Thursday, July 26, 2007

The HA HA HA Prescription for Wellness

Ask nearly anyone you meet on the street to tell you a story about health care, and there's a good chance they'll tell you about their interactions with a particular doctor. Many of these stories will be negative. In my own case I checked into a hospital a couple of years ago after experiencing the most intense pain of my life. Sure I was dying, I waited for 3 hours in the emergency room before the nurse called my name, and, after a few short examinations and an X-Ray, I heard the two words no man ever wants to hear; Kidney Stone.

Ever seen one of those pictures of a snake that has swallowed a huge animal? That huge animal is the kidney stone in your urethra. It was not pleasant. When I finally saw a doctor 5 hours after I arrived he spoke to me for 10 seconds, prescribed some Vicodin, and sent me on my way. A week later I got a bill for 500 dollars.

All things considered, this is a minor story that pales in comparison to most people's misfortune. The point is, more than any other time in the history of the profession, doctors have lost the trust of their patients.

That being said, there are doctors like Clifford Kuhn who walk among us that truly represent the idea that a doctor is a "healer." Not Surprisingly, Kuhn believes laughter is one of the most powerful forces that stimulates this healing.

Kuhn is one of many cutting edge doctors who have come to understand the relationship between the body and the mind, and the role a person's attitude plays in their recovery. What is especially interesting in Kuhn's case, is, although he was prescribing laughter as a mechanism of recovery to the patients he was working with, those same patients told him, in a nutshell, that he wasn't following his own prescription. He had turned into a drip, and hearing this Dr. Kuhn decided to do something about it. Kuhn began hanging around comedians and observing how they worked, came up with material, and interacted with their audience. Soon he was doing stand-up himself, and he left his position at the hospital and began touring around the country as a stand-up comedian, hoping what he learned on the road would ultimately help him become a better doctor.

Kuhn's time on the road helped him create his HA HA HA prescription for laughter. His first "HA" is what he calls Humor Attitude. Humor attitude is a way of looking at the world and recognizing humor in everyday situations. Kuhn explains that many people are afraid to laugh at traditionally serious places like work or school, but that adopting an openness to seeing humor everywhere can lead to a major change in one's way of seeing the world. Kuhn emphasizes humor attitude is not about being funny but instead about having fun. Some people are more comfortable being in the audience than "working the room" and Kuhn emphasizes this is perfectly fine. Sometimes it is the people in the audience that ultimately have the most fun.

The second "HA" is what Kuhn refers to as Humor Aptitude. Kuhn emphasizes that as babies we are born smiling, and become especially delighted when we recognize a familiar face, but that somewhere along the way we lose this joy of simply being with others. He emphasizes that the simple act of smiling is itself contagious and leads to laughter, and that this one thing can help us take ourselves much less seriously.

The third and final "HA" is what Kuhn refers to as Humor Action. Kuhn describes how listening carefully is the key to humor action, as through truly listening as opposed to simply waiting for our turns to talk we can focus our attention on others, create stronger interpersonal connections, which ultimately establishes the trust necessary to share real laughter with another human being.

