are facing real sorrows? I’m not talking about the bittersweet moments, but the heavy moments of serious illness or emotional pain? How can we achieve that coveted belly-laughter when we are getting pressed in on from all sides? In the book of James, the Bible says it this way, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. …” Notice here that he says to consider it PURE joy. In some translations he says to consider it ALL joy. That sounds like an impossible task, doesn’t it? In order to get there we must cultivate faith that believes that these tests and trials are for our good.
So we can’t all be Adi and just by existing bring light to those around us, but we can deliberately cultivate joy as a part of our daily lives. We can strive to live each day with hearts of gratitude. And we can approach the trials that come our way with a spirit of faith that allows us a deep knowing that God makes all things work together for our good.
And lastly, and I think most importantly, we can remember to not shoot those with loud laughs dirty looks at restaurants. That seemingly obnoxious snorting and convulsing person might be shining a light of joy into their table-mate’s life that is the perfect remedy for what ails them. Laughter, after all, is the best medicine.
2013 Copyright by Misty Tolle
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