Shift Your Perspective, Change Your Life?

This month is Migraine & Headache Awareness month. As in past years, we writers here at are tackling the Migraine & Headache Awareness Month Blog Challenge prompts. Today’s MHAM Blog Challenge prompt is to discuss Rory Sutherland’s TED talk “Perspective is everything."

In the talk, Sutherland makes a powerful argument that the reality of our situations isn’t as important to our happiness as how we view our situations, particularly with regard to our perspective on how much control we have over our circumstances. For instance, in the talk, he discusses a rather famous (in psychological and behavioral science fields, anyway) experiment on “learned helplessness” conducted by Martin Seligman and Steven Maier.

Without going into too much detail, the experiment’s main conclusion was that animals who believed they had a sense of control over an adverse situation recovered from the situation when it ended, whereas animals who believed they had no sense of control over an adverse situation were unable to recover from the situation after it was over – even if it was the exact same situation as that endured by the other animals. Instead, the animals who believed they had no control over their circumstances became so depressed they even stopped trying to escape the adverse situation.

For migraineurs, this may seem unhelpful. After all, we can’t control our migraines. We can’t cure them. We can’t stop them. At best, we can merely reduce their frequency and intensity for a particular period of time. Still, we can control how we feel about migraine disease and its affects on our lives, and that I think speaks to Sutherland’s point: The reality of life with migraine isn’t as important as how we think about it. writer Kerrie Smyres has written about this many times (most recently in “Acceptance, Not Resignation”), as have I (both for and in my book, “Finding Happiness with Migraines: A Do It Yourself Guide”). Both Kerrie and I have had long struggles with daily migraine and headache, yet we have both come to the same realization: Accepting our lives as they are enables us to enjoy them as they are, migraines and all. Without acceptance, the joy is hard to find.

Of course, I’m not saying – and I don’t think Kerrie is either – that a migraine-filled life is easy or simple or continually joyful. It’s frustrating and painful, and there will always be days when the grief, anger, and never-ending symptoms override our ability to fully appreciate the good moments, the everyday joys, that all lives – even lives with chronic migraine – give us.

The truth is: Some days are terrible, but that doesn’t mean our lives have to be terrible. It doesn’t mean they’re hopeless. And – this is important – it certainly doesn’t mean we are helpless.

We’re not helpless. There’s always something we can control, there’s always something we can feel good about. The change comes when we decide to focus on these things, small as they may be, rather than on the other things, the worse things, the hard things. The change comes when we decide to take control over our perspective. Until there’s a cure for migraine, that may be the best news we’ve got.

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