Finally Kuhn has come up with a list of "fun commandments" which he feels provide a recipe for a successful life,
Dr. Kuhn's Fun Commandments
  1. Always Go the Extra Smile
    Of all my Fun Commandments, this one provides you with the most energy. It is the one strategy most effective for increasing the fun in your life. Smiling is a way to open your heart and at the same time touch the hearts of others. We have measured decreased stress, improved immunity, increased tolerance for pain and frustration, and higher levels of creativity - even from a "fake" smile!
  2. Tell the Truth
    Of all my Fun Commandments, this one helps you keep an inventory of yourself. Our humor natures are open windows to the truth; therefore, if you want your sense of humor to be strong and available, you must make the effort to be true to yourself. This Commandment promotes trust in yourself and keeps you on a steady, forward pace since you will be much more cognizant of what is working in your life and what isn't.
  3. Laugh With Yourself First
    Of all my Fun Commandments, this one helps you take yourself less seriously. When you make a mistake, laughing with yourself keeps you from beating up on yourself. It is a boost to your self-esteem because it is a vote of confidence in yourself. This Commandment sends a clear message to you that you are okay. You know that your foibles do not form links in an unbreakable chain, because you are learning from them and becoming more effective.
  4. Welcome Your Mistakes
    Of all my Fun Commandments, this one allows you to stop being so hard on yourself. Jerry Lewis once told me that he is always nervous before he goes on stage, but "the trick is to harness the fear and make it your ally." In other words, don't be afraid of your mistakes - welcome them! In fact, your mistakes can be so helpful to you that I suggest making them on purpose. You're going to make mistakes anyway. Making them on purpose helps you turn your fear into fun.
  5. Listen Very Carefully
    Of all my Fun Commandments, this one keeps you from being too self-centered. Successful comedians will tell you that the capacity to listen is their number one creative tool. Yet listening is an often overlooked and under taught skill and most of us are very poor at it, preferring to form our next phrases rather than hear what is being said to us. To really listen we must turn the volume down on our own internal chatter and this allows us to communicate from our hearts rather than our heads.
  6. Let Go Frequently
    Of all my Fun Commandments, this one provides you with serenity. If you've ever learned to juggle you quickly discovered that we all have a tendency to hold on to objects for too long. The same phenomenon occurs in life and, since we are all jugglers - juggling our family, our work, our community responsibilities, and our own care, letting go is a vital skill that will prevent stress and give peace of mind.
  7. Challenge Your Assumptions
    Of all my Fun Commandments, this one keeps you open minded and learning. It is also an effective way to bring humor into your life. We make assumptions because it saves us time and energy in our busy lives, but assumptions can keep us from growing and changing if we are not capable or willing to see new perspectives. Get in the habit of seeing things around you in a different way and your sense of humor will become supercharged.
  8. Stay Focused, Yet Flexible
    Of all my Fun Commandments, this one eases you through changes and transitions. This strategy is about keeping your priorities clear, but keeping your options open. You can't help but become an inspired opportunist when you develop a trait for seeing the victories inherent in what you used to call defeats. As you'll come to find out, this trait is shared by all successful people.
  9. Act and Interact with People
    Of all my Fun Commandments, this one gives you a constant and reliable source of amusement. Reaching out and touching someone is often a learned skill, but it pays big dividends. Realize that taking chances means you will make mistakes, but they will happen less often if you are willing to learn from them. You'll also find that a failed action is much more valuable to your health and success than a failure to act.
  10. Practice Wanting What You Have, Rather Than Getting What You Want
    Of all my Fun Commandments, this one helps you attract, and hold on to, abundance. One of the great paradoxes of life is that, as long as you try to fill your inner void with things outside yourself, your void only gets bigger. Learning to love what we have and who we are - right now - opens us up to receive so much more, because we want things for the right reason. We're no longer trying to "fix" ourselves.
  11. Choose to Motivate Yourself With Fun Rather Than Fear
    Of all my Fun Commandments, this one teaches you how to set goals and achieve them. You really only have the choices of fun or fear when it comes to motivation and they both work well. The problem, however, with choosing fear is that it is impossible to sustain the motivation without harming ourselves through burn-out and stress. Choosing fun to motivate ourselves is the simple difference of striving toward positive goals, rather than escaping negative ones.
  12. Celebrate Everything
    Of all my Fun Commandments, this one provides you with abundant joy every day. If you make a practice of celebrating events you normally treated as mundane, you will be filled with an energy and spirit that you haven't felt since childhood. Left to choose between feeling like a jaded pessimist or a naive optimist (of course, I'm using two extremes as examples), why wouldn't you choose the latter? Either way, your life will still unfold around you - but you will see it as a gift.

Reading about Dr. Kuhn's life and work, I reconsidered my attitude towards doctors and better understood that despite the reputation many doctors have, there are those like Dr. Kuhn who really do "get it." Perhaps the lesson here is that, much like Dr. Kuhn's patients called him out on his own hypocrisy regarding humor many years ago, we as consumers can demand more from our own doctors. All too often I see the patients I work with cede all control to the all-knowing doctor, when they themselves are often their best diagnostic tool. Don't be afraid to tell your doctor to lighten up a little, and if they give you trouble I can supply you with a great deal of research about how the quality of the relationship between the patient and doctor is integral. Ultimately medicine is a business, and as the consumer you have the right and responsibility to demand more if you feel your concerns are not being heard. More importantly listen closely to see if your doctor has a sense of humor. Dr. Kuhn feels this is the single most important trait a healthcare leader can have, and if your doctor is missing this it may be a cause for concern.


Karen Putz said...

I just had a not-so-pleasant hospital experience where they sent me on my way with Motrin, Vicodin and Valium and still in pain. Medicine certainly isn't the cure-all.

Enjoying your blog!

Dr. Joe Guse said...

Amen to that Karen. Working in a hospital you really get to see the sinister underbelly. Best wishes and I hope you're feeling better.