Wise Words from a Prominent World Leader

Suzanne Marlatt Stewart

Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning icon, died Dec. 26, 2021. He was a modern-day activist for racial justice and LGBT rights. World leaders and people around the globe mourned the death of the man viewed as the country’s moral conscience.

He was a close friend of the Dalai Lama, and in April 2015 the two spent a week together. The New York Times best seller, The Book of Joy, shares excerpts of their insights of times both men experienced pain and turmoil. Yet these two were able to find peace and joy that carried them through.

One of the chapters that meant a lot to me was about humor and the importance of laughter. Archbishop Tutu shared the following when asked how humor can bring us together and show us our shared ridiculousness. “Ultimately, I think it’s about being able to laugh at yourself and being able not to take yourself so seriously. It’s not about belittling humor that puts others down and yourself up. It’s about bringing people onto common ground.

“If you manage to downgrade yourself, if you are able to laugh at yourself and get others to laugh at you without feeling guilty that they are laughing at you. The humor that doesn’t demean is an invitation to everyone to join the laughter. Even if they’re laughing at you they’re joining you in laughter that feels wholesome.”

Science has backed up the importance of laughter. “Our findings show that the physiological effects of a single one-hour session viewing a humorous video appears to last anywhere from 12 to 24 hours in different individuals. This leads us to believe that by seeking out positive experiences that make us laugh, we can do a lot with our physiology to stay well,” notes Lee Berk, Dr.P.H., associate resident professor at Loma Linda School of Medicine.

“We don’t know yet why laughing protects the heart, but we know that mental stress is associated with impairment of the endothelium, the protective barrier lining our blood vessels. This can cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and ultimately to a heart attack. The ability to laugh—either naturally or as learned behavior may have important implications in societies such as the U.S., where heart disease remains the number one killer,” says Michael Miller, M.D., director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Is it true, then, that laughter is the best medicine?

Some researchers think laughter just might be the best medicine, helping you feel better and putting that spring back in your step. “I believe that if people can get more laughter in their lives, they are a lot better off,” says Steve Wilson, M.A., C.S.P., a psychologist and laugh therapist. “They might be healthier, too.”

So, lighten up—laugh more, love more, and learn more. Enjoy your journey!

Rev. Suzanne Marlatt Stewart, a resident of SaddleBrooke, is an independent writer and speaker. She was ordained non-denominational in 1988, representing all faiths, and her focus is “inclusivity.” Email her at [email protected].