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The Gift of Laughter

It is a joy for children to witness the laughter of grandparents. It tells them that life is good, and things will be okay
August 10th, 2023

By Jim Towey

Who was it who said, “Laughter is the best medicine”?  An internet search traces this bromide’s roots to both Biblical and modern times.  Perhaps that’s because its message is timeless and true.  Some sources argue the quote was derived from King Solomon’s words in Proverbs 17:22: “A joyful heart is the health of the body.”  Others cite a saying of 19th century English poet Lord Byron: “Always laugh when you can, it is cheap medicine.”  Two Americans, humorist Bennett Cerf and comedian Milton Berle, hold legitimate claims to the saying.

Whatever its source, laughter is good medicine.  The benefits of it are many.  Laughter boosts immunity, lowers stress hormones, relieves your muscles, eases anxiety and tension and prevents heart disease.  It also defuses conflict and bonds us to others.  Laughter simply feels good. 

How many times have you faced a situation where you could either laugh or cry, and you chose to laugh?  The Irish in my blood has me laughing when things go wrong.  A sense of humor is like a set of shock absorbers.  The older (and wiser) you get, the more you realize that laughter smooths things out when life gets bumpy.

Laughing at yourself

Our parents teach us the importance of being able to laugh at yourself once in a while.  And as I am discovering, aging gives you plenty of opportunities.  Here are ten of my favorite self-deprecating aging jokes from various humorists:

  1. Phyllis Diller: “I’m at an age where my back goes out more than I do.”
  2. Mark Twain: “The older I get, the more clearly I remember things that never happened.”
  3. Leo Rosenberg: “First you forget names, then you forget faces, then you forget to pull your zipper up, then you forget to pull your zipper down.”
  4. George Burns: “At my age, flowers scare me.”
  5. Sir Norman Wisdom: “As you get older three things happen.  The first is your memory goes, and I can’t remember the other two.”
  6. Hy Gardner: “You know you are getting old when everything hurts, and what doesn’t hurt doesn’t work.”
  7. John Mendoza: “You know you’re getting old when you can pinch an inch on your forehead.”
  8. Joel Plaskett: “You know you are getting old when everything either dries up or leaks.”
  9. Dennis Wolfberg: “There’s one advantage to being 102.  There’s no peer pressure.”

And I can’t remember the tenth one!

My point is that laughing at ourselves, even in misfortune, is more than an important coping mechanism.  It keeps things in perspective.  If we don’t take ourselves too seriously, then we also won’t freak out about what is happening in the world around us.

Click-bait fearmongering

Unfortunately, fearmongering is now an established feature of American life, and today’s weather coverage proves it.  I call what has happened, “the “WeatherChannelization of America.”  Recall 40 years ago when that obscure channel launched and offered dull forecasts that attracted a tiny viewership.  The channel quickly figured out that just because it didn’t have sex appeal to market, it could utilize something more potent: fear.  The cable news and legacy media, already aware that the sensational sells, followed suit with its own climate coverage.  Now all we see are adjectives like “severe” and “extreme” and “deadly” used to fan the flames of fear.  I spent summers in DC in the 1980’s when temperatures in excess of 100 degrees were registered for days on end (thus the Capitol’s centuries-old name, “The Swamp.”).  Today if Washington weather goes above 90, cue the alarmist rhetoric!

That’s because the fearsome attract attention which commands evermore advertising revenue.  We saw this phenomenon with the media’s “spikes and surges” Covid coverage.  We see it now with the mainstreaming of click-bait and other high-tech sensationalism.  What gets lost here is the difference between real challenges and hyped ones.  The former need to be addressed; the latter deserve to be laughed at.

America needs a resurgence of humor and laughter to banish the folly of hype and falsity.  Laughter doesn’t ignore the problems of our times – it puts them in perspective.

Our elders already know how this works.  That is why it is such a joy for children to witness the laughter of grandparents.  It tells them that life is good and things are going to be okay.

Shakespeare wrote, “with mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”   Yes, laughter gives wrinkles twinkles.


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