Do you appreciate the awesomeness of this pumpkin carving? Well, congrats…

pumpkin-carving-art-4

…You just helped make your brain healthier!

What?

Are you crazy about art? I mean any kind of art. Do you get down to old Led Zeppelin tunes? Do you do needle point? Square dance? Do water colours? Woodburning? Do you paint amateurish acrylics of your dog doing water sports? Do you make needle point pillows of Harley Davidson motorcycles jumping through rings of fire? Well if you are doing any kind of art at all, or appreciating it (like our breathtaking jack o lantern up there) you are doing yourself a world of good.

It turns out, the arts are good for us. In a very big way.

I had the pleasure recently of speaking at a conference called The Art Heals Health, Health Heals Art Symposium in Toronto. There was a very impressive group of people there who are committed to exploring how the arts help all of us be healthier. There was a neurologist there named Dr Luis Fornazzari who showed us incredible research (with diagrams of the brain that were lit up like Vegas on New Years)

 

Las-Vegas-New-Years

This is what Vegas looks like at New Years

proving that when we either do or appreciate art in any form we are stimulating neural pathways and helping our brains stay healthy (I am assuming you only have one brain- I mean brains like “all of our brains”) It turns out that our brains really need to be exercised and stimulated on a regular basis to make sure our minds stay limber.

In my own research for my upcoming book Doing Happiness: Uncovering The Hidden Benefits of Feeling Good, I came across research that shows that art does other great stuff for us as well. Art helps make us happy! Yes, that’s right. As well as keeping our brains cooking, doing any kind of art (including Norwegian woodworking) can help us to be happier in a measurable way.

Want to know the best part? You do not have to be good at whatever you’re doing to get the benefits. That’s right. You can absolutely suck at your art and you’ll still get all the benefits to your health and level of happiness.

Don’t know what art to do? Here are a few suggestions…

1: Buy some acrylic paints (they’re cheap!) and paint a landscape. There are some GREAT lessons on youtube for every level of skill, and that’s a trip to ART CITY. I mean who doesn’t love  Bob Ross?paints

 

2: Make a playlist with your most favourite music on it and go for a walk. It’s a great way to transport yourself to whole different way of thinking. forest walk

3: Dance like your choreographer is Gary Busey. (Wouldn’t that be interesting?)Gary Busey

4: Go to your local art Gallery and wander around. (If you want to sound impressive, mutter things like “How very didactically expressionistic!” even when ordering a coffee.) Personally, I am crazy about the AGO for a bunch of reasons.

aberdeen-art-gallery

 

Remember, you don’t actually have to make art, you can just appreciate it. Now we know that art is good for us and helps keep us smart, happy and gives us a shiny coat we can take advantage of it whenever we want, and remember you’re not wrecking the living room by painting a mural of your favourite Swedish Death Metal Band on the wall, your making art and staying healthy!

Rock on! Make Art!

Deborah Kimmett and I are thrilled to be bringing our show Laughter is the Best Medicine to Napanee.

Here are the detes!

The Laughter is the Best medicine Show.
with Deborah Kimmett, Robert Hawke, Kim Pollard and the amazing Erin Ball!
Nov 12,
The Napanee Lion’s Hall.
Tickets $25

To buy tickets on line please go here.

Laughter is the Best Medicine

Event: Laughter Is the Best Medicine...in Napanee

What do you say when someone has cancer?

This is a big question and it can fill people with fear. You find out someone has cancer, maybe its a family member or a friend. What do you say? Do you say anything? Do you completely ignore the 2,000 pound Tyrannosaurus in the room and just hope it goes away? That might seem like the easiest thing in the world to do, but is it helpful? Do you drop your documents and run from the photocopier crying when you see them coming around the corner? That’s probably not the best strategy, but I’ve seen it happen. As a decent human being, how the heck do you handle this?

You see, 30% of us will get a cancer diagnosis at some point in our lives, so at some point, someone you know is going to be dealing with this issue.

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

elton-john-the-diving-board

As a cancer survivor myself, I have had my share of uncomfortable and yes even hilarious conversations when well meaning folks were trying to talk about something that is tough to talk about. So how do we do it?

Here’s a strategy that works for me.

Wait for a time when you have a modicum of privacy and say something like “Hey, I heard you got some bad news lately.” Then …let them talk. What’s great about this is you haven’t said what the bad news is. This gives them the opportunity to talk about it or not. They might shut it right down by saying “Ya, uh that’s private” or “I don’t want to talk about that right now.” This is totally fine and you should respect that. However, they may want to talk about it. They might say something like “Ya, I just got a diagnosis and I am totally freaked out.” or “Its still early days so we’ll wait and see” They might go into a lot of detail and that might surprise you.

