Happiness despite pain

Happiness despite pain

I thought you might find this article, from The Happiness Institute’s free eNewsletter (out this morning), interesting… 

For some time now, one of our oldest and most loyal followers has been asking me to write an article about how to enjoy happiness despite pain. Today, I’m happy to do so…

Just by way of explanation…some of you may not be aware that before discovering happiness and positive psychology I spent all of my early career working as a clinical psychologist most of which was specialising in (including completing my PhD thesis in) psychological aspects of chronic pain. So this is very much a topic of interest to me. With that in mind, I realise that some of you may not have experiences of chronic pain although I still encourage you to keep reading because pain is incredibly prevalent and if you’re lucky enough not to have it then someone you know very possibly does and also, the points I’m about to make are also relevant to “emotional pain”. That is, we can still be happy despite experiencing physical or emotional pain.

Now I’m not suggesting this is easy…but it is very much possible. I know this from reading (and in a small way contributing to) several decades of scientific research; I know this from working with people experiencing chronic pain for several decades now; and I know this from personal experience.

The first thing to understand is that I’m not suggesting pain can be “cured” or taken away by using psychological strategies; but I am saying that the impact of pain on your life can be significantly reduced by the use of certain psychological strategies. Let me explain a bit further…chronic pain is, by definition, intractable and incurable. Nothing will make it go away. But, what you can achieve is less suffering and more happiness despite some ongoing discomfort. And here’s how…

  • Firstly, I encourage you to seriously question the ongoing pursuit of a cure or even of many treatments. All this often does is lead to unrealistically raised hopes and then, after an intervention has not worked (or not worked as well as it was expected), disappointment and frustration. I’m not suggesting you give up all together but please choose your treatments and treatment providers carefully and please make sure that if you do decide to try something you try only those methods that have some empirical/scientific support and only those professionals with appropriate credentials, qualifications and experience.
  • Second, keep moving and keep doing as much as you can. One of the worst things people with pain can do is to stop doing! Inactivity just leads to physical deterioration which just makes it harder to do what you want to do. All this does is contribute to a vicious cycle of inactivity and depression; and we know when people become depressed they tend to focus more on their pain and perceive their pain as being more intense
  • Third, do what you can to alleviate or minimise depression despite the pain. You can do this by making sure you don’t engage in excessive rumination or negative thinking . I’m not saying that you should love your pain or thing about it “positively” but I am suggesting that you question some of the worst and most negative of your thoughts, especially those we might label as “catastrophising”.  Check out our free resources section and you’ll find some tips about identifying and challenging automatic negative thoughts (click here and here)
  • Fourth, take an active approach to pain management. That is, focus on what you can do rather than on what you can’t do; focus on solutions more than problems; learn to control what you can control and to accept what you can’t control
  • Finally, don’t feel as though you have to do it all on your own; don’t be afraid to utilise the support of loved ones, family and friends, and even professionals (and if you’d like some recommendations on this last point please feel free to get in touch and we’ll do our best to point you in the right direction). Now I’m not suggesting you become overly reliant on or dependant upon others but we all need help sometimes and we all have people in our lives just waiting to help…if only we’d let them.

So there it is, but before finishing up I want to reiterate a few very important points…nothing I’ve suggested above will take the pain away. Chronic pain is, by definition, intractable and incurable. But what these (and other) strategies can do is  help you live an active and fulfilling life, a life with happiness and success, despite ongoing pain. It might not be a perfect life but then who among us lives a perfect life? If might not be a pain free life but that doesn’t mean it has to be a joy free life. Many people live good lives, with happiness, despite pain…and you can too!