Be happy: Dr Mark Rowe - 'More than pills and Prozac, people needed different solutions'
The festive season is upon us and with it can often come family feuds. Dr Mark Rowe tells our reporter how we can improve our relationships, be happier, healthier and better manage our lives
Dr Mark Rowe wants us to be happy. So much so, he went in search of the Holy Grail in an effort to bring hope to those who had lost their way, relief to those experiencing tough times, and a better way of living for all. This quest, which involved a good deal of research and some deep thought, has resulted in a book based on his findings.
"I was always interested in people and what makes them tick," says Mark. "And I always wanted to be a GP. My grandfather was a doctor, and five of his seven children became doctors." So, not surprisingly, Mark spent six years studying medicine. He met his future wife, Edel, in 1993, and four years later they married. They now have three children and live in Waterford.
Mark says the idea for the book grew from his experiences as a young doctor, and from observations of modern Irish society in general. But it also stemmed from personal trauma, when the premises in which his practice was based was gutted by arsonists. "After a lot of sleepless nights, which were characterised by anger and fear, I realised I could actually choose how I responded to all this. So I decided to change my thinking, and start a new practice," he says.
By now, Mark was questioning his role as a GP. "I started to think deeply about how I might become a more effective resource for people who were not only ill, but who were also losing their jobs, and their homes," he says. "More than pills and Prozac, people needed different solutions."
In 2006, a former convent run by the Presentation order, in Waterford, came on the market and Mark knew this would be an ideal place in which to house a community health centre.
This beautiful, landmark building was designed in the 1840s by Augustus Pugin, who was responsible for the interior of the Palace of Westminster. Following extensive restoration and transformation, the building still retains many of its original features. It now functions as a multi-purpose medical and wellness centre.
Currently nine doctors, five nurses and 12 support staff run the centre, which also provides space for a public health nurse, a physiotherapist and social workers, as well as weekly visits from the Samaritans for those in crisis. There is counselling, art therapy, reflexology, Pilates, antenatal classes and a breastfeeding support group. So clearly, Mark takes a multi-disciplinary approach. But he also believes there are some useful tools we can employ in managing our own health. And these he outlines in his book, A Prescription for Happiness, which provides us with "10 commitments to a happier, healthier life."
They begin with gratitude. "Expressing gratitude is a conscious choice to focus on abundance, rather than scarcity," says Mark. "A 13th-Century Persian poet once said, 'I bemoaned the fact that I had no shoes, until I saw someone who had no feet'. One of the brilliant things about gratitude is that it can dissolve feelings of negativity and hostility. Gratitude is a fundamental way of life, a foundation stone for real happiness."
Kindness and compassion come next. "Giving and receiving are both part of the same universal flow of energy," says Mark. "When you commit to becoming kinder and more compassionate, you develop more perspective. Kindness helps you see the world as a more generous place."
Mark then turns his attention to "great relationships" and reminds us that over 2,300 years ago, Aristotle said that happiness was not possible without friendship. "Relationships are a rich source for a life of vitality and meaning. You need to have positive people around you, rather than the toxic sort."
Goal setting is another worthy cause. Mark explains that we all need to have goals that are consistent with our core values, as they act as road maps for the future. "The purposeful planning, writing down and taking steps towards [achieving] your goals, can pay real dividends in terms of your happiness and well-being," he says. "Set goals that fill you with excitement and are big enough to inspire you."
Having set goals, you will probably have to put aside time to achieve them, and that is Mark's fifth commitment; making time for what matters. "Your relationship with time includes managing yourself and making sure you are doing the right things. Develop the freedom to say 'yes' to those things that matter most to you, and the courage to say 'no' to the rest."
And when planning how you will spend your valuable time, exercise needs prioritising. Mark says physical exercise helps prevent or reduce the effects of a whole array of conditions, from high cholesterol to cancer. But it is also extremely beneficial for emotional and mental well-being. "Regular exercise has been shown to be a powerful ally for your psychological fitness, allowing you to think more clearly," he says. "It's a great natural stress-buster. Exercise is the one pill I think everyone would take, if it was freely available, in tablet form."
Being fit and well can only be complemented by a large dash of realistic optimism.
"The ability to keep going in the face of setbacks and to bounce back with purpose is a key characteristic of realistic optimism," says Mark. "Knowing that positive change is possible through the power of your own efforts can become the foundation of a self-fulfilling prophecy."
Next comes simplicity, and, loosely translated, this means the ability to live in the here and now, doing your best to enjoy every moment of every day. "People can be so stuck in the past, or so intent on fretting about the future, they miss out on the present. So slow down and be more present," he says.
Mark is certain that spirituality is an important tool in this highly materialistic world. He says the sense of forgiveness and compassion, inherent in religion, provides all sorts of health and psychological benefits.
Finally, it is courage that keeps us on the path to fulfilment. Simply choosing to act in a more confident, extroverted and energised manner can allow you to benefit from more positive feelings. "Have the courage to listen to your inner voice, express your feelings and face the truth of your life, for what it really is," he urges.
And now the last word must go to Aristotle who said, "happiness depends upon ourselves."
'A Prescription for Happiness' by Dr Mark Rowe is available from bookshops nationwide and from Amazon.co.uk. It costs about €15.
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