Many of us don’t laugh enough in life. The seriousness that results from the pressures of daily life and work responsibilities can marginalize our appreciation of humor, or simply not give us the time to enjoy it. It might seem like a sin to take time for something as trivial as watching a comedy or reading jokes when the house is a mess, papers aren’t graded yet, or some other responsibility still looms in the background.
I’m in no way suggesting that we fail to meet our responsibilities, but I have come to realize that if we wait until everything “urgent” and “important” has been taken care of, we’ll never have time for anything else, and we’ll wind up pretty stressed and grumpy in the process. I’ve also realized that many of the practical tasks that seem so incredibly important today will have been completely forgotten about by next week, whether or not they were completed. Our work and responsibilities are necessary in life, but they don’t define who we are. Cheerfulness and humor, on the other hand, won’t be forgotten, and their presence or absence end up, at least to a certain extent, defining our identity.
I believe laughter also has even deeper spiritual benefits. As GK Chesterton eloquently points out in The Everlasting Man, laughter is unique to the human person: “Alone among the animals, he is shaken with the beautiful madness called laughter; as if he had caught sight of some secret in the very shape of the universe hidden from the universe itself.” Only man can laugh. Humor is a property of the soul, which means it is also intrinsically linked to the image and likeness of God. By laughing, we can grow closer to God and experience some of his infinite joy. Laughter is a form of beauty, an expression of love – love of enjoyment and love of life. Laughter also reflects the image of God because by showing man’s social nature. Just as love presupposes relationship between an “I” and a “you,” so too, does laughter, which is contagious, and usually communal.
I am convinced that the Good Lord laughed frequently during his life on earth, out of love and appreciation of the goodness in his Father’s Creation. I believe he had a hearty laugh that shook from the depths of his being, sharing the power and delight of Divine enjoyment with those around him. Given that we can’t hear the rich tones of his laugh, I am grateful that we can at least hear its echo in the laughter of those around us.
While most days bring plenty of humor on their own, I’ve found that it’s nice to have some resources to fall back upon in the evenings, when I’m exhausted from grading a plethora of papers, drafting school policies, or working around the house, and need a little comic relief. Over the past year or so, I’ve run into some older shows and movies – ones I always assumed would be slow and boring, given that they’re from my grandparents’ era and the beginning of the television epoch. I’ve been surprised and rewarded with a refreshing dose of humor, and have found myself laughing far more at the simple antics of former comedians than at the more mundane sense of humor that characterizes much of modern television. Some of the former classics that I’ve discovered – or rediscovered – and would recommend if you’re looking for some good laughs include the following:
- The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966) – See the chimney sweeper from Mary Poppin’s starring in his own show as husband, father and comedy script writer. Enjoy the simplicity and goodness shown in family life, along with the undying humor of Van Dyke and his office colleagues.
- Going My Way (1933)– I had watched Crosby in The Bells of St. Mary’s numerous times, but only recently found out that St. Mary’s was written as a sequel to I’m Going My Way, when Fr. O’Malley first appears as a young, energetic priest who enjoys life and knows how to get everyone else to enjoy it with him.
- Singing in the Rain (1952)– Prince of parody’s, this musical will have you in stitches as it shows the discrepancy between things as they are and things as they seem, in addition to entertaining you with the song and dance of Gene Kelly and his co-stars.
- The Three Stooges (1930s) – If you like slap-stick humor, or if you’re utterly exhausted, the bumbling mess ups of Joe, Moe and Larry will have you in stitches. Watch them wreak havoc in hotels, homes, courthouses, and anywhere else their adventures lead them.
- The Happiest Millionaire (1957) – Enjoy the eccentric habits of Fred MacMurray, acting as a Marine-loving, God-fearing American, a loving husband, and an overprotective parent, as he learns to let his children embark upon their own journeys. Song, dance and humor will keep a smile on your face throughout this heartwarming comedy.
- Bringing Up Baby (1938) – Meet Cary Grant as an absent-minded scientist who doesn’t know what to do with himself or anyone around him. Comedy springs from the contrast between this gentle, serious and somewhat confused man and the over-confident, energetic, and somewhat imposing supporting actress – Katherine Hepburn.
The Odd Couple (1968) – Enjoy an exaggerated portrayal of the enjoyments and difficulties people face on a daily basis when working with opposite personalities in extremely close quarters…
To laugh often and love much;
to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children;
to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give one’s self;
to leave the world a bit better, whether by a health child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation;
to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – this is to have succeeded.
Ralph Waldo Emerson