The Third Leader: Funny prescription

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The Independent Online

Take some deep breaths, please. Good. Now, tell me, how do you feel about the finding that, despite huge amounts of expensive research and publicity, people still need to be told by their doctor to give up smoking and take up exercise? Depressed at the lack of progress? Or elated to find that the simple nostrum of human care and contact remains so vital? But, before answering, do remember that research has also shown that optimistic, positive people enjoy better health.

Clearly, too, doctors wield enormous power, as I'm sure we all share the same tendency to take anything they say to us in the consulting room extremely seriously and with little questioning. Indeed, I often marvel at their restraint, given what they could get us to do.

Nevertheless, in my experience, there is one area in which a little less of that restraint might work wonders. There are increasing amounts of research showing the beneficial effects of laughter. Perhaps, then, the profession could pass on these benefits by lightening up a little.

Obviously, there will be occasions when it would be inappropriate to attempt a "good news, bad news" routine, but there are many more where a bit of a laugh would help matters along no end. Might I suggest, as an experiment, that the next time you consult on something less than life-threatening, you try one of these opening gambits: "Doctor, doctor: I keep thinking I'm a pair of curtains/a roll of film/a snooker ball." To which the doctor should reply: "Pull yourself together/Let's see what develops/Get to the end of the queue." The results should be fascinating.

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