I frequently post something “off the wall” on the blog. The 6 or 7 of you who “check in” already know that. I try not to cross any lines – I don’t want to stray into anything TOO inappropriate (notice I gave myself a little leeway there….). I’ve wanted to post something about a sense of humor for quite a while. I started out by putting it in the MISCELLANEA category, but I switched to I’M A BELIEVER, and I hope by the time you finish reading (which might be a week or two from now) you’ll know why I switched. I love to laugh. I love it when something strikes me so funny, so clever, so hilarious. I feel like sometimes I can feel Heavenly Father smiling at things which “crack mee up.” I’ve always tried to be sensitive to situations and to others’ feelings.
Good humor is a quality in us which makes something funny, amusing, ludicrous – the ability to perceive or appreciate or express what is funny and hilarious. I surprised myself one day several years ago by thanking Heavenly Father for a cheerful temperament, and I remember exactly where I was and how it startled me to realize that I had never thanked Him for that before. How did I miss being grateful for being mostly happy and optimistic? I really am SO thankful. In case you aren’t aware: I’m normal. I’m not laughing all the time. In fact, I think I often say and do silly things just to keep myself from weeping. There is so much in this world which makes me weep. So much hatred and violence and intentional unkindness. Some of it is called bullying. Most of it in my mind is cruelty. My heart aches for those who feel unloved, unnoticed, unappreciated… I know I’m guilty of much lack of responding to others with charity. I try to rid myself of that. I can’t tell if I make progress or not, but oh how I wish I would never ever ever cause someone to feel ignored or treated unkindly. I guess we’re all working on “trying a little harder to be a little better.” That is one of the true, deep desires of my heart. President James E. Faust said this about humor: Don’t forget to laugh at the silly things that happen. Humor . . . is a powerful force for good when used with discretion. Its physical expression, laughter, is highly therapeutic. (Church News, November 22, 1997)
It’s true! I’m sure you already knew that good humor and laughter are therapeutic. When people laugh hard, the heart rate speeds up, the circulatory system is stimulated, and muscles go limp. The body’s immune system is stimulated, and more endorphins, which are natural pain-relieving substances in the brain, are produced during laughter. (And after the endorphins finish making you laugh, they go to Sea World to perform!) Another time President Faust shared this: For many years as I have blessed newborn children, including my own, I have blessed them with a sense of humor. I do this with the hope that it will help guard them against being too rigid, in the hope that they will have balance in their lives, in the hope that situations and problems and difficulties will not be overdrawn. (“The Study and Practice of the Laws of Men in Light of the Laws of God,” Address to Brigham Young University law students, 22 Nov. 1987.)
Maybe I’m sharing all of this about humor so that if I post something which you don’t think is funny you’ll forgive me. I know there are probably many times when I laugh alone. But I do appreciate good humor. I feel that a wholesome sense of humor (and that’s what I strive for) can give us a way of looking at ourselves and life (and all that is around us) in a healthy, positive way. This attribute of genuine happiness, of cheerfulness, can carry us over and through a whole lot of adversity and trouble. Often, good humor can help us bend instead of break, smile instead of cry (although there’s nothing wrong and a whole lot right about a good cry), and come to an understanding that we not take ourselves too seriously all the time. Here’s a quote from President Hugh B. Brown that I like a lot: A sense of relationship and co-partnership with God involves the concept of universal brotherhood, and that will help to develop intelligent tolerance, open-mindedness, and good-natured optimism. Life is really a battle between fear and faith, pessimism and optimism. Fear and pessimism paralyze men with skepticism and futility. One must have a sense of humor to be an optimist in times like these. But your good humor must be real, not simulated. Let your smiles come from the heart and they will become contagious…. Men [or women] without humor tend to forget their source, lose sight of their goal, and with no lubrication in their mental crankshafts, they must drop out of the race. (The Abundant Life, p. 50) That’s good, isn’t it. Another time, President Brown said: Incidentally, we have often urged our young people to carry their laughter over into their mature years. A wholesome sense of humor will be a safety valve that will enable you to apply the lighter touch to heavy problems and to learn some lessons in problem solving that “sweat and tears” often fail to dissolve. (Conference Report, April 1968, p. 100)
Abraham Lincoln had a wonderful sense of humor, even with the many tragedies and heavy burdens in his life. He said that “Good humor is the oxygen of the soul.” Oh yes!
When the same thing touches us or amuses us it reaches across a lot of artificial walls and even cuts through language or other communication barriers. I remember being in many places where I couldn’t speak the language, yet I seemed still to be able to communicate, especially with the children, through humor. I’d pull faces and act silly, and we’d laugh and hug each other and feel very, very close.
