News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 31, 2013

The Joy Lady: ‘A cheerful disposition is good for your health’

Verna Davis
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — I believe it was Ethel Barrymore who said we know we are grown up when we have learned to laugh at ourselves. If that is true, then I must surely be one of the most grown up people I know. I am in my sixties, and I know a lot about laughing at myself. (Never mind how far into my sixties I am. I told you my age so you would know how long I have been laughing at myself!)

I laughed (although not at the time) at the lighting of the unity candle at my wedding because my veil got a little too close to the flame, giving me a new definition of “Come on Baby, Light my Fire!” I laughed when I turned my hair orange because I was too cheap to go to the hairdresser for the help I obviously needed. I laughed when I told my college roommate, “If the shoe wears, fits it.”

At the beginning of my public speaking career, I found myself speaking at a banquet. The stage was festooned with a flower-adorned arch that was arching over a chubby cherub who was pouring water into a fountain. The setting was so perfect I knew I was in trouble. They were expecting serious words and deep spiritual truths. What they got was me. I sent up a quick but earnest prayer for help.

When they handed me the microphone, I did some of my best stuff. I told stories about my daughter’s journey through her teens, my son’s wacky sense of humor, my husband’s knack at using every mistake I’ve ever made as a sermon illustration. I had ’em laughing up a storm and rolling in the aisles.

Except for one rather dignified lady. She smiled occasionally, but there was no laughter. When I talked about the physical and spiritual benefits of laughter, the lady began nodding her head in agreement. When I closed my presentation, the lady was laughing through tears.

Before she left, this dear saint told me her daughter had lost her battle with cancer just the week before. She said her daughter had loved to laugh, telling jokes and funny stories to everyone who came into her hospital room. She said that laughter was what enabled her daughter to die with dignity, and she knew her daughter must have laughed when she first stepped foot on the golden streets of heaven. She then said, “Laughter is such a gift, isn’t it?”

Maybe that’s what Solomon meant when he wrote in Proverbs 17:22: “A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired,” (The Message). I guess we can ask ourselves, “If God had not wanted us to laugh, why would He have created us with the ability to do so?”

So, yes, Ethel Barrymore, being able to laugh at ourselves can prove we are grown up. I only wish I would not provide myself with so many opportunities to be so mature!

Verna Davis, speaker and writer, may be reached at