If they are anything like me, they will have a LOT to say. Some of my conversations went like this…

Rob: So, ya, I’ve got surgery scheduled for next week and I think the surgeon is good, but he asked me if he should take out my whole thyroid or just part of it. How am I supposed to make that decision? what do you think?”

Bus Driver: I don’t know sir but you still need to deposit a token.

bus driver

You might hear a river of opinions and worry that have been damned up for a long time. You might hear about doctors, hospital parking, and ultrasounds. You might find yourself in a 20 minute conversation that is remarkably one sided. Here’s how to handle this…

Listen.

That’s right. Listen. Listening is quite honestly one of the greatest gifts you can give someone who is going through cancer. In all likelihood they will be under a tremendous amount of stress. Being able to talk to you might be just the thing they need to feel a bit of relief.

You’ll notice I didn’t say “Listen and offer advice”. Please don’t offer advice unless you have a DR in front of your name. You will really want to because you’re a nice person and you will want to fix it. Listening is enough. Please don’t mention that they should eat more veggies or take raspberry keytone or got to Mexico to take a weird drug or talk to your Uncle Lou who beat cancer by eating only radishes. This will not help. Listening and giving them a safe place to share what they are going through will. You might be the only person in their life who they feel they can talk to. If so, then you are even more important to them than you realize.

They may ask for more kinds of help later and that’s terrific, but when a diagnosis  first happens the best thing you can do is talk less and listen more. If you pull this off, you will be giving them a gift that very few know how to give.

Good on you. I like you already.

listening dog

What’s your favourite two minutes in the world?

Wow! I wouldn’t have guessed that, but congratulations on being so acrobatic!

My favourite two minutes in the world is right before going onstage. Its a total blast. Its this incredible feeling that something big is about to happen and you really have no idea how its going to go. You’re completely in the moment and nothing seems to matter except the experience that you are about to have. As one of my heroes, Mr Robert Plant says “There is no place to hide”. Its especially fun when its 8:30 AM and you’re hopped up on three cups of joe.PatientXforum Crowd Wisdom

I’m the guy in the red shirt who looks like he’s bringing in a plane.

Yesterday I had the absolute pleasure to speak at the 3rd National Forum on Patient Experience in Toronto. It was my job to stir up what I call the “Wisdom in The Room” and get folks cranked and ready to collaborate. After a few minutes this very generous crowd was sharing ideas and having a blast. There were medical professionals and patients there from all over the country who care deeply about the patient experience and how we can make it better. I was so taken by the depth of talent and integrity in the room.

All of the content was amazing and here are a few of my faves. There were folks from North Bay Regional Health Centre who are doing great work with patient stories with Photovoice. People from Mississauga Halton CCAC who are improving the patient experience by actually involving patients in the health care system. (What? That’s crazy!) They backed up their research with some incredible stats on how they were actually able to reduce patient time in the hospital.  Wow. I’ve also got to mention the amazing Dr. Shah from Anishnawbe Health Centre in Toronto. His dedication to service was quite inspiring.

The patients in the room really had their voices heard as well. My friend Zal Press from Patient Commando is always ready to kick butt and take down names. And he did.

The silence in the room was palpable when a patient told her emotional and moving story to the audience. She was asking hard questions that need to be answered. It was a terrific event and I was very proud to be a part of it.

With committed people like this working in Health Care in Canada, things are changing and I dare say its for the better.

Shout outs to Dr Joshua Teller and Angela Morin for hosting a great day.

Speaking at the 3rd National Forum on Patient Experience…Sept 30th. Hey That’s Tomorrow!

So, I have been up early rehearsing and thankful for cups of coffee. Tomorrow at 8:30 am, I have the honour of speaking at the 3rd National Forum On Patient Experience. This is going to be a very exciting event with folks there from across the country. There are so many patient stories and meaningful insights that patients can bring to the table and it will be great to hear about new ideas and innovations.

It’s going to be two days of awesome in Toronto! Hope to see you there. I’ll be the guy in the red shirt.

A Showdown At The Patient Corral

The patient experience can be a crazy thing. Often it is more emotional than we think and these feelings can come out at times that are absolutely not convenient. I remember when I had just been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I thought I took the news pretty darn well. In the doctor’s office, I had been fine. However, out in the world it was a completely different matter. You may not be aware of this but cab drivers and cyclists have a deep abiding love for each other. Truly, we stop at red lights and take the opportunity to give each other affectionate and lingering hugs. Actually that is not really accurate. In fact, you could say that cab drivers and cyclists don’t get along at all. I was riding north on University Ave in Toronto (a major street with a ton of traffic on it) when a cab driver pulled up to me in the next lane and cut me off.

badass cyclist

(This is not me.)

