If you go to any health care conference all around you, you will see a bunch of very serious professionals. Dedicated to their cause, they are taking it very seriously. It is rare to see anyone laughing, and conversations about health care and research matters are taken very seriously. People get upset about things, and they express their hurts, and sometimes, people storm out of meetings. It can be intense!
It is the same on hospital wards and in consulting rooms. Doctors as a rule are a very serious group of people. We are trained to be that way. You need to look serious to be taken seriously, or so we learn.
But what kind of a way is this to live life?
In all seriousness (yes, yes, pun intended ;)) why can we not have fun at work?
Why can we not have fun and enjoy ourselves when we discuss things?
Does it all have to be SO serious and intense?
Do we have to look serious and intense to show that we are paying serious attention to things? To show that we care?!
What might happen if we kept things light?
What might happen if we saw the lighter side of things when things didn’t seem quite right to us in a discussion about a certain matter?
And what if we kept things light when somebody dared to disagree with our point of view, in public of all things! As everyone knows in academia, differing opinions can be the start of a very intense exchange…
Yet, when we are born and we are small, we know how to enjoy life. We know how to laugh, and how to enjoy ourselves. It’s usually not a disaster if we fall over and make our bottom a little bit wet……. Small children naturally laugh with each other, unless they have been traumatised…
Is this perhaps what happens to us in the medical profession?
I wonder, do we perhaps become traumatised through the way that we are educated and trained, and through our professional experiences and use being ‘serious’ as a coping mechanism?
Is this perhaps one of our modes of defence and protection from trauma, our serious faces projecting out against the traumas of the world, both actual and perceived?
And what do we think our professional seriousness will prevent…
- Will it prevent people from getting illness and disease?
- Will it prevent our colleagues from disagreeing with us or trying to make issues for us if they do not like us or perceive us as a threat?
- Will it stop our patients from getting upset if they get a diagnosis that they do not like or that means a bad outcome for them?
- Will it prevent us from getting hurt at work?
- Will it prevent us from being bullied and harassed at work?
- Will it prevent us from getting sued?!
Or does it more particularly dull a hurt that we already feel?
I wonder, what might happen if instead, we enjoyed ourselves at work and with our patients?
What if instead we kept things light when we could, and saw the fun and the ridiculousness in things when it presented? And allowed ourselves to share our humour and joy with others.
After all, we cannot control matters of life and death.
We can only do our best to deliver the best possible care. Matters that come after that are beyond our control.
We have all been in the presence of somebody joyful, or even a small child who is joyful.
I am sure that we all feel lighter and lifted up for such an experience…
We have all been in the presence of someone innocent and felt lifted up and lighter for the experience.
Yet are these things we allow ourselves to live in day to day medicine?
We have a choice in life as to whether we are serious and intense about it and take everything so intensely, and live our life in that intensity, or we can be completely dedicated to life, committed to all that is needed, pay attention to all of the details that need to be attended to, but also live life in that joy and appreciation of all that is great!
In fact, our daily seriousness may well be harming our health and well-being!
You may not be aware of this, but science has shown that even a few moments of laughter provides a greater sense of well-being and hormonal changes. It reduces stress and stress hormones and has a positive impact on the immune system and some studies show that it prevents heart disease and improves outcomes in cancer by reducing stress and anxiety!
Studies have even shown that even anticipating laughter reduces stress levels, so if our patients know that when they see us they are going to feel better, and have a laugh they will start to feel better even before they see us?! And what power would that be…..
Even cancer patients have said that they enjoyed humour with their doctors and cancer patients are well known for using humour as a coping mechanism. Their idea of humour was not necessarily jokes, but just sharing moments and comments with their doctors, so no degree in stand up comedy required! Just be yourself.
BTW, did you know that studies have even shown that the impact of laughter lasts for 24 hours…. Just imagine what the benefits might be if humour and laughter were daily occurrences!!
Perhaps in medicine we learn that it is ‘professional’ to be seen to be serious and humourless, just in case people ‘misunderstand’ our sense of humour….. But a review of the evidence itself seems to suggest that if we think being serious and humourless is doing our patients a favour we perhaps have got the wrong end of the (funny?) stick!
Our patients – and our colleagues!! – could all benefit from our sense of fun, our humour and our joy. After all, who needs ‘laughter therapy’ when you enjoy your time with other people?! This is not about laughing AT people, but rather enjoying a laugh with them.
If we brought more of a sense of fun and joy and our humour to work, just imagine, how it could transform our workplaces and our workplace environments! They could become places we look forward to going to rather than dreading. We could in fact feel well just knowing that we are going to go to work and enjoy it! The actual Science tells us this is so!
I actually don’t know who took the fun out of medicine (!), but all of this all leads me to question:
Could it be possible that in this day and age of epidemic burnout, stress, distress and mental ill health that bringing fun and humour back into the workplace is just what the doctor ordered?!