“Wellness is not a fad.  It is life insurance in the truest sense of the word”
Patch Adams, M.D.

patchadamsPatch Adams, M.D. was on of the first doctors who brought attention to the need for treating the whole person—to view the patient as more than just their disease. For Patch, health is based on happiness—from hugging and clowning around, to finding joy in family and friends, satisfaction in work, and ecstasy in nature and the arts.  “Wellness is a process, a journey during which we choose which path to follow,” explains Patch.  Certainly in the last 40 years since Patch began challenging the traditional medical definition of health, many programs have developed to support patients in their journey toward this vision of a broader definition of health—one that is clearly more than mere absence of disease.

At the Gesundheit Institute, health is defined as “happy, vibrant, maximum wellbeing.” Healing is focused on the patient’s relationships to himself or herself and to nutrition, exercise, faith, family, friends, hobbies, nature, wonder, curiosity, creativity, service, community, and peace.

I couldn’t agree more that our health and happiness depend on each of these essential things Patch lists above. To say his wisdom resonated with me when I read Gusundheit! is an understatement.  In fact, his words were my experience—my personal journey in both regaining my health and staying healthy. From my perspective as 28-year cancer survivor, I share Patch Adam’s philosophy about what is important in our long-term healing and health:

  • The Need for Community: “How can one begin to take steps toward community? First, be ready to belong with all your heart and soul. Examine current relationships and dare to dream of what their potential might be. The better defined the dreams, the happier the journey. Those who see the dream as a journey, and not as a final product, can realize it in the present and not in the future.”
  • The Importance of Living One’s Passion: “It is important to recognize the healing value of living our interests, whether sick or well.” Patch advocates living a life filled with wonder and curiosity. “I consider it a medical emergency if I perceive that an adult has allowed imagination to flounder and boredom to take hold. Boredom can be eliminated simply by nourishing the imagination…Everything comes from the imagination: its sacred graces can make life sparkle and make a person young at heart.”patchadams_2
  • To be Grounded in the Face of Challenges: “When we live our lives from a baseline of happiness, negative events still may happen. I am not speaking of a life without problems. On the contrary, sadness and unhappy feelings will occur in the larger context of a great and happy life. My hope is for each person to express such feelings freely, because unhappiness, once expressed, can recede into a paradigm of joy.”
  • To Embrace the Power of Love: “Love is unconditional surrender to theoverwhelming feeling experienced when giving and receiving. By surrender, I mean loss of oneself in awe, trust, respect, enjoyment, and tenderness toward the object of surrender.”
  • To Find Strength through Faith: “Faith is the cornerstone of our inner strength, a personal, passionate belief in something of inexhaustible power and mystery…In order to acquire a belief, one simply needs to have the interest and willingness to submit to its mystery.”patchadams_4
  • Allow for the Expression of Creativity Whenever Possible: “Creativity is expressed not just through hobbies and art, but through our work, our families, and even how we wait in line…The key here is to be open and spontaneous. Don’t catalog hobbies and interests as indulgences; rather, respect them as major medicines.”
  • Be Grateful for All Life Brings: “The healthy way to express gratitude is through service…Only by helping others can we discover deep interdependence…Service can take many forms: being a loving friend, helping a stranger in need, strengthening the community one lives in.”

Thank you, Patch, for all your wisdom, and for putting words to my very own experience.

Excerpts from Gesundheit! By Patch Adams, M.D. with Maureen Mylander (1993, 1998 Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont).

Read more on the Gesundheit Institute and its philosophy.

Read Newsweek’s December 23, 2015 article on Patch Adam’s work with Syrian Refugees.

Sheri Brisson
Sheri Sobrato Brisson is a brain tumor survivor who discovered the importance of self-reflection during her recovery. From her personal illness experience and a dozen years supporting families and children with serious illness, her life’s philanthropic mission is to empower families and children facing serious illness. She has started and facilitated support groups for children with illness and their families for over twenty years with organizations such as the American Cancer Society, National Brain Tumor Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, and Packard Children’s Hospital. She has served as Board Member for many children’s health nonprofit organizations including American Cancer Society San Jose, UCSF/Mt. Zion Auxiliary, Creighton Health Institute, and Okizu Foundation. Brisson received her master’s degree in counseling from Santa Clara University and her undergraduate degree in human biology from Stanford University.
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