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The Divine Grace of Laughter

A study in Norway found that people that laugh more, live longer. Laughter can be a bridge to the inner calm and the refuge to bounce back from difficulties in life. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us, “It is cheerful to God when you rejoice or laugh from the bottom of your heart.” 

The world can feel like an overwhelming place sometimes and we may feel stuck or flooded with worry, anger and disillusionment. Oftentimes our focus may even be on our storyline, with a sense of “This is it, my suffering defines me.” and can miss being present in daily life. 

Sound familiar?

When this happens, we are not able to observe the whole picture and may get stuck in certain thought or behavioral patterns. As we are spinning in our intellect, we can block the natural flow of not only our own mind but our connection to everything around us. We may get wrapped up in mental patterns of fixing using our ‘smart mind', the protective mind that serves to keep us alive, and instead live from survival mode. When we do this, we actually strengthen a groove in our brain to follow a mental pattern of fear and worry where our higher thinking is temporarily offline. When this happens we are not even able to notice the different routes of thinking that can offer us more peace, ease and new ways of being as challenges arise. 

So what’s the solution? 

When we are stuck in survival mode, we need new ways to think and to release habitual thought patterns. Believe it or not, when we laugh, we do exactly that. We drop the thinking mind and we fall and flow with the waves of laughter. When we laugh we are in presence. When we are laughing we are in love. Our judging thinking mind releases and we are freed in that moment. Karl Barth even went so far as to teach that, “Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.”

a small girl throwing her head back with laughter

Research shows that laughter ignites mental states similar to meditation where the gamma brain waves are oscillating and the entire brain is engaged, similar to being in flow. When this happens the brain is able to have more integrated thoughts and break up stagnant thought patterns. The gamma brain waves are energetically shifting and reshaping the mind which can lead us to more contentment and happiness.

Laughing also releases endorphins— feel good hormones and help reduce pain. When we laugh, we get a nice shot of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that improves our mood and attention and serotonin, which enhances our connection with others and stabilizes our mood. This influx of neurotransmitters can help us shift the mind out of fear and separateness and shape neural connections for greater love and connection. 

When we laugh with others, we connect more deeply and build more positive relationships. Science shows we like one another more when we laugh together. Laughing together activates mirror neurons in our brains causing us to see and reflect one another, in that instant we laugh as one. Through our waves of laughter together we commune as a single symphony laughing as one.

Recently, I was watching Only Murders in the Building and I replayed a scene with Martin Short close to twenty times. Even now as I write this, just thinking about the scene makes me smirk. We laugh because we see ourselves in others. The sheer vulnerability of the human heart and the human condition reminds me I am not alone. I laughed so hard, I had tears. I laughed so hard because I saw myself in him. Laughter reminds us that we are all so human and doing our very best in this form. Laughter is an energy that unites us all. 

My favorite memory of my mother is her laugh. She laughed as if she was giving her heart to the universe. She had a smile that lit up a room. When I struggled in life, she would often bring in humor as a way to lighten the load. Through us laughing together, it helped me not take things so seriously. She would look at me and smile and say, “We are all a little crazy.” It was a reminder how she loved me no matter what, that I could be a toddler with a temper and occasionally lose it. Sometimes, it’s okay to lose it and come back home again, and laugh. 

When we laugh we are free, like when we meditate the mind is free and we are more open to different possibilities. Through laughing we can build resilience and receive the courage to get back up again when we fall. Through our tears, our smiles and belly laughs, we can plant the seeds of hope for a new day. We can have the courage to love ourselves and others exactly as we are and forgive ourselves when we forget. And when we forget, we can return home to the heart of laughter together.


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