I try earnestly (without always succeeding) to laugh WITH people, but never AT them. As my friend Pete Rawlins put it: When humor is such a powerful tool in building subtle bonds of brotherhood, in cheering those who suffer, and in teaching profound and memorable lessons, why should it be used to belittle and discourage? Those who profess belief in Christ should shape their humor in the light of Christ’s teachings. Being rejected from His kingdom because of a warped sense of humor would not be funny. (“A Serious Look at Humor,” New Era, Aug. 1974) He’s right – that would NOT be funny….
To me, humor is one of the tenderest things in life. Humor is unifying in a unique way, and tears and laughter blend into each other so many times. The emotions which bring them are so close to each other. A sense of humor is what I mean when I speak of humor. There is so much in our time and our society which is senseless – which isn’t funny at all. There is so much that doesn’t even make me smile, let alone cause me to feel happy. To me, a good sense of humor is a way to keep from being too pretentious, or too isolated or insulated from others. It’s a kind of honesty in looking at ourselves and all that surrounds us. I think humor is often 2 parts love and 3 parts courage. There are times when it can keep us from allowing pride to creep into our hearts and behavior. Humor can be – should be –gentle and kind, bringing down walls that may separate us, but never used as a “weapon” to hurt or humiliate.
A good sense of humor can help us control our temper, can help us “back off” when a situation is getting too tense, and can help us “hold our tongue” when we might say something which we would later regret, something which might wound another’s heart and cause us to feel ashamed and sorry. Humor can help us avoid constant murmuring and complaining. Often my own humor seems to be an acknowledgment of my weaknesses, and thus a way to help me continue striving to do better and be better. It’s a way for me to be real, to be genuine and honest in sharing my thoughts and feelings with others. It helps me avoid something I have earnestly sought to stay away from: hypocrisy. It makes me smile out loud to read this from President Brigham Young: It does make the Devil mad…that he cannot afflict this people so as to make them have a sad countenance. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 236) Make “what’s-his-no-face” mad! SMILE!
President Boyd K. Packer shared this about humor: Someone has said that a sense of humor is oil for the machinery of life. A good sense of humor is a characteristic of a well-balanced person. It has always been apparent that the prophets were men with very alert and pleasing senses of humor. Despite the fact that they are dealing with the most serious and sometimes the most tragic and difficult things in life, the Brethren can always smile…. A sense of humor is a powerfully important attribute of a good teacher. The gospel is a happy and a pleasant gospel. There are times when we may be solemn almost to tears, but a good teacher will develop a sense of humor. (Boyd K. Packer, Teach Ye Diligently [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1975], 249.)
In my life, a sense of humor has helped me in several specific ways. For example, I’m aware that it helps me cut down on competition and envy. It adds to my feelings of contentment and has brought me an increase in peace and calm. It helps me put so many moments in a larger perspective. It helps me handle stress and make it through my deep waters and fiery trials without succumbing to bitterness or discouragement. Humor is almost magical! For me, the opposite of good humor is too often contention. The opposite of happiness is misery. The opposite of cheerfulness is gloom and pessimism. I’ve always been thankful that I can make myself laugh – that I can find something funny when I’m all by myself and can laugh heartily.
One of my favorite examples of good humor was President Gordon B. Hinckley. Oh how I want to discover, develop and share the kind of a sense of humor President Hinckley had! He never used it to put someone down. There was no sarcastic edge to that which he shared which brought us so much delight. Even when he challenged someone to a DUEL right during Conference! Among those who were watching and listening on that Saturday morning, 04 October, 1997, who can ever forget President Hinckley’s unique and incredible way of deflecting the praise Elder Russell M. Nelson had just given him by challenging him to a duel in the basement of the Tabernacle “right after this meeting!” And then towards the close of the session he said something like “Brother Nelson, I’ve repented. Thank you for your kind words. We’ll postpone the duel.”
