One of my favorite aspects of the human experience is the universality of emotions. Amidst language barriers, one knows that when a stranger laughs, it is usually because something was funny or lighthearted. But like all things in this life, even the lightest aspects have a dark side and laughter is no exception. In Taylor Swift’s song entitled Foolish One, she sings, “And maybe, someday, when we’re older, this is something we’ll laugh about.” How often in life do we use humor and laughter as a coping mechanism, hoping that the current struggles we are facing will one day be comparable to the laughter elicited from a joke? Why is it comforting sometimes to know that the worst moments of our lives can one day be reduced to punchlines?
It is fascinating to see how laughter can take on many forms and roles in our lives. When I look at what I’ve learned in my own life, I notice that it’s materialized in a few different ways.
Laughter as a promise
When I was fourteen years old and about to undergo the amputation of my left leg to beat cancer, my doctor said something along the lines of, “One day, you will forget you are an amputee. You will even laugh about this time period.” At the time, I thought he sounded delusional. That is a pretty big promise to make as my surgeon who was saving my life, but taking my left leg away from me forever. However, in hindsight, his words did have truth to them. Laughter as a promise can sound pretty harsh, especially when you are at the height of a painful experience, but isn’t it funny how nearly ten years later, I can still remember those exact words from my doctor? They meant something, even if I did not want to believe him.
I think we shy away from promising laughter in the future because we are afraid to break our promises. While that is valid, I have found that for a lot of the tough moments in life, when we do not get what we want, there is value in picturing a happier future. One of my favorite quotes is, “A word of encouragement during failure is worth more than an hour of praise after success.” For some, that promise of laughter might just hold more bearing than all the affirmation one gets when they are at the peak of their life.
Laughter as hope
Taylor Swift’s lyrics from “Foolish One” are a great example of laughter as hope. In that song, she muses about a boy she is in love with who cannot commit to her (sounds like a situationship). The whole song depicts her wrestling between what her mind knows and what her heart wants. In the line about laughter, she makes up a fake scenario in her head where she ends up married to the boy, and they look back and laugh at the time he could not make his mind up about her.
Sometimes, it is the anticipation of knowing that you will be able to laugh at how sad you were over a love interest that keeps one moving forward. How often do we look back at people we were so desperate to end up with only to cringe at the thought of how badly we wanted to be with them? This applies to situations beyond our love life — job rejections, losing friends, any event that deals with rejection that can repeat itself. The hope is that if you have been able to move forward and laugh about a job opportunity or a friendship that went sour, you will be able to do that again with the next disappointment. The hope that laughter brings is that one day, when the right job, spouse, and friends come into your life, you will laugh at what you wanted because it did not compare to what you ended up with. Therein lies laughter as a sign of hope — you can laugh about the failed pursuits because what is meant for you will always be a better fit than what you thought might bring you happiness.
Laughter as a sign of healing
Oftentimes, laughing about something in the past can be met with scrutiny for one’s past self instead of mercy. I think the indication that laughter is a sign of healing comes when a person has been able to feel the depth of the pain or grief that they experienced, and yet can smile about it because they know better now. It can be tempting to try to get to this stage right away, but there is no way to microwave the healing process. It is painfully clear when someone is using laughter as a coping mechanism rather than laughter being a by-product of deeper inner healing that has taken place.
The key here is time and allowing oneself to feel pain. The world runs into a lot of problems because most people try to avoid suffering, but in order to reap the benefit of “laughter as medicine,” we have to follow the prescription and that involves going through the suffering — not going around it. Sometimes, the things and people who have hurt us the most, can be cured by the healing process that leads us to be able to laugh at things that used to hold so much power over our emotions. The minute we can laugh about these things, without harboring deep hurt inside, is when we know that the cure, in the form of hearty giggles or a chuckle (whatever you prefer), is enough of a reaction for us and there is no desire to rant anymore because laughter suffices.
Promises, hope, and healing are all aspects of this life that bring light into our lives. In a world that often struggles to fight for that light, laughter is used as a tool of comfort because it is a tangible expression of joy. Laughter is more than just a reaction after a well-told joke. It can signify so much for a person — having what they always wanted after many rejections/heartbreaks/dark days, healing from wounds they thought they would carry forever, or the proven fact that if you have moved through a trial that now causes you to laugh, that hope will carry you into the next good season of your life. There’s one thing I’m sure of: the medicinal power of laughter exists.