Building Happiness While Coping with Chronic Pain

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CC by David Leiker

Have you ever experienced long term or severe or chronic pain or disability?  Have you watched someone you love go through it?  How did you cope?  If you’ve never experienced it, how do you think you would cope?  Can you imagine being happy under those circumstances?  Why or why not?  Dig deep.  Where would you find the spark to keep going with chronic pain?

I’m old enough to remember Pollyanna.  I actually didn’t see the movie as a little girl, I read the book, instead   I read it to pieces, actually, to the point where the binding disintegrated and pages went missing.  It didn’t help that when I first started reading it, I was young enough that I felt the need to write in everything I owned, shakily, in block print, with magic marker.  Cringe.

Anyhow, Pollyanna played the “glad game” with everyone around her, which was really a variation of the gratitude exercise that I also encourage anyone building happiness to maintain.  When all she received from a charity barrel once was a crutch, her response was to be glad she didn’t need to use it.  But what if you do?

Chronic pain and disability aren’t theoretical for a lot of people, including myself.  While my chronic pain is intermittent and moderate (for which I’m glad), many people I know and love, including Husband, aren’t so lucky.  My Husband has a congenital condition in his shoulders that, combined with repetitive use injuries from his work and arthritis, cause him significant, constant pain.  Every day.  Every hour of every day.  For well over a year now.  This after several surgeries to attempt to correct it.

Playing the glad game with the one you love most in the world when one look at his face tells you he’s in agony is not easy to do.  Helping him find a core of peace and comfort and love where happiness can stay and rebound as we find a way to cope and hopefully recover is also not easy.  But, as love is that state where another human being’s happiness is essential to your own, it is mandatory.

So in the face of knowing that the pain (or condition) is unlikely to get significantly better, and could very well get significantly, even disablingly worse, what do you do?   Keep in mind that pain and disability and diminishment of function are all normal parts of life, and affect us all to greater or lesser degrees over our lifespans.  This isn’t something you get to skip out on and leave for someone else.  No one here gets out alive.

Whether you are the primary support for someone experiencing chronic pain, or the person experiencing the pain, there are many things you can do to keep the ember of happiness warm and glowing, even while the winds blow around the shelter.

  • If you’re not already familiar with it, become familiar with The Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino. Read it until you really get it.  And when you or the person you love run out of spoons, honor that, and move on.  (Buying a poster from her and posting it prominently doesn’t strike me as a bad idea, either).
  • Create a place or preserve a place of respite in your home where you don’t let the cares of the world intrude, even if its only the bathtub or your bed.
  • Take your meds as prescribed, or help your loved one to take his as prescribed.  Chronic pain meds are tricky because they’re highly addictive, and can lead to the triple threat of addiction, pain, and depression, that can be very difficult to escape.  Always be mindful of this.
  • Mindfulness meditation has been shown to work wonders on the course of chronic pain.  It’s easy to learn, but difficult to master, so don’t give up if it is challenging and doesn’t seem to be getting you anywhere at first. (As a side note, it is not necessary to spend money on a mindfulness teacher.  There is plenty of excellent instruction on the web.  If you don’t like the one I linked to, Google for more.)
  • Massage is an important skill for the support person of someone with chronic pain, as is patience.  Both skills are also useful for the person suffering the pain, as the knowledge of muscles inherent in knowing massage can help you to identify and stop overuse issues that can exacerbate pain (and patience ought to be obvious, bu probably isn’t)
  • Be kind.  Be kind to your loved one, and be kind to yourself, no matter which side of the pain spectrum you’re on.
  • While the nature of hope sometimes changes, the need for it never goes away.  Hold on to hope, and honor it.  Hope for improvement or for respite, for acceptance or for the courage to change something that can be very frightening (many chronic pain conditions can be treated, but the treatments can often be difficult, and many sufferers “don’t want to get their hopes up”)
  • Be glad.  Find one tiny piece of pure joy every day, even if you have to squint to see it, and hold on to it for dear life.
  • Children with higher intelligence less likely to report chronic widespread pain in adulthood (
  • Half of us with chronic pain do not seek help from a GP (
  • Tips for living with chronic pain (Video) (
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