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A Merry Heart

A merry heart does good, like medicine,
but a broken spirit dries the bones.
Proverbs 17:22

Laughter is a deep spiritual emotion. That’s why the list of Jewish comedians is so long! Some of the greatest rabbis taught their students serious Torah topics by starting with a joke. Why?

Jokes have the power to capture our attention and mind. Laughter can free us from depression, putting things back into their right perspectives. It also provides the momentum to make the best out of life.

Even in their worst Holocaust experiences, the Jews knew in their hearts that the joy of the Lord was their strength! He was their very present help in times of trouble. This was portrayed delightfully in the film, Life Is Beautiful (La Vita E Bella), the Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival. This brilliant movie paints the beauty of life joys in the midst of life ills, pains and tragedies.

The year was 1939. Guido was an enchanting and entertaining person. He was childlike and almost innocent. Bearing a dream of owning a bookshop, he came to the Tuscan town of Arezzo with his poet friend Ferruccio. The two seek fortune and romance in the midst of growing Anti-Semitism in the land.

Guido fell in love with Dora, a beautiful young schoolteacher. Unfortunately, the lady he called his princess was already engaged. Her fianc' was a local Fascist official whom Guido had a tiff with.

The undeterred Guido went on to win the heart of his princess. They were married and had a son, Giosue. Guido finally opened the bookshop of his dreams. But not long after, cruel Nazism set in and took him and his family to the horrors of the concentration camps. Through it all, Guido was determined to shield his young son’s heart from the brutal reality surrounding them.

His bold determination became a matter of life and death for Giosue. By masking his own fear and exhaustion, Guido maintained his humor and joy under inhumane conditions. No matter what happened, Guido kept his son’s dreams and imaginations alive in the midst of nightmares and death. Despite all the trials and tribulations, life was still beautiful. With every ounce of his strength and spirit, Guido saved both the lives of his wife and his son.

Life Is Beautiful reveals the power of laughter in moving human hearts to sustain human spirits. Laughter can save lives! It forces us to consider the other side of things - the surreal and the funny. Being able to imagine and laugh prevents us from being reduced to ashes and from being crushed like twigs. It gives us the strength to survive our own endless nights of turmoil.

Laughter is when the unexpected occurs. When a toddler puts on her father's big shoes, we laugh. When the president forgets his lines in a speech, we laugh. When we are caught off guard and are wonderfully surprised, we laugh. The more the unexpected happens, the greater joy and laughter it creates.

Laughter is an integral part of emotional health. We don't have to watch TV to release tension. We just need to be a joyful people. Knowing a good joke, we should share it. We can release joy into motion, bringing hope to a sad humanity.

Having a good sense of humor is a sign of true maturity, both physical and spiritual. It demonstrates a good sense of priority about what is truly important. Growing and maturing is a process of learning how to bring the correct perspectives to the difficult issues in life. It is easy to lose focus and become trapped in our daily chores and concerns. When we recognize the absurdity of a skewed perspective, we laugh. Someone who loses his shoes may think that his world is falling apart until he meets someone without legs.

Little children do not have this sense of priority. They cry over trivial matters, and bear grudges over little things. An adult who does the same thing is plain childish. He is acting out of proportion.

When we laugh at our own problems, we are not burying them or ignoring them. That will be an irresponsible act. We need to deal with the source of our depression. But while we are stuck in a problem, trying to analyze the reason will only make us even more depressed! If we can laugh at ourselves for making too much out of something trivial, then we have kept a necessary distance from our problems. This in turn will give us strength and perspective to deal with the underlying causes.

Each day we can see the glory of God unveils in our own lives! God sends us laughter to clear the air and refresh our souls. We are to rejoice in the Lord always, enjoying life even in the midst of problems.

Laughter is a subconscious release of tension. Laughter gets rid of gloom, aggravation, depression, worry and tension. We can use laughter consciously to break tension in ourselves and others.

In our world today, everyone is worried about something; from recession to recovery, from wars to peace talks, from downsizing to over-budgeting, from taxation to education, and so on. These worries have made us so uptight that many of us walk around like time bombs, ready to explode.

