The Power of Optimism to Overcome Pain and Disability

Six people in wheelchairs playing basketball

Photo by Yahoo! Accessibility Lab via Flickr

Optimism has real power. When you have a disability, it may seem that you have nothing to be optimistic about. It is easy to feel bitter when friends or family encourage you to be happy. After all, they do not have the same challenges and they do not have to deal with disability on a daily basis.

However, psychological studies show that optimism brings real, powerful benefits. Optimism is not denial. Accepting your condition will help you cope with your disability and move forward with a positive attitude.

“Realistic” Optimism vs “False” Optimism

Optimism should not be a naïve belief that things are better than they really are. It should not be blind faith that things will be perfect in the future. This is a false view of reality.

“Realistic” optimism means accepting your disability while recognizing that you can still be happy and see improvements. Researchers have found that pain acceptance helped patients with chronic pain in two ways. Patients who accepted their pain suffered less psychological distress than other patients. They also found their pain less disabling. The same researchers found that optimism provided similar benefits. You will be most successful coping with your disability if you are realistically optimistic. Do not live in denial, but do not give up either.

Benefits of Optimism

Optimism and accepting pain can improve quality of life, decrease pain, and decrease psychological distress. Optimists have less psychological distress and are less disabled by their pain than others who are not as optimistic.

In a study of patients with Parkinson’s disease, researchers determined that optimistic patients had a better quality of life than other patients. In fact, the severity of Parkinson’s disease was actually lower in optimistic patients than in other patients. When you cope with your disability in a positive way, you are training yourself emotionally and physically to become better.

Maintaining Realistic Optimism

Optimism is not denial. You need to accept your situation in order to cope effectively, but accept it with a positive mindset. Instead of telling yourself that your disability can be easily overcome, accept that you can live happily with challenges. Accepting your disability may take time, so be patient with yourself. Do not give up hope. Even if your condition has no cure, you can always strive for improvement, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional. Over time, you will develop coping strategies to make your disability more manageable for you.

Look for ways to feel valuable. No matter what your disability, you can find a way to contribute positive things to your life and others’ lives. If this feels hard, fight negative thoughts. Find a way to gain control of your situation. In one study, cancer patients who felt they had some control of their situation experienced less severe pain during treatment. Take advantage of everything that you can change. Take control of what you can change, and learn to accept what you cannot change. Disability will change your life in many ways, but it does not have to prevent you from being happy.