We have been told that laughter is the best medicine. No one really knows where the thought originated, but some say the earliest recorded “idea” came from King Solomon in 931 B.C. who gave account of the healing power of laughter. Apparently, the ancient Greek physicians would send their patients to the theatre to see comedians as a part of the healing process. Native Americans had clowns who worked with the healers and we have all seen the depictions of court jesters as a stress relief for the royals.
In the 1300s, Henri de Mondeville, a French professor of surgery, used humor as a post-operative therapy. And shortly after that, Norman Cousins, a journalist and professor, developed his own laugh therapy and reported that ten minutes of laughter resulted in two hours of pain-free sleep. To top it off, if you have read my book, Healthy Living From A to Z: The Guide to Finding Who You Really Are and Feeding Who You Were Created to Be, I have a whole section of a chapter and a video on the matter!
I became curious one day and decided to do a little extra studying on the subject of laughter.
I couldn’t find an original source of anyone suggesting that laughter was the best medicine. This piqued my curiosity even more, so I kept digging. Now don’t get me wrong, the benefits of laughter are numerous. Laughter decreases blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, improves heart health, boosts the immune system, and reduces pain, just to name a few. And for me personally, I absolutely love to laugh! But I couldn’t help but wonder, is LAUGHTER really the BEST medicine?
Proverbs 17:22 says, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” This is a direct translation as the actual Hebrew says, “a heart merry does good like medicine but a spirit broken dries the bones.” So does a cheerful heart mean laughter? I decided to find out. The Hebrew word used in this verse is “שָׂמֵחַ,” which means glad, joyful, and merry. It does not directly translate to laughter. And the word good is “יֵיטִ֣ב,” which means, well…good. It does not mean best. The word broken is “נָכֵא,” and means stricken or wounded.
So, what is a broken/stricken/wounded spirit? And would it be the opposite of laughter?
Although I found no explanations that could take me all the way back to original Hebrew culture, modern scholars agree that a broken spirit is being completely overwhelmed with sorrow, discouragement, or depression. This would not be the opposite of laughter but would definitely be the opposite of glad, joyful, and merry.
And then things got really interesting as I read this verse, “Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.” Ecclesiastes 7:3. What? Sorrow is BETTER than laughter? How could this possibly be true? And what does it even mean really? The literal Hebrew translation is, “better sorrow than laughter for by sad a countenance is made better the heart.” The Hebrew word for sorrow here is “כַּעַס,” which means vexation or grief. Laughter is “שְׂחוֹק,” meaning laughter or joyous. Sadness is “מָּנִים ׳ר,” which literally means sadness but some research into what this meant in ancient Hebrew culture revealed the meaning to be a sober reflection or serious consideration of an issue. Countenance is “פָנִים,” meaning face, presence, or person. And heart is “לֵֽב׃,” which means inner man, mind, will, or understanding.
I am well aware that when reading Scripture, it can be very dangerous to quote only one verse as it needs to be kept in context with the verses around it. So, I am not pretending to be a Bible scholar in any way. I simply found these verses interesting. But here’s the thing. During this pandemic, I feel like we can use these verses to heal.
Some of us have suffered loss, many of us have suffered uncertainty, but hopefully all of us have gained empathy. We have rallied, supported each other, and done our part by producing our funniest videos and posting our most ridiculous memes.
I don’t know about you, but there are days that I haven’t felt like laughing. I felt more like crying. But I questioned my right to do so. I mean, yes, my business is closed right now and I’m not sure how this will all end. But there are people suffering much more than I am. So, shouldn’t I just try to keep everyone else happy? Are my tears selfish? After some reflection, I decided my tears (and yours) are necessary.
Crying can be cathartic and a vehicle to go within myself, to take inventory of what I am feeling, how I am behaving, and if those things are on par with my purpose. What am I fighting to keep, control, or achieve? Where have my priorities been? Are there things about me or my life’s direction that I would like to shift?
And here is where these verses began to make sense to me. Laughter is good but after the laugh, the situation remained the same. But once I realized that in this tough time it was okay for me to feel sorrow, things did start to change. I began taking serious consideration of the issues this pandemic was causing in my life and the lives of others, which led to grieving, which led to a new understanding of my heart, which led to a remodeling of my state of mind. I started to make plans that better align with my deepest needs, desires, and ultimately my divine purpose. I had done exactly what this verse said was better. I had laughed and that was good. But I had grieved and reflected and changed. And that, my friends, was better.
Rhonda Huff CPT, CHHC, is an exercise physiologist, celebrity health coach, author, and speaker. Rhonda is also the CEO of Rhonda Huff FIT, a preventive-care wellness business that uniquely provides individualized services in the areas of emotional, nutritional, physical, and cognitive health