Acting up over a prescription for happiness
A Waterford GP has enhanced his talks on wellbeing by turning them into theatrical performances
Dr Mark Rowe: ‘I encourage people to look at the silver lining rather than the dark cloud.’
A good evening at the theatre can leave you feeling energised, stimulated and deeply moved, but theatre-goers at the new show of an Irish GP are being sent home with something quite unique – a prescription for cultivating inner happiness.
Waterford GP Dr Mark Rowe believes modern medicine emphasises the “pill for every ill”, but strengthening the foundations of our physical and mental health is what is needed most.
A family doctor for 20 years and founder of Waterford Health Park, Rowe integrates insights from evidence-based positive psychology with conventional medical practice and the timeless truths of philosophy in his one-man-show, A Prescription for Happiness.
A pill for every ill
“One of the failings I see in modern healthcare is the culture of a pill for every ill where people are allowed get ill and given what may be short-term sticking plaster solutions that don’t examine or treat cause but just tackle the symptoms of their illness.
“The shift needs to be towards promoting wellness rather than belatedly tackling what is often avoidable illness,” he says.
The seed for the show was sown a few years ago when Rowe was asked to give one of his frequent talks on a health topic.
Rather than talking about diabetes, heart disease or depression, he decided to talk about wellbeing and how to build up happiness.
The feedback was so positive that he developed the talk further over the years and with the support of Jim Nolan, playwright and artist-in-residence at the Garter Lane Theatre in Waterford, he crafted it into a theatrical performance.
The show premiered in Chicago in October as part of the inaugural Generative Space Week before being presented at Garter Lane on World Mental Health Day (October 10th).
The Waterford show sold out as did a second date in the same venue in November and a third date has now been scheduled for January 31st.
During the first act, Rowe talks about our belief systems and the impact of negative and positive emotions.
He describes the seven poison dwarfs: fear, envy, anger, anxiety, guilt, shame and sadness and the seven happy dwarfs: love, joy, hope, inspiration, interest, enthusiasm and playfulness.
During the second act, he takes from his doctor’s bag his tool kit for cultivating happiness and wellbeing.
Each member of the audience will receive a take home copy of his Prescription for Happiness offering some short, simple and easy-to-apply tips on health, happiness and wellbeing.
“I encourage people to look at the silver lining rather than the dark cloud and suggest new practices that they can incorporate into their daily lives.
“One example is keeping a gratitude diary and either last thing at night or first thing in the morning, writing down two or three things you feel grateful for.
“This is a natural antidote to envy, hostility and negativity as it’s impossible to feel grateful and hostile at the same time.
“The founder of positive psychology in the US, Martin Seligman, says expressing gratitude is a very useful way of building positivity, resilience and self-esteem in our young children, skills that will allow them to thrive in the world.
“Last thing at night, ask your child to tell you three good things that happened to them today.”
The appropriate tools you use from your kit will depend on your own situation and needs in life at a particular moment but one tool that everybody can benefit from, no matter how old or unfit, is exercise which Rowe describes as “the greatest pill of all”.
For one person, a prescription for walking regularly or reading self-help literature might be appropriate. Another might benefit from a prescription for vitamin B, St John’s wort and counselling while another may need to do a stress-management course.
In situations where medication such as an anti-depressant is appropriate, it should be prescribed, according to Rowe but it should be used in conjunction with other tools.
“If even one person leaves my show and I have supported them in making a really positive change in their health, life and wellbeing, it will have been worth it,” he says.
A Prescription for Happiness will be presented at Garter Lane Theatre, O’Connell St, Waterford on Friday, January 31st.
Tickets can be booked on garterlane.ie or by calling 051-855038.