I slammed on my brakes and came to a skidding stop; inches from his back bumper. We shared a few words with each other that were not “Happy Birthday”. Ordinarily that would have been it and we would have each gone our separate ways. But no! I was under the influence of a cancer diagnosis which was baking in my psyche like a bubbling toxic cake. Suddenly, my perceptions changed. The buildings of University Ave seemed to fall away and were replaced by the façade of main street from the old west town of tombstone. I stood facing the cab driver in tense silence. A tumble weed drifted by. The town bell clanged twelve times for noon.

cowboys

The cab driver spoke. “Draw!” I coiled all the rage I had into my throbbing right arm and like lightning I drew my six shooter from the holster strapped to my leg. I aimed down the barrel at my adversary and I realized…that I had completely lost my mind! There I was on University Ave in a shouting match with a cab driver. We were both filled with rage. Oh sure we had something to disagree about but no one was hurt and we both could have just got on with our day. But no, I had completely dove in to the conflict like this was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. Did I have the right to be angry? Sure! Was this the best way to handle it? Nope.

Somewhere in the depths of my brain a little voice sad “Rob, calm down! You’re acting like a maniac!” So I literally took a step back, got on my bike and went home. I’m sure that I would have handled it differently if I wasn’t completely shocked by having this thing called cancer, but I didn’t. It made me realize that sometimes we think we have dealt with something on an emotional level but our psyches need to catch up with our logical minds. This can make us do strange things, like think we’re Clint Eastwood on University Ave. Wherever you are and whatever your story is, hang in there and watch out for tumble weeds.

Clint Gif

Are You As Happy As This Nun?

Halloween Surf and Breakfast

Who doesn’t love nuns? Well, I’m sure there are a few people. However there is a specific group of nuns who can teach us about how happiness can really improve our health. There was a group of sisters in Milwaukee who signed up (I’m not sure if they “sign up,” it kind of makes it seem like they have a draft pick for nuns. “Sister Mary Margaret is a first round draft pick for Notre Dame, Bob!” “What a great choice for them Marv, she can rhyme off 12 hail Mary’s a minute. That’s really going to help them in the playoffs!”)

Anyway, one hundred and eighty nuns entered the order of Notre Dame back in the 1930’s and they measured how happy they were by looking at their diaries. After studying the “happy” or “unhappy” language in their diaries for many years and combining that with their levels of health and the length of their lives, they found that the happiest nuns outlived the unhappy nuns by an average of , wait for it…nine years. Nine years! That is an incredible difference if you ask me.

You could say “Ya but, what about differences in circumstances? Probably some nuns had a terrible life while others stayed at the Nun Club Med” Well, I am no expert on nuns (for a bunch of reasons) but according to the research, one of the reasons they studied nuns was that the sisters were living lives that were very similar in circumstance to each other.  Their routines, food, and social lives were almost identical. This lead researchers to the conclusion that, all things being equal, “being happy” had a profound effect on the length of the lives of the sisters. It makes me think that feeling good can have huge benefits for us as well. So, it turns out that happiness is incredible good for us! You might be interested in my upcoming book “Doing Happiness: Uncovering the Hidden Secrets of Feeling Good.” More soon!

 

Haters Gonna Hate. Having a blast is the Best Revenge.

It was my first time attempt to dock a houseboat. I was spinning the wheel of the craft and praying that the slow moving boat would eventually obey my directions and turn. We were approaching a marina in the Trent Severn Waterway. We neared the dock a little quicker than I had hoped and I struggled to remember the instructional video we had seen the day before. We were supposed to approach at a certain angle and at a speed that was called “dead slow”. I was going more at a speed that could be called  “dead fast”, and didn’t want all of us to be “actually dead” when we came into contact with the dock. I did my best to slow our progress. My brother-in-law on the bow said “Ok Robbie, slower, I think we got it.”

We finally nudged the dock very gently. I turned the wheel harder and threw it into reverse,  bringing the stern of our intrepid ship in line with the dock as well.  We tied up the boat and I finally exhaled. I had successfully docked for the first time. It wasn’t perfect mind you, but no one had been maimed and there was no damage to anything so I considered it a huge win. We scrambled off the boat and went to buy bait. I don’t usually feel like a super hero when I  buy worms, but I did today.  I heard a voice from further down the dock.

1956, MOBY DICK

(what Weathered Marina Guy might have looked like)

“Who’s driving the boat?” asked Weathered Marina Guy.

“It was me!” I said in my manliest of voices (which is actually pretty damn manly).

“I have owned this marina for 30 years and that was the worst docking I have ever seen!

I was pretty crushed, but wait there was more.

“I really don’t want to embarrass you in front of your friends, but really, that was terrible!” He was actually embarrassing me in front of my in laws, which was worse, but hey, who’s counting? He went on for a while about how lousy I was at operating a craft and with a somewhat withered sense of self esteem, we were on our way.

