Pain catastrophizing mediates the relationship between trait happiness and depressive symptoms in individuals with current pain

J Appl Biobehav Res. 2017 Dec;22(4):e12069. doi: 10.1111/jabr.12069. Epub 2017 Apr 18.


Objective: There is an extensive relationship between chronic pain and depression; however, there is less research examining whether pain-specific factors, such as pain intensity, predict depression, above and beyond the role of normative factors, such as positive emotions. The current study characterized the independent contributions of pain intensity, pain catastrophizing, and a trait measure of happiness to self-rated depressive symptoms.

Methods: We recruited and enrolled 70 volunteers across 3 groups of participants: two groups of patients with current low back pain (one group on opioids and one group opioid-naïve), and individuals in a methadone maintenance treatment program.

Results: Of note, participants reporting concurrent opioid use reported significantly higher levels of depressive symptomatology, although study groups did not differ on any other clinical variables. In our path model, we failed to find direct relationships between pain (intensity or duration) and either trait happiness or depressive symptoms (p > .05). However, our analysis did reveal that individuals with chronic back pain who reported higher levels of trait happiness reported lower levels of depressive symptomatology; this effect was significantly mediated by lower levels of pain catastrophizing (standardized ab = -.144, p = .002).

Conclusion: Our analysis suggests that trait happiness, while unrelated to ongoing pain, may predict a decreased vulnerability to depressive symptoms in individuals with chronic pain, which may operate via lower levels of pain catastrophizing.

Keywords: Pain; depressive symptoms; pain catastrophizing; subjective happiness.