Have you ever been in an intense business meeting, where discussion centers on prickly issues that no one really wants to address? Heaviness hangs in the room. Then suddenly, someone slips in a humorous, but insightful, comment that cuts through the tension and lightens the mood. These kinds of comments can bring a new perspective that moves the discussion to resolve the issue.
At other times, we might not immediately see comedy in a situation, but subsequent reflection teases it out and we look back with a smile. We might even find ourselves chuckling when relaying the experience to another. These experiences illustrate the healing effect of humor. While there's disagreement on the value of political humor, which has become so prevalent today (see Monitor article, "The Jay Leno Show and the rise of political humor," Sept. 13), pure and innocent wit can shed new light and coax us to take our own or another's foibles less seriously.
Over many years of studying the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, founder of this newspaper, I've been struck by her ability to slip a humorous remark into an otherwise serious subject. In one such example, she warned readers not to buy the media's advertising of maladies, especially so-called seasonal diseases. Here's how she cautioned people to remain untainted by the hype: "A new name for an ailment affects people like a Parisian name for a novel garment. Every one hastens to get it. A minutely described disease costs many a man his earthly days of comfort. What a price for human knowledge!" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 197). "A Parisian name for a novel garment" – what a great way of describing a readiness to don a disease. In a more serious way, Mrs. Eddy also proffered this antidote: "Stand porter at the door of thought. Admitting only such conclusions as you wish realized in bodily results, you will control yourself harmoniously" (p. 392).
Having been in the public practice of Christian Science for more than 20 years, I've found that humor often plays a key role in healing. On numerous occasions, a mesmeric fixation on bodily ailments has dissolved when I've drawn out a patient's innate sense of humor. Christian Science brings about a shift in thought regarding one's true spiritual nature and challenges a susceptibility to disease. Humor can often serve as an instrument for this change, which makes perfect sense when we realize that humor directly relates to God, divine Spirit. As the Bible's book of Job states: "There is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding" (32:8). Kind, generous, and insightful wit springs from God, and when expressed in individual lives, it can actually help us prove our oneness with Spirit.
Author Norman Cousins became convinced that humor contributes to healing. When late in life he faced a debilitating disease that robbed him of sleep, he discovered that after he belly-laughed while watching Marx Brothers movies, he slept peacefully. This joyful sense enabled him to outdistance all predictions about his health.
Gaining a clearer view of true selfhood, which includes a sense of humor, should never be underestimated. In fact, it might be the very tool that fosters healing.