Free of the humiliating clutches of Weathered Marina Guy,  we approached the locks at Buckhorn. Again, I had never done anything like go through a lock while piloting a boat, but we went for it. I had to do everything possible to not think about what Weathered Marina Guy had said to me a couple of hours before. I approached at “dead slow” and cruised by several boasts that looked like they might be worth more than a small house. Once again I held my breath. The huge doors of the lock opened and we went in. Water rushed in and rushed out. The lockmaster was amazingly helpful and in 30 minutes we were lowered about 10 feet and were on our way.

I was thrilled. Ordinarily, having somebody tell me I was terrible at something would have been really tough to take. However, right after the experience I was able to redeem myself and once again, started to feel pretty good.

We celebrated by finding a spot near some cliffs that was 20 feet deep and jumped off our houseboat into the cool water below. It was some of the most fun I’ve had in a while. Funny enough, I was holding a Go Pro while I did it. so, you can see it too.

Have a great day everybody and remember, having a blast is the best revenge!

Many thanks to Egan Houseboat Rentals! They are great people who really know what they are doing.

Have a look at their awesome website…

houseboat

The Hope For Today Cafe: New Episode! Gather Your Tribe Around You When You Are Sick

One thing is for certain, when we are having a hard time with cancer or any other tough disease we are going to need some help. But who do we get help from? The people we are closest to? Sometimes..and sometimes not.

Every notice when you are sick (or someone you love is sick) that the people you think you can count on are actually different than the folks who help you the most? I know! Its weird right?

How do we deal with that?

Is it OK to ask for help?

Well, I am kind of in love with this episode of The Hope For Today Cafe. In this podcast my good friend Deborah Kimmett and myself wax funny about how to gather your tribe around you when you are sick. Please give it a listen and share!

10 CC’s of Happiness- Stat!

happiness

I’ve been thinking about happiness a lot lately. It might seem a bit odd to be talking about happiness in a blog that sometimes deals directly to living with cancer. Ridiculous even. Point taken. Living with cancer can be one of the biggest challenges we face over the course of our lives, so where  does happiness fit in? Well, I had cancer a few years ago now and one thing I noticed during all of the tests and treatments and time for recovery was that life goes on for us and those we care about. The journey is often a marathon and not a sprint. So, if we can help ourselves find even small moments of happiness or even an afternoon of feeling good on this journey, we deserve it! The big question of course is “How?” How can we squeeze a bit of happiness out of this strange time of our lives? Heck maybe ‘Happiness” is too big a goal, maybe just “feeling a bit better” is a more reachable target. Either way, there are very simple things we can do to help make it happen.

#1 Spend some time in nature.

Spending time in nature has been shown to improve our mood quite dramatically. In a major study, Trent University Researcher Dr. Elizabeth Nisbet, found that people who spent time in nature on a regular basis felt much happier and as a bonus watched less TV. Do you have to do something dramatic like white water rafting or fly through the air in one of those squirrel suits? No! Just spending some time in a park or ravine or on a nature trail will do just fine.

#2 Write down a list of things that you are thankful for.

Keeping a gratitude Journal or even making a list of things that you are thankful for can have a very significant impact on how you feel. Again, you might have to dig a bit deeper considering the circumstances, but if you start small you might end up with a pretty good list. For instance when I make a gratitude list my most recent cup of coffee is usually the first item and then I go from there. At the University of California at Davis, psychologist Robert Emmons found that having a gratitude journal helped improve the mood of participants as well as increased their tolerance to pain. Isn’t that something? So what are you thankful for? Coffee? Lunch? The latest episode of Game of Thrones?

3: Your Favourite Music.

Can you remember your favorite song right now? The song that gets you completely cranked up, can pull you out of a dark mood and make you dance like a maniac even if you’re doing your taxes?  Me too. In fact, I remember being 13 years old at the top of a ski hill that I was terrified of and listening to Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” in my head to get the courage to ski down.

Once again the benefits of music are backed up by science. Music can be a very wonderful tool in helping us to feel happier in our daily lives, moment to moment.

In an article published in The Huffington Post called “The Happiness Habits of Exuberant Human Beings” they state that

“Over a three month period, researchers from the Group Health Research Institute found that patients who simply listened to music had the same decreased anxiety symptoms as those who got 10 one hour-long massages.

So, feeling a bit down? Play your favourite song or if you’re really ambitious create a playlist of tunes that makes you feel good and you’re well on your way to having a tool that is scientifically proven to help you feel better.

We often think about finding happiness as one of those things that might be impossible especially when going through one of life’s greatest challenges, but by using even the simplest of techniques (that are backed up by science!) we can just maybe make this journey a bit easier and feel a bit better along the way.