While achieving lasting happiness is a goal everyone can get behind, the feasibility of this goal is justifiably pulled into question by chronic pain patients every day. How can you feel longstanding happiness if your body is in constant pain? And what are the possibilities for living happily amid physical pain even like? Can you learn to practice gratitude, savor the good stuff, and become excited and embracing of yourself and your life?
One thing’s for sure: while chronic pain is an ongoing struggle, it doesn’t have to be an inescapable spiral toward depression and unhappiness.
If you’re living with chronic pain and wondering how to infuse your daily life with greater happiness and fulfillment, consider what science tells us about pain and happiness in the following tips. While they won’t totally erase your pain, with concerted effort, commitment, and hope, they’ll steer you in a more joy-filled direction.
Excel in Good Sleep Hygiene
Not sleeping well? Being cranky and tired isn’t the only side effect you’ll feel—studies tell us that sleep disturbances can increase the body’s sensitivity to pain. Adopting good sleep hygiene is easier said than done, but consider starting with exercising during the day, keeping your sleeping area at a cool and comfortable temperature, and investing in bedding that makes you feel at ease.
Learn Mindfulness Through Meditation
Numerous studies support the assertion that regular mindfulness meditation can work to lower the body’s level of pain as well as improve sleep. One study found that pain levels were significantly decreased over a 10-week period when subjects practiced regular mindfulness mediation. Studies from 2006 and 2010 also demonstrated enhanced SWS and REM sleep in participants who practiced mindfulness meditation.
Move Your Muscles
Research shows that exercise is an effective tool for managing chronic pain. Movement helps to keep the body in optimal shape, but in addition to that, exercise can release powerful endorphins, which can help to lower pain levels. Start by incorporating gentle forms of exercise, like yoga for beginners, water aerobics, and walking. Don’t adopt a competitive mentality and push yourself too far, too soon. Find what feels good and stick to that! The only expectation you should have for yourself is that you engage in intentional movement regularly. Make sure you talk to your doctor before you begin so you can be sure you’re engaging in an activity that is appropriate for your condition and pain.
Laugh Until Your Cheeks Hurt
As is the case with exercise, laughter releases endorphins throughout our body, which help us to lower our pain levels. Find what makes you laugh and engage in that activity intentionally and regularly. Laugh until your cheeks hurt and your belly aches!
Use Your Support Network
Identify the people who make up the core of your support network and reach out to them when you need to talk, when you need help, or even when you simply want some company. A study that examined the role of family support in chronic pain patients found that patients who reported having a supportive family did not feel pain as intensely, relied on medication less, and were more active than those who reported having an unsupportive family. If you don’t feel like you have the support you need, seek out a local or online support group for chronic pain management.
Examine Your Relationship with Prescription Painkillers
Prescription painkillers might be a part of your pain treatment plan, but if it’s possible for you, consider talking to your healthcare provider about slowly lowering your dosage. Long-term use of prescription painkillers not only will increase a patient’s tolerance—requiring an increase in dosage in order to receive the same initial level of pain relief—but recent research suggests that extended use of prescription painkillers like codeine can actually increase the body’s sensitivity to pain. Prescription painkillers also increase a user’s risk for depression, according to recent studies. Finally, they’re often accompanied by numerous side effects that can impact everyday happiness levels, ranging from nausea and constipation to cataracts.
Train Your Brain
Research indicates that positive personality traits like optimism can impact the body’s perception of pain. Start training your brain by aiming to become intentionally aware of when you begin a negative thought pattern. When you notice this happening, work to snap yourself out of the cycle. This piece might provide further help in combating negative thinking, or join Happify’s 4-week track on Conquering Negative Thoughts.
Find the Right Healthcare Team
Perhaps your primary care provider doesn’t have extensive training in chronic pain management or perhaps you would feel more comfortable consulting a nutritionist in addition to your doctor. Whatever the case may be, examine your relationship with your healthcare team and address any issues that might exist for you. You should feel safe and supported when you talk about your condition and your pain with your healthcare providers. If you don’t feel free to discuss your medication treatment plan or the role factors like sleep and physical activity might play in your overall pain level, you might want to consider finding a healthcare provider who can take a look at the whole picture with you.
Reconsider Your Definition of Happiness
It’s important that you focus on what you can do, not what you can’t. We’re not programmed to feel good while we’re feeling physical pain, and you shouldn’t expect yourself to. But you don’t have to let that get ruin your day, either. Focus on finding endurance and strength in your pain and find things to savor or be grateful about throughout your day. By practicing these tips, you can build up the mental and emotional resources to help you get through the hard stuff. And in doing this, you might create a state of well-being that supports you when you need the cushioning and propels you forward into sustainable happiness.