Pain & Joy

Living with chronic pain can be emotionally exhausting. On any given day, we may experience a complex mix of frustration, sadness, envy, and anger. It’s easy to get lost in the fog of negativity. 

However, pain does not preclude joy. Living with chronic pain can paradoxically make us more attuned to pleasure, finding beauty in the mundane, ordinary parts of life we take for granted. 

The mindfulness we rely upon to manage our energy and moods may reveal vistas of joy. These pockets of pleasure can provide moments of consolation and calm that can change a day. 

On Simple Pleasures 

One of my favourite poems exalting the importance of simple pleasures is by Patrick Kavanagh. He wrote it sitting by the Grand Canal in Dublin, lulled by the waters streaming through the lock. 

Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin – Patrick Kavanagh 

O commemorate me where there is water, 
Canal water, preferably, so stilly 
Greeny at the heart of summer. Brother 
Commemorate me thus beautifully 
Where by a lock niagarously roars 
The falls for those who sit in the tremendous silence 
Of mid-July.  No one will speak in prose 
Who finds his way to these Parnassian islands. 
A swan goes by head low with many apologies, 
Fantastic light looks through the eyes of bridges – 
And look! a barge comes bringing from Athy 
And other far-flung towns mythologies. 
O commemorate me with no hero-courageous 
Tomb – just a canal-bank seat for the passer-by. 

Prime your mind for joy 

Here are some ways we can prime our minds for joy: 

  1. Practice mindfulness in all things. A tasty morsel of food, birdsong, a hug from a loved one. Mindfulness should not be reserved for specific times. It is possible in all situations. Ruby Wax has a lovely book on this, and a video here
  2. Look deeply, notice more. 
  3. Give and you shall receive. Compliment someone. The reward is in the doing. 
  4. Practice active kindness. As Seneca said: “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness”. 
  5. Practice gratitude. Consider a gratitude diary each night, noting three things you are grateful for. 
  6. Use your rational mind, observe your thoughts. Cognitive behavioural therapy is a great tool for this. 
  7. Engage your mind in “flow” activities. Mine are reading, writing, and playing music. 
  8. Exercise for endorphin release and a boost in happiness. 
  9. Hug loved ones, as often as possible. We may be starved of hugs at present, but once we are allowed, revel in them. Here is a nice video praising hugs
  10. Spoil your body with good food.

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