Is it good to laugh?
According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter relieves stress by releasing endorphins, stimulating blood circulation, and aiding muscle relaxation. (See “Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke” on mayoclinic.org.)
And laughing with other people is correlated with strong relationships and good feelings toward one another. (See Laura E. Kurtz and Sarah B. Algoe, “Putting laughter in context: Shared laughter as behavioral indicator of relationship well-being,” Personal Relationships, Volume 22, Issue 4, December 2015, 573-590.)
But not all laughter is the same. In Lehi’s dream, the residents of the great and spacious building “were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers” at the people eating the fruit of the tree of life (1 Nephi 8:27). Ammon and his brothers experienced this same kind of derision when they told their friends they wanted to preach to their enemies. “They laughed us to scorn,” Ammon later recalled, using a phrase which appears many times in the Old Testament (Alma 26:23). (See, for example, 2 Chronicles 30:10, Job 12:4, Psalm 22:7, Isaiah 37:22.)
When Abraham was nearly 100 years old and his wife Sarah was 90, God promised that they would have a son. In response, “Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed” (Genesis 17:17). Shortly after, three messengers visited them to reaffirm the promise. When Sarah quietly “laughed within herself” at the improbable promise, the Lord knew it. She denied she had laughed, but He told her that He knew she had (Genesis 18:12-15).
So when the unimaginable happened, Abraham and Sarah named their son Isaac, or in Hebrew, Yitzchaq (יִצְחָק), which means “he laughs” (Genesis 21:3).
Their laughter was clearly an expression of incredulity, but perhaps there was also a glimmer of hopeful joy. After naming their son, Sarah explained, “God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me” (Genesis 21:6). This was an expression of happiness and gratitude.
But as Isaac grew older, his half-brother, Ishmael, laughed at him. Sarah was angry, and she convinced Abraham to send Ishmael away (Genesis 21:9-10). Thus, Isaac (“he laughs”) was the inspiration for multiple kinds of laughter, some uplifting and some damaging.
Elder Howard W. Hunter included wholesome laughter in a list of recommended Christlike actions. Here is part of that list:
Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love and then speak it again.“The Life and Ministry of Howard W. Hunter,” Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter, italics added
Today, I will laugh a little more. I will laugh with others as an expression of friendship. I will laugh alone as an expression of joy. I will remember that wholesome laughter can help us manage the stresses of life and can bring us closer to each other.