Laughing lowers blood pressure, which reduces risk of strokes and heart attacks. Laughter reduces stress hormone levels. It’s a fun abdominal workout. It improves heart health, boosts T cells and triggers the release of endorphins. And laughter produces a general sense of well-being.
Recently, I wrote an essay with my rabbi on the power of laughing at yourself. Our religion actually has it built in, in the holiday of Purim, which is coming up in a few weeks. On that day, we are mandated to poke fun at tradition, turn things upside down, have a goofy time.
And a religion – or a society – that allows, no, mandates, laughing at itself is one that I believe has staying power.
Because you can’t take yourself too seriously when you’re forced to poke fun.
Last night I watched more than three hours of TV, literally laughing out loud at the 40th anniversary show of Saturday Night Live, or SNL. It was like my whole life of popular culture flashing before my eyes. I was melancholy and reminiscent, warmed and happy, and I felt really good about this country where I live.
For all our highs and lows, this show reminded me that we are, at the core, a connected people who can laugh at the extreme folly of our pursuits. And we must.
With all the serious hatred and opposition in the world of late, we must realize the freedom we have in being able to speak out against our government, to criticize it, to analyze our leaders, and to offer our feedback in a free society.
True freedom is the freedom to be honest – in the big picture and in our everyday relationships.
We cannot take ourselves too seriously. We’ve seen what happens when we do – look at the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the attacks on Jews and on anyone not aligned with ISIS. Look at the wars we’ve battled throughout our history, and for what?
When we create a society imprisoned in the tongue, without the freedom to speak out and to question, we create a straitjacket of a life that no one wants to live. It never ends well.
So last night, as we watched and laughed-out-loud at #SNL40, I felt so good – about everything. About the country I call home, about the talent that grows here, about the follies of our government and our popular culture and our interactions.
They made fun of Kanye and he let them. They made fun of 50 Shades of Grey with Dakota Johnson’s help. The only person they didn’t make fun of, who got an awful lot of screen time, was Miley Cyrus, and I’m going to exercise my freedom to say that she was one of two bad choices for the lineup (the other was Kanye).
It was a night of celebration and remembering, of pulling together the A-list of 40 years of talent and paying homage to what was built on a sound stage in New York City by a team of dedicated people who have gone on to make even bigger imprints on all of us when they left the show.
I didn’t realize the depths to which SNL affected my upbringing, but reliving different skits like Wayne’s World and Jack Handey and others, I took a walk down my own memory lane, my own coming-of-age, my own awareness of the world around me.
It’s good to stop and reflect. It’s good to realize all that we have to be grateful for. It’s so good to celebrate exactly what freedom means.
And 40 years straight on TV? That’s quite a record. For all the TV shows I’ve loved and lost, SNL has staying power because it speaks to the very core of who we are and who we want to be: a free people, connected heart to heart, but not too serious that we can’t have fun.