How could you not love such a prophet with all your heart for his ability and willingness to be so real, so happy, so faithful? He was like a visual aid for the right kind of humor and laughter. He had such a tender heart. He had so much pure love for all of Heavenly Father’s children, and such a desire to help us become good. “Try a little harder to be a little better” – He helped make it feel possible, and he helped make it pleasant. He used humor to unify us, as when he said, on a day when it was very warm in the Tabernacle, with almost everyone “fanning” themselves with their Tabernacle Choir programs, that he knew we were hot, but we weren’t as hot as we were going to be if we didn’t repent! The happy laughter throughout the Tabernacle was evidence of a unique moment of unity and shared understanding. And I think this is a good place to point out the difference between loud laughter (so inappropriate) and happy laughter (which filled the Tabernacle on that Sunday morning of General Conference). It’s as if there’s a difference in quality and not necessarily volume. He asked us to Cultivate an attitude of happiness. Cultivate a spirit of optimism. Walk with faith, rejoicing in the beauties of nature, in the goodness of those you love, in the testimony which you carry in your heart concerning things divine. (Ensign, November 1984, p. 92). He invited us to be happy and then shared ideas of how to help that happen. To me he was an example of everything he taught, including the way the light of the gospel would shine in his face wherever he went. And he invited us to follow! “I’m not pleading for long faces and dour looks or misery. I’m pleading for smiles and laughter and fun and good times. Choose the right. (Church News, November 6, 1993)
Can you think of the difference in yours or another’s countenance between “dour looks” and the light of the gospel shining through? A few weeks before he passed away, President Howard W. Hunter shared some invitations, including “laugh a little more.” (Church News, 10 December 1994)
Of course we do not make fun of or laugh at sacred things. Honoring the sacred is necessary to ensure a stable, wonderful relationship with our Heavenly Father, and with His Son and the Holy Ghost as well. But it is wholesome and healthy to be cheerful and happy.
Elder Richard L. Evans said that Humor is essential to a full and happy life. It is a reliever and relaxer of pressure and tension, and the saving element in many situations. (Improvement Era, February 1968, p. 71).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell shared this: Humor as a reflection of the incongruities of life can be helpful. The living prophets I have known have ALL had such a sense of humor. (Deposition of a Disciple, p. 52.) He also said that There is a special gladness that goes with the gospel, and appropriate merriment. (Things As They Really Are, p. xiv.) And one more quote from him which is worth pondering (along with many other thoughts): Ultimate hope and daily grumpiness are not reconcilable. It is ungraceful, unjustified, and unbecoming of us as committed Church members to be constantly grumpy or of woeful countenance. Do we have some moments of misery or some down days? Yes! But the promise is that Christ will “lift thee up.” (Moroni 9:25.) (Thanksgiving speech, 26 November, 1980; I added the bold).
I listened to Elder M. Russell Ballard speak to the missionaries years ago at the MTC, and he spoke of lightmindedness. He said that “Lightmindedness offends. You can tell!” Then he added, “If we said you couldn’t have a sense of humor, all the Brethren would be in jeopardy.” (Personal notes, MTC, September 1985). I will always remember the emphasis he gave to “you can tell.” You can, can’t you.
The Prophet Joseph Smith was said to have a cheery temperament, and it’s recorded that some who first met him felt uncomfortable that he wasn’t more “serious” or “solemn.” But he himself taught this: Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God. ((Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 255-56.)
And how about the many times we’re told in the scriptures to “BE OF GOOD CHEER.” And if you think I’m ALWAYS of good cheer, think again. As I said, I’m normal. I have times when I’m really sad. I “run out of gas” and feel DOWN. But not all the time. No. NO. I’ve found that one of the best “secrets” to being of good cheer is to trust God, to be obedient, to follow/keep the commandments the best we can, and to try to be more like Jesus. As we read in John 13:17, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.”
President Howard W. Hunter shared that idea so well: We should ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” Let us follow the Son of God in all ways and in all walks of life. Let us make him our exemplar and our guide. We should at every opportunity ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” and then be more courageous to act upon the answer. We must follow Christ, in the best sense of that word. We must be about his work as he was about his Father’s. We should try to be like him, even as the Primary children sing, “Try, try, try” (Children’s Songbook, p. 55). To the extent that our mortal powers permit, we should make every effort to become like Christ-the one perfect and sinless example this world has ever seen. (The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, edited by Clyde J. Williams, p.43).
Ask yourself if you picture your Heavenly Father as being happy. Do you? I love this quote from Heber C. Kimball about God: I am perfectly satisfied that my Father and my God is a cheerful, pleasant, lively, good‑natured Being. Why? Because I am cheerful, pleasant, lively, and good‑natured when I have His Spirit. That is one reason why I know; and another is – the Lord said, through Joseph Smith, “I delight in a glad heart and a cheerful countenance.” That arises from the perfection of His attributes; He is a jovial, lively person, and a beautiful man. (Journal of Discourses 4:22) Isn’t that wonderful!
Our God is a happy God! And you know that His plan is often called “the great plan of happiness.” Alma taught his son Corianton that God is a happy God: And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness. (Alma 41:11)
Think of someone you enjoy being around. Think of why you enjoy being around them. For many of us, it’s because they lift our spirits and cheer us up – they’re genuinely positive and optimistic. This reminds me of Proverbs 17:22 – A merry heart doeth good [like] medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones. A good sense of humor, a cheerful spirit and countenance, a happy outlook, and a merry heart can often be as good as medicine! One of these days I’ll tell you how it helped me as a nurse to be cheerful and even to use humor when it felt appropriate.
