The Happiness Project

Would You Be Happier if You Switched Doctors?

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too . Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in—no need to catch up; just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

Sometimes, by coincidence, several people mention the same happiness-boosting idea around the same time, so it hits me with particular force.

A wonderful doctor is a tremendous source of comfort and reassurance; over the last few weeks, four friends have mentioned to me how much happier they were after they switched doctors. In every case, they were seeing a doctor who didn’t appreciate the amount of pain they were in and who dismissed their efforts to try to explain the problem or find some solution.

One OB/GYN said something like “Women have babies every day. You just had a baby. So you’re in pain—get over yourself.” Turns out my friend had a broken pelvis! Another friend kept explaining to a doctor that his advice wasn’t yielding any results in her case. He implied that she wasn’t being diligent about following instructions. When she switched, the new doctor put her on a medication that cleared up the problem immediately. Etc.

Given the importance of trusting and respecting your doctor, why is it so hard to make a change? I myself find it practically impossible to prod myself to switch, once I have had even one appointment with a doctor.

First, we need to believe that the doctor is smart and correct. Switching away from a doctor signals that we no longer trust his or her judgment, and that’s scary, especially if there’s some particular cause for concern.

Second, what with the records and charts and everything, it’s confusing to know HOW to switch.

Third, inertia is so powerful. Switching means finding a better doctor, which means doing research, questioning your judgment, tracking down information, figuring out who takes your insurance, where the office is located, and so on.

However, when my 9-year-old was a baby, I switched to a different pediatrician in a flash. My maternal instinct swamped my usual reluctance to make a change, and once I decided that I didn’t like the doctor, I had no trouble telling his office that we were going elsewhere. Maybe a way to coax yourself into switching doctors is to think of yourself in the third person, or to imagine how you’d act if a member of your family were receiving the treatment you’ve been getting.

(As a side note, I use this trick frequently: If I’m not sure about my reaction to some event, I imagine someone describing the situation to me as if it happened to a stranger. That often clarifies my view. Along the same lines, I remember reading somewhere that writer Anne Lamott thinks about herself in the third person, to take better care of herself: “I’m sorry, Anne Lamott can’t accept that invitation to speak; she’s finishing a book so needs to keep her schedule clear.”)

Remember, too, that you’re helping other patients when you switch away from a bad doctor, because your switch demonstrates to a doctor that his or her treatment was unacceptable. I heard a lecture by a child-education specialist who said, “The only way that teachers know they’re assigning too much homework is when the most diligent kids can’t complete it. If you let your child stay up until 2 a.m. to finish, you’re not helping.” Same thing with a doctor.

Of course, tougher than making a switch from a bad doctor is having no choice about what doctor you see or having no doctor at all . It’s good to remember that.

* Have I mentioned lately how much I love Unclutterer ?

* Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just e-mail me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.