A couple Sundays ago, I was out with a group of friends, when something unexpectedly and ridiculously hilarious occurred and we laughed until we cried. We spent the rest of the night laughing together and intermittently throughout the week, I still kept laughing whenever I thought about it. I felt somewhat self conscious about bursting out laughing while I was alone, or even laughing that hard when I was with friends and then it struck me, when did I stop laughing loud and even alone, subsequently making myself aware and self conscious about it now?
I have a loud, what I would consider obnoxious, laugh. In my dorm in college, my friends would listen down the long corridors for my laugh to find me. When I get together with my female relatives, who have similar laughs, the volume can be ear piercing. I hate hearing recordings of my laugh and try very hard not to laugh when leaving a voicemail. I laugh constantly when I am nervous and as a response to most social interactions, however that laugh lacks the joy and the uninhibited nature of true laughter, so it tends to annoy me.
That is not why I stopped laughing though. I think I mostly stopped because I grew up and became an adult. And adulting is hard. There are bills to pay, mouths to feed, a boss to please, a house to clean, and teenagers to piss off with my mad parenting skills. In my job, I see horrendous things. On the news, I see even more horrendous things. I am bombarded by the media with messages that I am not thin enough, pretty enough, homemakery enough, or rich enough. I feel the pressure of trying to help with the Syrian refugee crisis, planning a weekly menu of Whole30 compliant meals, and wondering how far past its expiration date almond milk is still good to drink, and if I choose to throw it away, afterwards I feel guilty about wasting the milk because of the Syrian refugee crisis.
In addition, there are so many things to be outraged about: the lack reporting child abuse by churches, pastors supporting pedophiles and not victims; people putting pro-life fetus pictures on their Facebook walls touting the importance of every life, next to suggestions that we should torture and kill innocent family members of ISIS leaders; and anything Donald Trump says. Outrage can be addictive and soon it can become the only emotion that one feels.
In a healthy childhood, there is so much joy in the world. There is wonder, discovery, fun, imagination, and silliness. I was watching Inside Out with my family and was reminded how much joy there is in childhood. In adolescents, ones is constantly on the roller coaster of high and low emotions, feeling everything with an intensity that can be terrifying and hard to cope with. While I wouldn’t go back to my teen years for anything, I realized I missed feeling something other than cynicism and outrage.
When I started laughing that week, it also seemed to unlock other emotions. I sobbed during sad movies, was excited when something great happened at work, was hopeful about future budding friendships. Just as the movie Inside Out demonstrates, sadness isn’t the enemy of joy, nor is anger, disgust, or fear. They are all necessary, healthy emotions.
The enemy of joy is cynicism, exhaustion, lethargy, and depression. All these things keep us from finding the joy in simple things. I don’t notice the sunlight filtering through the autumn leaves on my drive home if I am exhausted. I don’t dance around the living room to my favorite new album if I am lethargic. I don’t find joy in spending time and having beers and watching a movie with my friends if I am cynical.
So this week, I my goal is to laugh more and choose to find joy. It may be a loud, obnoxious laugh, but it means I can still find joy in the little things. It means I haven’t quite lost my sense of wonder in the world, even through all the hard grown up stuff. It means I am still alive. And since I find it so awkward to laugh alone, I invite you to laugh with me.