Light-Mindedness versus Lightheartedness: Conflicting Conceptions of Laughter among Latter-day Saints

These two scriptures illustrate the conflicting messages about laughter that exist not only in scripture but in the culture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Our interest in this subject was piqued by the comments of two Church members. The first, a temple sealer, remarked that anytime he laughs loudly he feels guilty because he believes such behavior is unrighteous and inappropriate. He reports being perplexed by this feeling because he is a cheerful individual who smiles and laughs readily. The second man, a bishop for many years, commented that he always “feels a twinge” whenever the injunction about laughter in Doctrine and Covenants 88:121 is mentioned because it has never seemed quite right to him. The purpose of our study is to discover whether the guilt and confusion expressed by these two men is anomalous or representative of other active Church members. We will begin by discussing a language-based problem with the term laughter and then give some references to and instruction concerning laughter in scripture and other Church writings. We then present our survey of attitudes about laughter among Latter-day Saints of different ages and levels of experience with Church doctrine.

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