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When People Ask Me How I 'Fake Happiness' When I'm in Pain

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“How do you fake happiness when you’re in pain all the time?”

I hear this question on fairly regular basis. I’m not kidding. At least once a week.

I never really know how to answer it. The blunt answer is, I don’t. I don’t fake happiness. I really am a fucking ray of sunshine most of the time.

There seems to be a misconception that pain and happiness are mutually exclusive – that a person can’t possibly be happy if they have chronic pain, or that if she looks happy she must be faking it. It’s not true.

I also don’t think we should brush aside the question when it’s asked. It’s not that it’s a bad question, it’s just the wrong question.

A better question would be, “How do you remain happy despite being in pain?” That’s a question I can answer.

1. My happiness and my pain level are usually unrelated. To clarify, we’re talking about chronic pain here. This is different from acute pain – post-surgery pain or new pain from an injury. Chronic pain is something that is pretty much always there, and it’s pain that you’re used to having. My chronic pain doesn’t affect my happiness on a daily basis. If it did, happy would be a hard thing to be. Now, if the pain is significantly worse one day, that may affect my mood. Again, I’m talking about daily levels of chronic pain. I do not base how happy I am on how much my joints hurt. Some of this comes down to not letting pain stress you out. It’s not that it makes the pain any better, you just start to care a lot less about it. It’s there, it sucks, life will go on.

2. When I’m in pain, I still do things that make me happy. I’m not saying you need to be over the top chipper all of the time. No one can do that. But I don’t stop living my life whenever I’m in pain, because that is pretty much always. So I still read, I still play with kids, I still basket weave. If I’m highly motivated, maybe I’ll do all three at once.

3. I don’t miss work for chronic pain. I only have so much sick time. When you have a bajillion health issues, you have to triage that crap. Sorry, arthritis. If I can drive the 20 minutes to work, am not contagious, and can stay awake, then I go to work. Chances are that I’ll be in pain no matter where I am, so I may as be productive.

4. I don’t sit around waiting for the pain to get better. Sorry, people. It’s chronic. It’s not going anywhere. Now, if I wake up completely pain free one day? Awesome. I won’t, however, sit around holding my breath waiting for that. You miss out on life when that’s all you do. I also don’t expect my pain level to get better if I haven’t done anything about it. Chronic pain has a range of severity. If we’re at the high end, I do something about it. If I’m tight or stiff, I stretch. If my joints are swollen, I take Aleve. If nothing else seems to be helping, I use a TENS unit or a rice pack. I don’t just sit around and wonder why it hasn’t gotten better.

5. I don’t really talk about being in pain when I am. This isn’t necessarily because people won’t understand (which I don’t expect them to, and I’m OK with that), but because there really isn’t anything to talk about. OK, so my hips hurt. Talking about isn’t going to make it go away, and if anything it’s only going to make me hyperaware of it.

6. I don’t go out of my way to look pain free. It’s just so much work to do that, and then you spend all your time focused on the pain. If my hips are in bad shape, I may have a slight limp. If my shoulders are tight, I may be stretching them in the middle of a conversation. I try to look as little like a hot mess as possible, but I’m not setting the bar high. It’s all good.

Sure, pain can affect your happiness. Any symptom can, but it shouldn’t control your happiness. This won’t just happen naturally, though. I believe that you have to step up, deal with the fact you have chronic pain, and choose to live a full life despite that.

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Originally published: January 24, 2018
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