When Michael Aronin, a well-loved comedian who was born with cerebral palsy, takes the stage, everyone can see and hear his physical disability. They also see that it has not stopped him. He’s up there in full view, doing what he loves most: making others laugh. He often starts his show by addressing his disability right away with something like this: “I know what you’re thinking. You see the way I walk, and you hear the way I talk, and I know you’re wondering what it’s like to be… Jewish.” And voilà! His audience is captivated. Through his vulnerability, his self-effacing humor, and his honesty, Aronin has created instant intimacy. And this is just a glimpse of the immense power humor can wield.
From a Kabbalistic perspective, laughter and humor are natural channels for spiritual energy. Since they are intertwined with joy and happiness, they connect us directly to the Creator. The kabbalists have long taught that blessings cannot rest in a place of darkness, and nothing “lights up a room” as quickly or easily as laughter! Moreover, humor momentarily frees us from our worries. When we’re belly-laughing, we can’t help but be in the NOW.
I’ve spoken about a story from my own life that illustrates this idea. Years ago, when we had three very small children, our family was headed to a birthday party. We were all dressed up and excited for a fun afternoon. But you know what they say about those “best-laid plans”? Well… these friends lived in an unfamiliar part of Los Angeles (where we lived at the time), and this was pre-GPS. Suffice it to say, we got lost. And I mean, LOST. And a few hours–which felt like days–later, there we were, still winding up and down strange, unmarked streets with a car full of fussy, hungry kids–two of whom had obviously soiled their diapers (I’ll spare you the details).
The energy grew worse, until utterly exasperated, I pulled over and cut the engine. My husband and I both felt close to the precipice, but when our eyes met, something shifted. It’s as if we shared the same thought: it’s just a birthday party! We smiled at one another, and instantly, everything shifted. Instead of trying to control the moment, we surrendered to it. We knew then that we were never going to make it to this party. So what did we do? We started laughing uncontrollably. And as if I needed more evidence (which I didn’t) that Michael was my soul mate, there it was… because who else could laugh at being totally lost in a hot car with cranky babies and poopy diapers? So, as is often the case, humor saved the day.
Even in our challenging times, there is always a crack, an opening to let in the Light. You just have to be open to seeing those cracks. As acclaimed motivational humorist Scott Friedman says, “Humor can help bring light to the darkness, for the worst things in life often contain the seeds of the best.” Life is full of dichotomies. Just as there’s no outside without an inside, no up without a down–every state of our lives holds within it the essence of its opposite. Loss can reveal or illuminate the depth of love we feel for another; calamity can inspire great kindness from strangers. On the surface, grief and laughter seem at odds. But even in our most hopeless or desperate moments, there’s still room for humor. When speaking to a group that was in mourning from a shared tragedy, Friedman told them, “Our job is not to stop mourning, but to stop only mourning. It’s okay to take a break and celebrate what’s good.” His words and subsequent humor brought many participants to tears of gratitude for the chance to smile again.
This isn’t to say that dark times are always pathways to instant laughter. There’s a time to let yourself grieve. It’s simply to underscore the idea that “lifting spirits” through humor happens in the most literal sense… that laughter is both spiritual and transformative!
Humor has been shown to have physical benefits, too. Multiple studies have shown that laughing reduces stress hormones, including cortisol and epinephrine, while increasing health-enhancing endorphins and infection-fighting antibodies. Yet such discoveries are not entirely new. Beyond the traditional use of clowns and comedy programs in children’s hospitals and nursing homes, humor has proven an excellent health tool throughout history. Laughter created a balm for burdened kings (remember the jester and the comedy troupe?). It was a prescribed medical treatment in Ancient Greece and in Native American tribal cultures. And these days, “laughter therapy” is an expanding field.
So how can we inject more humor into our day?
● Dare to laugh (even out loud) at your own minor gaffes and awkward moments.
● Surround yourself with those who make you smile.
● Mix in some comedy and standups with your true crime and news programs.
● Spend time with children, who laugh up to 25 times more often than we adults! Because happily, laughter is contagious.
● Make someone else laugh. A great way to create something in our own lives is to bring it to others!
George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.”
Laughter connects us, it elevates us, and it eases even the most trying of situations (like our family’s missed party fiasco!). When we laugh together, our differences are transmuted into a single shared happiness–beyond station, nation, ideology, or worldly burdens. We are in the Light. We are in the NOW.