Monday, July 9, 2012

The Importance of Laughing and Crying for Mental & Spiritual Health

Mental and Spiritual Health
Jesus taught that the two greatest commandments are: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  He stated that all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matt. 22:37-40).  It could be argued that all mental and spiritual health does also.  With an understanding that love is wholehearted devotion to what is in the best interest of others, could a more incisive description of mental and spiritual health be given? Anyone who truly and maturely loves God, others, and oneself cannot, by definition, be significantly compromised by mental or spiritual malady.  Therefore, anything we can do to improve our mental and spiritual health will also contribute to our ability to love, and as we learn to love better, we become mentally and spiritually healthier. In this light, consider the poetic proverb, “There is a time for everything. . . a time to weep and a time to laugh.” [Eccles. 3:1, 4]

The Psychological, Social, and Physical Benefits of Crying
One way we can become healthier (and holier) is to learn to cry when it is appropriate. Responsible crying indicates we are aware of our own feelings and are free to express them.  It can also demonstrate our sensitivity to others.  When Job’s friends came to comfort him in his time of trouble and loss, they greeted him with loud weeping (Job 2:11-12), and their compassionate presence eventually helped Job begin to verbalize his anguish and confusion.  Peter taught that Christ suffered for us, providing us an example to follow (1 Pe. 2:21).  Since Jesus cried when he felt uncomfortable, should we not also (Jn. 11:35)?  Crying was practiced by men and women of God all throughout the Bible, as any concordance will show, and appears to be evidence of healthy and realistic self-expression, as well as manifestations of loving concern. 

Historical and scientific research on crying indicates that it is a timeless universal practice probably related to non-verbal stress management. We tend to cry when talking is most difficult.  Crying is a physical act that seems to contribute to our survival by giving relief to strong emotions that would otherwise tax our bodies if not expressed. The consensus is that appropriate crying is an ability to be respected and exercised—along with its counterpart, appropriate laughing.

The Psychological, Social, and Physical Benefits of Laughing
Laughing is another behavior found in Scripture that seems beneficial when properly practiced.  Proverbs 17:22 tells us that “a cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”  Seemingly, there are therapeutic advantages to joy and laughter, and Jesus suggests that such a merry state of mind and heart will someday replace the tears of this present world for his disciples (Lk. 6:21).  Similar to crying, laughing is a muscular action that results in physical relaxation and emotional relief when practiced.  Investigators have found that better health recovery and maintenance may be associated with an ability to enjoy humor and to laugh, probably because of its stress management benefits.

Laughter has also been shown to be a well-respected social lubricant, relaxing people and contributing to a sense of camaraderie. Being able to laugh at oneself or the irony of a social situation reduces distress and proves winsome. Recently, my twenty-three year old daughter and I were talking on the phone about her disappointing relationship with a young man. She was crying because the friendship seemed to be ending. In an effort to affirm her by reframing the experience I said, “Well, Michelle, at least you know you don’t have commitment issues,” to which she replied with more tears, “But I do have commitment issues. I commit to everybody!” Then we both burst out laughing, which was a pleasant relief.

While some humor and laughter is inappropriate and destructive because it lacks love for God, others, or self, the person committed to mental and spiritual health will seek responsible opportunities to generate laughter in self and others, perhaps bringing a smile to Jesus’ face as well.

Rick Sholette, M.Div., Th.M
Author and Counselor
Paraclete Ministries

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