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The Importance of Positive Events when Living with Chronic Pain


Chronic pain is a common physical condition often related to high levels of anxiety and depression. One reason for its link with affective distress may be that pain interferes with how people respond to enjoyable activities as well as limits their exposure to those activities in their daily life. Few studies, however, have examined how exposure and reactivity to daily events vary by chronic pain status. The eight-day diary substudy from the second wave of the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) longitudinal study queried people about their daily events and positive and negative affect. Participants (N = 1,733; nChronicPain = 658, nNoPain = 1,075) were predominately White (91%), 56% female and averaged 56.24 years-old (SD = 12.20). Chronic pain status was related to the frequency of positive events, even after adjusting for demographic covariates [MChronicPain = 1.14, MNoPain = 1.13; b = .06, F(8, 13,327) = 156.42, p < .001, 95% CI = (.04, .08)]. Multi-level models revealed that although people with chronic pain had lower levels of daily positive affect, they reacted more positively to daily events (γ = .077, 95% CI [.037, .118], p < .001). As a result, levels of daily positive affect on days when people experienced a positive event did vary by pain status (MChronicPain = 2.68, MNoPain = 2.72). In addition, people with chronic pain averaged higher levels of daily negative affect compared to people without chronic pain (MChronicPain = .23, MNoPain =.18), but they also had a greater decrease in their negative affect on days when they experienced a positive event (γ = -.035, 95% CI -[.055, -.015], p < .01). Findings suggest that positive events have a stronger association with affect for those with chronic pain than individuals without chronic pain, and suggest that increasing the frequency of positive events among those suffering from chronic pain may help to increase their affective well-being.

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