Learning To Laugh

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

When we’re born, we cry. It’s one of the first signs of a healthy baby.

No one has to teach us to cry. We just do. We cry to voice a need, discomfort or hurt. And we’ll continue to cry for those same reasons until the day we die.

Babies don’t laugh, though, until they are at least three or four months old. We laugh to voice pleasure, amusement, fondness, surprise, and connection.  But laughter isn’t something we’re born knowing how to do. It’s something we have to learn.

Crying is a survival instinct. Crying keeps us from dying. But laughter helps us live.

In fact, learning to laugh is one of the best things we can do with our time here on earth.

When Abraham and Sarah learn that they’ll have a son in their old age, surprise and joy lead them to laugh (Genesis 21).

The psalmist reminds us of the importance of laughter, delight and joyful living (Psalm 37, Psalm 126).

Paul reminds us to rejoice always (Philippians 4).

Laughter and delight, though, seem to be in short supply these days. In their place, we find stress, restlessness and anxiety. And some think an overuse of technology is to blame. A recent study connects rising levels of depression with increases in “screen time,” particularly among adolescents.

If laughter is something we learn—and if delight is something God desires to cultivate in us—then the technology-driven anxiety experienced by so many of us isn’t just a physical and mental problem, it’s a spiritual problem, too.

Christian author Philip Yancey calls the invasive presence of technology a threat to the soul. Technology has robbed us of our leisure time and it’s threatening our collective well-being.

For millions of Americans, "technology time" has replaced true leisure time. Instead of reading books or daydreaming or exercising or getting outside or talking with friends—all things that can lead to true laughter and delight—we find ourselves mindlessly scrolling, refreshing, re-checking, clicking and reflexively grabbing at our phones.

So much so that Master of None creator and comedian Aziz Ansari has deleted the internet, email and all social media from his phone and lap top.

Funny videos may amuse, but they fail to provide the real pleasure, fondness or connection we crave. A constant stream of new information may satisfy in the moment, but without time to reflect and process that information, we remain perpetually uninformed.

Technology entertains, but it doesn’t nourish. It can be amusing, but it’s rarely joyful. It’s empty calories. We need to learn to laugh again.

So unplug and read a book—made of paper. Or a magazine—with actual glossy pages.

Turn on some music. Go for a walk. Browse the stalls at a farmer’s market. Go to a baseball game. Engage an artistic passion.

Meet a friend for coffee or dinner. Or (gasp) use your phone to actually call someone for a chat just to see how they’re doing. Connect with people. Touch them. Hear them. See them. IRL. In real life.

Laughter isn’t something that comes naturally to us. We have to practice it. It’s time we learned to laugh again.

See you Sunday.