I think it was Anne McCaffrey who once wrote: " A man can sleep any time, but a good laugh restores the soul."
I was reminded of the truth of this yesterday. The week so far had been fairly tedious, full of tasks and duties, and not full of fun. Then I went for my piano lesson, and for the last few minutes, my teacher suggested that we play some duets. Well, within minutes of starting we were both convulsed with laughter, tears pouring down our faces, as I vainly tried to keep up with her. And for the rest of the evening, I felt light and bubbly and happy. I felt Joy.
In his classic The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis divides the causes of human laughter into "Joy, Fun, the Joke Proper and Flippancy." He writes: "You will see the first among friends and lovers reunited on the eve of a holiday. Among adults some pretext in the way of Jokes is usually provided, but the facility with which the smallest witticisms produce laughter at such a time shows that they are not the real cause. ... Laughter of this kind does us [devils] no good and should always be discouraged."
Of Fun, he writes: "Fun is closely related to Joy - a sort of emotional froth arising from the play instinct. It is very little use to us. ... in itself it has wholly undesirable tendencies; it promotes charity, courage, contentment, and many other evils."
Of the Joke Proper, he writes: " The Joke Proper, which turns on sudden perception of incongruity, is a much more promising field. ... Humour is for them [the English] the all-consoling and (mark this) the all-excusing, grace of life. Hence it is invaluable as a means of destroying shame. ... A thousand bawdy, or even blasphemous, jokes do not help towards a man's damnation so much as his discovery that almost anything he wants to do can be done, not only without the disapproval but with the admiration of his fellows, if only it can get itself treated as a Joke."
And he writes: "But Flippancy is the best of all. ... Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. ... every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. ... It is a thousand miles away from Joy; it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it."
Whenever I read these definitions, it makes me reflect on the amount of Joy and Fun in my life, and reminds me of the danger of Flippancy. Laughter does indeed restore the soul, but never at others' expense.