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  • Marilyn Saltzman

Simcha and tzehok – Joy and laughter


“Grim care, moroseness, and anxiety—all this rust of life ought to be scoured off by the oil of mirth. Mirth is God’s medicine.” – Rev. Henry Ward Beecher


Giggle, chuckle, chortle, guffaw

Cackle, snicker, howl and roar.


Words for laughter in English are bountiful, and many are onomatopoeias. I even discovered a new favorite, cachinnate, as I did research for this blog post. And still I have trouble finding the right words to capture my joy of laughing, especially with (not at!) others.


For the last two months, my mussar group has been studying and practicing the middah (soul trait) of simcha (joy). I learned that one of the things that brings me the greatest joy is making others laugh. I love the sounds and movements that come with laughter, from Charlie’s deep belly laugh to Susan’s contagious cackle; from Joanne’s shaking shoulders to Terry’s whole torso vibrations.


And what can bring more joy to a grandmother than watching her grandkids laugh? Earlier this summer Dian and I rented a four-wheel surrey at Denver’s City Park. He asked if he could be the “driver.” I was a bit worried that he might not be able to manage the large, awkward vehicle, but I acquiesced and we mounted. My side of the contraption had a decorative, but non-functional steering wheel. I kept trying in vain to be the one in control of our direction. Dian found my futile attempts to avoid pedestrians and dawdling geese hilarious as he deftly steered us around the obstacles on the narrow, paved path. His eyes lit up and his giggle filled the air. I tried to relax and let his joy replace my worry.


We had so much fun that Selam begged us to repeat the experience, this time with her at the helm. I was truly a backseat driver as she steered us through the park, deliberately waiting until the last possible moment to veer away from trash cans, parked cars and ducks.


“Watch out for those firemen,” I shouted as she headed straight toward a parked fire truck, next to which a group of firemen were untangling a long hose.


“I’ve got this. Why are you so worried?” Selam asked.


“Because you’re a crazy driver!” I retorted, aiming for a light-hearted tone. Yet truth be told, I again felt an undercurrent of worry. After all, I didn’t want us to end up in the lake!


A few minutes later, we got stuck going uphill, and the firemen “rescued” us with a push.


“Only crazy drivers get stuck,” one guy, having overheard my comment, joked. All three of us chortled as we thanked him and headed up the hill.


With that encounter came yet another realization – worry can a barrier to my joy, and joy can serve as antidote for my worry. In reality, we were quite safe in the park. I could sit back, relax and revel in the exuberant adventure with my fun-loving grandkids. As I giggled along with them, I discovered it was impossible to maintain my tight jaw of worry when I laughed. I could “scour off the rust” with mirth.


As I have written in my book, Your Love Is Blasting in My Heart, my grandkids are sometimes my best teachers. They helped me define my mussar practice this month – replace worry with laughter; choose joy.


Maybe we don’t need a medical explanation for why laughter is good for us. But in case you’re wondering, here’s an example. According to an article by Hara Estroff Marano, editor-at-large of Psychology Today, “laughter reduces pain, increases job performance, connects people emotionally and improves the flow of oxygen to the brain.” She writes, “Laughter establishes – or restores – a positive emotional climate and a sense of connection between two people. In fact, some researchers believe that the major function of laughter is to bring people together. And all the health benefits of laughter may simply result from the social support that laughter stimulates.”*


So laugh with someone you love today. To help you snicker if not cackle, cachinnate or guffaw, I offer a few silly jokes, courtesy of the Internet:


  • There’s a fine line between a numerator and a denominator. (Only a fraction of people will get this.)

  • What do dentists call their x-rays? Tooth pics!

  • Did you hear about the first restaurant to open on the moon? It had great food, but no atmosphere.

* https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200504/laughter-the-best-medicine

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