Laughter releases the steam within us, uplifting our spirits. Aggravation and suffering sap our strength. Laughter brings out cheerful relaxation, and gives us new strength. We do not realize how much tension we have every day until we have a good laugh to release that tension. To someone, including ourselves, who are tense, we can smile and tell a good joke. This will bring great release to life situations. The Lord has shown us the path of life. In His presence is fullness of joy; and at His right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).

Even in the midst of a terrible argument with a friend, we can start laughing. All the bad feelings will disappear as we see how absurd the whole fight is all about. This laughter is a powerful tool. So let’s use it wisely.

If we are nervous about taking a test, laugh about it and say to ourselves: "So what if I fail. Maybe I'll break the world record for the lowest score!" This sort of jokes will put us at ease, and make us more likely to pass the test.

Feigning laughter can lift up our spirits. Get ourselves a few favorite jokes that will work at all times and store them for the gloomy days. Remind ourselves of those jokes, and we will start laughing. When we don't feel like it, laughing can itself be funny!

When we laugh at something, we destroy it - whether it is an idea, a person or an absurdity. Laughter destroys everything in its path - for good and for bad. Like any powerful weapon, laughter must only be directed at an appropriate target. It is cruel to laugh at an insane person. But it is alright to laugh at crazy ideas, jealousy, pettiness and trivialities. Whenever we are surrounded by some insanity, laugh it off so that we won't fall under its trappings.

Like other things in life, laughter is a double-edged sword. When used improperly, it can be destructive. Abusing the tool of laughter is dangerous. Some of these are:


Laugh "with" people and not "at" them. Ridiculing someone hurts his soul. It embarrasses the person and makes him feel worthless. Ridicule is a terrible way of hurting another human being. People can be deeply hurt by this.

Ensure that our laughter is not directed at the person, but rather at the funny thing he does. On the same note, never laugh at another person's worries. Since the person may not see things the way we do, our sense of joy at his problems will only make it worse. (Unless we are able to get the person to laugh about it too.)

Excessive Laughter

Laughing for laughter's sake is just an escape. Jokes alone don't equate happiness. Too much laughter gives an artificial sense of joy. We can watch a two-hour comedy show, laughing all the way but yet experience an empty feeling afterward. That's because we get on a high which is not real. When reality sets in, we return to our former sad state.

Being silly is a sign of running away from the realities of life. Life is serious business, and frivolity destroys it. That's why excessive laughter and silliness often lead to immoral behaviours.

Negative Laughter

Certain types of laughter such as cynicism and sarcasm reveal the evil intents of the person. Dirty and ethnic jokes are equally problematic. Watch out for this negative laughter in others and us. Keep away from them.


There is an old saying: "Never laugh at motherhood or God." This requires us not to be disrespectful by laughing at serious subjects.

Never poke fun at idealism or on the need to help save humanity. If someone is giving up material pursuits in order to serve the needs of others, let us not scoff at them and say, "Nice guys finish last." By this, we may inject a destructive force into the society. This is serious in His eyes.

On a deeper spiritual level, laughter teaches us how God interacts with us. The official Jewish Day of Laughter is Purim. The Jews get dressed up in funny costumes and act silly. This is amazing since the Purim story is all about an impending annihilation of the Jewish people!

But then the story was turned upside down. The Jews went from being the victims to being the victors. Haman was hung and the Jewish people were rescued. It was a miracle! Those living in danger discovered that they were in safe hands. They could rejoice even in adverse persecutions.

Laughter is an opportunity to transcend our human limitations that bind and blind us from seeing God in His light. God is good all the times, the good and also the bad times.

When the LORD brought back the captivity of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with singing.
Then they said among the nations,
"The LORD has done great things for them."
The LORD has done great things for us, and we are glad.
Psalm 126:1-3

If we truly know God, we should not be overly anxious and worried. Having faith and trust in Him, we can rest in His love. With Christ in our boats, we can smile in the storms of life!


Written on:
24 January 2004