Long ago, I stumbled upon a core value that may seem a bit strange but that has served me well: I trust people who have a good sense of humor, and I distrust folks who don’t.
I tend to agree with the great writer Anne Lamott, who once said, “Laughter is carbonated holiness.”
Time and time again, I have found that a person’s ability to laugh at themselves, or the world, is a key indicator of personal and spiritual health. I’m not talking about silly jokes with a rote punch line. I’m talking about the ability to find humor even when things are most serious in life.
Two small examples, from when I was a kid in Preston Hollow: The first haircut I ever remember was at the barbershop at Preston and Forest. It had that barbershop smell of powder and aftershave. But I was terrified. The idea of scissors operating near my ears had me in a tizzy.
So, the barber made a joke about trying not to cut my ears off. Somehow, I thought it was funny. And ever after, on every trip back, I willingly hopped up in the chair and said, “Be sure and don’t cut my ears off!”
I had quite a few ear problems as a child, and once I had to have minor surgery. The ear doctor was going to give me a mild anesthetic and produced a syringe and the largest needle I’d ever laid eyes on. The shot was supposed to be administered in my leg.
Perhaps because he could sense my terror, the doctor paused. And after a moment he said “Eric, I have to tell you the truth about this shot. This is going to hurt you a lot more than it’s going to hurt me.”
I burst out laughing. He plunged in the needle. It didn’t hurt a bit!
Laughter, when it comes at just the right moment, can transform a situation. It can break the ice in a tense negotiation. It can become the spark that starts a more serious conversation.
More and more, doctors are discovering that laughter can help our blood pressure, our overall mood and our sleep. As a minister, it seems to me humor also is an indicator of spiritual health.
So I value people who value humor. And the opposite also is true. I tend to distrust those who cannot laugh at themselves, or who rarely find anything funny. I find that overly serious people who never laugh generally don’t work well with others. My own view is that they also tend to be less compassionate of both themselves and others.
Because if you can laugh at your own circumstance, then you can be compassionate toward yourself, too. And if you can laugh with (not at) others, you’re more likely to love and support them. Perhaps that’s why the great Protestant theologian Karl Barth once said, “Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.”
So, take life seriously, because life is serious business.
But don’t forget to laugh.