On Laughing Your Head Off

My mom laughing sometime in the 1980s.


One thing my family of origin did really well was—and is—laugh. Growing up, our family system had all kinds of garden variety dysfunction, and perhaps some incidents of our wanton laughter even qualify as dysfunctional, but I don’t care. Because I love it.

One time, my little brother brought a super ball to church. Christopher drove a hard bargain to come with us as a family to Trinity Church, where one of our closest friends was the first ordained female minister in New Jersey. (Meaning, attending her services as a family was important.) This particular day, the conciliation from negotiating with my parents was that Christopher got to bring his neon green super ball.  But my dad, a lawyer, imposed specific conditions: Christopher was to handle the super ball discreetly, and only in our pew. You can guess what happened. Synthetic rubber against marble floor caused too zealous a bounce, and the super ball banked off a Book of Common Prayer, zinging into the aisle. My memory of what happened next is most likely inaccurate, because I see the neon green ball ricocheting all the way up to the pulpit, landing in the basket of communion wafers—which is probably too slapstick to be true. But what did happen, for sure, is the ball escaped our pew and took on a life of its own, as super balls tend to do, gathering momentum. Our family was laughing so hard that snorts emitted from my parents’ noses, which they pretended were coughing fits, and we were all stifling giggles so vigorous that our pew was squeaking.

I love that. I loved it then and love it now. And I am thankful, because I think laughing is a skill, in fact, that has saved me from certain aspects of my personality that could otherwise get the better of me.

Do you remember Norman Cousins’ experiment in 1964 that made the news? Diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis and given a matter of months to live, he rejected the verdict and checked himself into a hotel instead of the hospital, watching funny movie after funny movie, following his intuition that laughter would be his cure. Which, along with high doses of Vitamin C, it was. Subsequent studies on laughter have shown that laughing lowers stress hormones, increases infection-fighting antibodies, and boosts overall immune function. Laughing releases endorphins, thereby increasing one’s sense of wellbeing, which, along with the fact that laughter relaxes the musculature of the body, in many instances can temporarily relieve pain. It’s good for the heart, too, because laughing increases blood flow, improving blood vessel function. And in addition to helping the cardio-vascular functions of the physical heart, laughter heals the emotional heart as well. Studies show that nothing diffuses the toxic burden of stored-up anger more than laughter.  And sharing a laugh with someone—particularly someone with whom you’re in conflict—is some of the best medicine around.

When was the last time you laughed your head off? And would it be possible to make belly-laughing a daily practice?  

25 thoughts on “On Laughing Your Head Off”

  1. I can’t remember a day I haven’t laughed out loud. I atribute my good health at 67 to love, laughter, and yoga (and a nutritious diet but that factor is more logical than cosmic).

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  2. I love this. And is there anything better than the church giggles– chuckling like that when you know it is just not ok? I’ve been there– I can think of at least 2 memorable church giggles, one involving my Mother and one involving a friend. One from the early 90s and one that took place just last spring. As funny as the church giggles are, I also love the shared memories of those times. One word and I’m right back there suppressing my laughter and feeling it throughout my body. I just had a weekend with college friends. We laughed a lot– not just at old times, but at where we are now. The most sustained laughs I’ve had recently were at a birthday party for a high school friend last June. Your brother was there. My face hurt from smiling and laughing all night. Your family definitely knows how to laugh. What a great thing to bring to the world. I will tell you, as I’ve gotten older, the belly laughs are not as frequent. Must remedy that.

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    1. Yes, remedy that! I love that laughing so hard your cheek muscles hurt feeling! I posted something on FB that is an SNL skit some might not find funny but for me all I have to do is see Bill Hader as the ‘Nam vet in a puppet class and I am already giggling. Finding clips or, as you said, storing memories that call forth the giggles is so healthy. In these troubling times, too, sometimes it has to be intentional. Laughing. Sometimes things are just not funny so we have to go out and seek intentional laughter.


    1. You are so right about laughing providing perspective. In another blog, On Divinity, I wrote about the Dalai Lama laughing so hard he has to take off his glasses and wipe his eyes. He embodies perspective. As to your question, I don’t remember anyone’s reactions because we were all in the crash position: duck and cover!


  3. I have certain friends I laugh a lot with. One friend had a dog with a very long face and once we were at a very posh museum screening of an old French film and there was a donkey onscreen and my friend and I looked at eachother because the donkey looked so much like her dog. Well, that was it. We couldn’t stop laughing. Every time we caught our breath then the donkey would show up again and we were off to the races again. I think we eventually had to leave. Which is the reason I guess that donkeys still crack me up.

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  4. I love this! I have never heard of Norman Cousins’ experiment but I find it truly fascinating. Thank you for writing – I love your blog (referred to me by Annie MacKenzie, with whom I work at Proctor Academy 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much. I really appreciate your comment. There are some interviews online with Norman Cousins about his ground-breaking experiment. Btw, Proctor Academy is an educational GIFT. I wish every teen who needs to learn experientially could go there!.


  5. I just got off the off the phone with your mother….we laughed until my cheeks hurt and I could barely talk. The description of the scene in church with the neon ball careening about is vivid in my imagination….chuckling just thinking about it.
    And yes Julie….I can hear your laugh now!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This completely validates that watching comedy on youtube really IS MEDICINE! I considered my 10 minutes a day indulgent, but I am feeling empowered to call it “health care” now! Thanks for the great smile and laughs Hilary ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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