Perspective is everything. By changing your perspective, you may discover an innovative solution to a problem, or understand the actions of someone else. But more importantly, your perspectives have direct implications in your life and health.
For example, let us consider pain. Pain is a sensation – an electrical signal in response to a noxious stimuli that is causing damage to your body. It is a warning system that screams to the brain that something is wrong. To boil down the complex physiology of neurotransmission, essentially imagine the system as an electrical circuit. If something damages tissue, like a knife slicing through flesh or a clot blocking off oxygen supply to the heart, the pain “switch” is activated, a signal is sent to the brain, and it is interpreted and “felt” by the brain as pain. Because your brain needs to interpret the signal, pain is essentially subjective. If you are distracted or in a good mood, you will feel less pain compared to when you are distressed and focussing on it. The same stimuli can be handled completely different by every person, making pain extremely complicated and difficult to assess in a medical setting. Pain scales may be used to try objectify the level of pain, but this is still very crude.
One way or another, pain is technically all in your head. That is not to say that pain is not real – that would be an insult to sufferers of chronic pain. But your perspective, way of thinking and frame of mind can make a significant difference to the amount of suffering the pain causes. This is not just an overly-optimistic view of the world that everything can be fixed with optimism. There are real physiological systems in place to alleviate pain when you are happy. These chemicals are called endorphins – so named because they are so potent that they match the effect of morphine (endo(inside) + morphine). This natural painkiller is released in response to pain, but can also be stimulated by having fun and being happy. Laughter is literally medicine.
Not only that, but by being in a good mood, you become more resilient and “distracted from the pain”, allowing you to bear the pain more easily. A woman going through childbirth suffers quite possibly the most extreme level of pain a human being can experience, but the prospect of seeing their newborn child (and probably finally ending their pregnancy) and the loving support of their spouse, family and friends keep them pushing onwards. Even though the noxious stimuli of stretching is real, the brain can choose to downplay how much pain it thinks it should feel with these positive factors.
Although it may not be able to make your pain magically disappear, never underestimate the power of positivity, laughter and happiness. Perhaps that is why the emotion of happiness was evolved – to alleviate the misery and pains of living in this world. To survive.