By Mary Bridges, chaplain
Generations of my family overcame untold adversity as they labored to make new homes in foreign countries. If asked, I would describe these Germans from Russia, who settled in Russell, as quiet, stoic and stern looking.
Growing up I often thought I had been adopted because I felt like I didn’t really fit in. Laughter and humor have always been part of who I am, and my personality certainly didn’t match those mostly unsmiling, stern looking people I called family. My five siblings were much older than I was. At a very young age, I found that I could make them laugh at me – or with me – and a connection was made.
Recently, I had the opportunity to reconnect with my Funk side of the family, when Doug, came to work at Presbyterian Manor. I’m sure we are related. Doug reminded me of how much I liked my maternal grandmother’s side of the family because they were an exception to all the somber faces seen at family gatherings. They were the FUNk ones, always clowning around, making jokes or simply laughing at life.
April is National Humor Month. Appropriately, it begins with April’s Fools Day. “The timing of this day of pranks seems to be related to the arrival of spring, when nature ‘fools’ mankind with fickle weather,” according to the Encyclopedia of Religion and the Encyclopedia Britannica. Some think it ties in with the Romans’ end-of-winter celebration, Hilaria and the end of Celtic new year festival.
Did you realize that laughter also has roots in the church and Easter? In 1985, the editors of The Joyful Noiseletter visited a seminary library and could not find the word “humor” in the book index. Since then, this organization has been at the forefront of a movement to recognize and celebrate “Holy Humor” Sunday on the first Sunday after Easter.
For many years, I was part a clown group called, “God’s Clods.” We wrote our own materials and in all the research we did, I discovered that many, many studies have shown that laughter actually improves our health.
Laughter causes the release of endorphins, which are built in painkillers. When we are stressed, we produce a hormone called cortisol. Laughter significantly reduces these levels. A belly laugh also increases the production of T-cells, immune proteins and infection-fighting antibodies.
A Huffington Post article on December 6, 2017, wrote, “The fact is that laughter itself changes us physiologically. Like exercise or waving your arms around, it boosts the heart rate and increases blood flow, so we breathe faster and more oxygen is delivered to the body’s tissues. Our facial muscles stretch and we actually burn calories when we’re laughing. In fact, the mere act of smiling can alter your mood almost immediately.”
I encourage each of you to celebrate National Humor Month. Laughter is contagious so spread it to all you meet. Not only will it be a benefit to your health, it will benefit those who laugh with you. As my clown ‘persona’ Sonny says, I believe that one of God’s greatest gifts is the gift of laughter and that those who laugh together love together.