I believe in laughter the same way I believe in the fuel gauge of my car. If I’m not laughing, then something is about to go wrong, seriously wrong.
I started believing in laughter in 1998 – the day a secretary came to my office after her lunch hour to ask me a question. When she entered the room, my head was bent over a document as, pen in hand, I excised any clause that was likely to frustrate my clients’ business objectives or put them at risk.
I was a professional worrier (also known as a highly paid corporate lawyer). I also was less than a year away from being put up for partner at my New York law firm, and so it took a lot to get me to lift my head from the mound of documents piled high on my desk. But it took only one question from a secretary to cause me, within weeks, to walk away from that desk, that office, that life.
The other secretaries, she said, had been asking about me. They wanted to know why I wasn’t laughing anymore. What should she tell them?
I think, but am not sure, that I raised my head momentarily to answer her. Or I may have kept my head down, eyes still scanning the document in front of me, even as I mumbled a response. “Tell them,” I said, “that I am just too tired.”
Too tired to laugh. Too tired, apparently, to take pleasure in life – its absurdities and its joys.
Years before I laughed all the time. To some, I laughed too much. Bosses would send secretaries to slam my office door shut, or, more politely, to issue yet another warning to quiet down. After all, they noted, this was a place of business, not a comedy club.
After more than a decade of working as a lawyer with a specialty in banking and finance, I found that very few people ever “laugh all the way to the bank.” And if bank customers are unlikely to laugh, bank lawyers are even less so.
At least that is what I thought until I discovered a different kind of banking – banking aimed at the very poor, also called microfinance. Years after leaving the world of corporate law, I found my way to the Grameen Foundation, a global network of microfinance providers serving the poor with a broad array of financial services. At microfinance meetings around the world, I have seen customers sing, dance, and laugh their way to village bank meetings. And, on more than one occasion, I have joined them — adding my song to their songs, my laughter to their laughter.
Hafiz, a Persian poet of the 1300s, asks in one of his famous poems, “What is laughter?” In the next breath Hafiz answers his own question, saying, “It is the glorious sound of a soul waking up!”
I believe in laughter. I believe in waking up the soul.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.