Laughter, along with an active sense of humor, may help protect you against a heart attack, according to a new study by cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.
“The old saying that ‘laughter is the best medicine,’ definitely appears to be true when it comes to protecting your heart,” said Michael Miller, M.D., F.A.C.C., director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the center.
We should not be surprised that many medical and psychiatric journals have recently published articles about the therapeutic or medicinal value of laughter. The Bible espouses laughter as a healthy and normal activity that helps us cope with anxiety and frustration.
The Bible is full of references to laughter, humor and good cheer. Ecclesiastes reminds us that “there is a time to laugh and a time to cry.” The wise writer also reminds us in Proverbs that “a cheerful heart does good like a medicine.”
The hilarity of the promise given to Abraham and Sarah of Isaac’s birth in Genesis 18 reminds us of God’s sense of humor. In this patriarchal narrative, God assured Abraham and Sarah that despite their old age, they would have a son. When Sarah considered this unlikely anomaly, she laughed. When Isaac was born, she said, “God has brought me laughter.”
And Jesus’ sense of humor is often overlooked. When he told his disciples that it is easier for “a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven,” many biblical linguistsbelieve Jesus was using hyperbolic humor to make a serious point about the dangers of materialism.
When Jesus warned his disciples not to judge others, he asked “Why do you try to get the speck out of your brother’s eye when you have a log in your own eye?” This verbal caricature is a good example of the didactic humor Jesus employed when teaching intricate matters of faith and practice.
The ability to laugh at the absurdity of life’s circumstances is healthy; laughter at the expense of another is destructive. It is impolite, if not downright rude, to laugh at or mock the demise, failure or misfortune of another group or individual.
The beloved humorist Grady Nutt frequently said, “Laughter is the hand of God on the shoulder of a troubled world.” Grady also said that every time we look in the mirror, we should be reminded that God has a sense of humor.
In the postmodern world, stress and anxiety are almost epidemic. Perhaps a new understanding of laughter and a new freedom to laugh are the best prescriptions for our distress. And maybe we have overlooked the physical and spiritual dimensions of laughter.
Miller said it may be possible to incorporate laughter into our daily activities, just like we might take the stairs instead of the elevator.
“We could perhaps read something humorous or watch a funny video and try to find ways to take ourselves less seriously,” Miller said. “The recommendation for a healthy heart may one day be— exercise, eat right and laugh a few times a day.”
For your health and for your spiritual vitality, take time to laugh.
Barry Howard is senior minister of First Baptist Church in Corbin, Ky.
Pastor at the Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta. He also serves as a leadership coach and columnist for the Center for Healthy Churches. He and his wife, Amanda, live in Brookhaven, Georgia.