Don’t Worry, Be Happy: Parkinson’s and the Limits of Positive Thinking

worry

I don’t want to take away from Mad magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman or singer-songwriter Bobby McFerrin, but the idea that a pair of rose-colored “don’t worry” glasses will change my life for the better has never sat well with me. Pollyanna is not a guest in my home.

“Look at all the wonderful things in your life. All your needs are provided for — no worries,” someone said to my wife and me recently as we described the temporary ruin of stagnation. But pouring saccharin sentiments over the burnt toast of my life won’t remove its acrid flavor.

I often write about having a positive action-based wellness plan. My approach is attitude plus behavior equal consequences. My positive outlook is wisdom-based and engaged in compassion and not on my ability to see a half-full glass. One can try to view the chronic disease glass as being half full, but the reality is that it is also half empty. I wish that my muscular problems and other Parkinson’s symptoms were absent. Viewing the glass as half full is not an action plan — it’s more of an “I’m tired of this right now” statement.

Many authors have extolled positive thinking: Norman Vincent Peale and Norman Cousins, among others. Choosing how to act, think, and feel creates patterns. We return to those patterns when times get tough. Another way of putting it is, “Fake it until you make it.” It seems vacuous to assume that “faking” happiness will remove the causes of unhappiness or make circumstances appear to be better than they are. Well-meaning people who propose the “don’t worry, be happy” solution don’t have a clear understanding of how Parkinson’s and other chronic diseases affect our daily lives. What we need is a well-designed and enacted wellness map — not rose-colored glasses.

Though my partner and I have moments of frustration and utter despair, we manage to pull ourselves up — as we have throughout our lives — to find the inner and spiritual strength that enables us to continue. It’s a lifelong habit for both of us, and as a team, we support each other through the continued challenges, taking turns with compassion and strength when the other one falters under the burden.

Do we worry? Yes, but we move gradually toward more acceptance. Are we happy? The glass remains half full, and we are grateful for the happiness and blessings in our lives. But it is now time to replenish the glass and move into deeper compassion, finding strength in the belief that all things happen for a reason and in their own time. We will not shy away from the work that needs to be done in our lives and for others with chronic diseases.

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Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.

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