I have found a strong reason to do my best to be happy NOW. This is Moroni speaking, and it’s kind of like one of his “last lectures.” Mormon 9:14 – And then cometh the judgment of the Holy One upon them; and then cometh the time that he that is filthy shall be filthy still; and he that is righteous shall be righteous still; and he that is happy shall be happy still; and he that is unhappy shall be unhappy still. Lehi taught about righteousness and happiness in a very similar way. 2 Nephi 2:13 – And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away. Let’s be righteous and happy – it sounds so much better than vanishing…. Lehi shared this too: “men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). Alma called the gospel “the great plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8, 16). King Benjamin assured the obedient that they would “dwell with God in a state of never‑ending happiness” (Mosiah 2:41). And President Hinckley encouraged us to be happy: Enjoy your membership in the Church. Where else in all the world can you find such a society? Enjoy your activity…be happy in that which you do. Cultivate a spirit of gladness in your homes…. Let the light of the gospel shine in your faces wherever you go and in whatever you do. (Ensign, Nov, 1984, p. 85) He asks us to cultivate a spirit of gladness in our homes. That’s a great word and reminds me that we CAN cultivate gladness. He added this: He also asked us to Cultivate an attitude of happiness. Cultivate a spirit of optimism. Walk with faith, rejoicing in the beauties of nature, in the goodness of those you love, in the testimony which you carry in your heart concerning things divine. (Ensign, November 1984, p. 92).
I like the way President Lorenzo Snow taught this: Serve faithfully and be cheerful. Brethren and sisters, the thing you should have in your mind, and which you should make a motto in your life, is this: Serve God faithfully, and be cheerful. I dislike very much, and I believe people generally do, to see a person with a woe begone countenance, and to see him mourning as though his circumstances were of the most unpleasant character. There is no pleasure in association with such persons…. …out of cheerfulness may arise many good gifts. The Lord has not given us the gospel that we may go around mourning all the days of our lives. He has not introduced this religion for this purpose at all. We came into the world for certain purposes, and those purposes are not of a nature that require much mourning or complaint. Where a person is always complaining and feeling to find fault, the Spirit of the Lord is not very abundant in his heart. If a person wants to enjoy the Spirit of the Lord, let him, when something of a very disagreeable nature comes along, think how [much] worse the circumstance might be, or think of something worse that he has experienced in the past. (3 April 1897, DW 54:481) And another prophet, President Joseph F. Smith, taught the same principles: I do not believe the Lord intends and desires that we should pull a long face and look sanctimonious and hypocritical. I think he expects us to be happy and of a cheerful countenance…. (Conference Report, Oct 1916, p. 70)
Imagine trying to share the Gospel without being happy. We’re asked to be examples of the believers. And there is so much in this world which is happifying, even with the seeming increase of darkness and evil. I want to give everyone a bumper sticker: “GOOD NEWS! SUNSETS ARE FREE!”
May our Heavenly Father help us to find good humor amidst all that is troubling today and all that we’ll all face alone and together as the time steadily approaches when Jesus Christ will come again and we will finally rest from all that isn’t pleasant or good or kind or real. The word “gospel” connotes “good news!” Let’s choose to follow the One who promises eternal joy, happiness, peace and rest. Alma 33:23 – …And [then] may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the JOY of his Son. And even all this can ye do if ye will. Amen. (I capitalized JOY to make sure you’d notice it). The whole purpose of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to help us be happy and make it back to our Heavenly Home. If we had no other reason to be of GOOD CHEER, the fact that we have a Savior and Redeemer, and the Atonement is REAL, is enough for us to be the happiest people in all the world and beyond! Here’s one of the many “be of good cheer” messages in scripture: Doctrine and Covenants 68:6 – Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you; and ye shall bear record of me, even Jesus Christ, that I am the Son of the living God, that I was, that I am, and that I am to come. And now I close (FINALLY) with this thought: In Alma 41:10, Alma teaches that “wickedness never was happiness.” I came up with the opposite of this: “Righteousness never was misery.” I’m using misery in connection with the plan [which lost!] of the one who wants everyone to be as miserable as he is. I’m not saying that righteousness doesn’t ever include adversity, suffering, pain, or trials. I’m saying that righteousness will bring us through ALL of life’s challenges with JOY and HAPPINESS, and GOOD CHEER. Love, MEE