4 Easy Ways to Turn Rain Into Sunshine
Happiness, I've gradually realised, isn't about everything being perfect all the time - it's about how you react to things being imperfect. "Into each life some rain must fall," sang Ella Fitzgerald - and your sanity depends on whether you find a way to laugh and dance in the rain, or wipe it off your face huffily, cursing about the crappy British weather.
With that in mind, here are 4 ways to construct a psychological umbrella.
1. Being Ill, Broke or Overweight
Most of us have at some stage been one or all of the above. Until recently, I was all three. While they're no fun at all, and no one wants or deserves to be any of these things, they teach us empathy. For instance, I'll never be able to look at a obese person taking up two seats on the bus and think, "How can you let yourself get that fat?", because I know exactly how. When you couple distressing life events with the upsetting emotions that can arise from them, it often feels natural to self-medicate with food. If that doesn't make sense to you, read this.
People who have always been rich and thin with a supportive family and friends, access to great nutrition, the best education and private or available healthcare often can't understand what it's like to be poor, homeless, fat, unemployed or sick. That leads them to look at people on the street, obese people, council estate residents, the unemployed, the mentally ill, and drug addicts with contempt, rather than thinking about how they can best be helped.
And that's sad for the people they're disparaging, but it's also sad for them - because imagine being so heartless, privileged and entitled that you can't empathise with people having a tough time. Having difficult experiences saves you from this - something to remember next time you're in the thick of it.
2. Relationship Break-Ups
Break-ups are the worst, especially when they're unexpected and you were deeply emotionally attached to the person. But before you throw yourself in front of the nearest milk float, remember that you're far from alone: 42% of marriages end in divorce, and I suspect another 42% are struggling along, leaving only 16% that are truly happy.
You know those newspaper reports about serial killers that state, "The suspect was a loner with a string of failed relationships"? Guess what - we all have a string of failed relationships! Virtually no one ties the knot with the first person they go out with. Human beings are difficult, unpredictable and unfathomable, and relationships can be incredibly tough.
Now you have the chance to find someone you're better matched with from among the 5 billion or so adults on Earth. Maybe they won't have all the annoying habits your ex had, and maybe you'll learn from the mistakes you made in your last relationship. And in the meantime: FREEDOM!
3. Your Child Being a Nightmare
My daughter was an absolute delight this past weekend, but she threw a hysterical tantrum at my friend John when he came to collect her on Sunday afternoon: "I hate you and I hope you die! I hope you get thrown in Azkaban and the dementors suck your soul out and you never feel happy again!" (Yes, she's currently into Harry Potter.)
Ordinarily, I'm the target of her intermittent wrath. The plus side to this, aside from being impressed by her creative insults and life never being boring, is that - while I still miss her when she's not with me - I can think of her screaming fits and feel slightly better about not having her living with me all the time. (Full-time parents: maybe you can apply this to any days when you're not with your kids?)
Also, psychologists say that tantrums are a sign that your child feels safe with you. It's much better that they feel able to express their feelings than that they're scared to do so.
4. Horrible Bosses
My current boss is amazing: funny, honest, kind and thoughtful. I'm lucky enough to have great colleagues too. I can recognise this because I've had some pretty awful bosses and colleagues in the past.
There was the girl who sat next to me for a year, coming out with an endless stream of reasons why she hated people in general and her job in particular (which also happened to be my job); the editor who insisted I never left early to catch my train, even though I always arrived way before anyone else and had finished all the work that could be done, forcing me to sit at my desk for half an hour at the end of each day watching my colleagues work; the psychotic team leader who screamed at people for no reason, rushed to the toilet every ten minutes and came back rubbing her nose, and who answered compliments with a deadly serious, "Yes, I am very good at my job."
What can difficult work colleagues teach us about life? Well, firstly, they're a primer on how not to be. I make a massive effort to be cheerful, reasonable and quiet-ish every day, even though I don't always feel like being like that and it can be an effort, because I know how deeply annoying it is when people are negative, unreasonable, loud and self-aggrandising.
(And it's a cast-iron fact that no one in a British office is ever going to take you to task you about your behaviour, unless you run around the department naked screaming swear words. I certainly didn't tell the above people that their behaviour was getting to me!)
Secondly, maybe these terrible colleagues will push you to get a new job with nicer people, a better working atmosphere, a pay rise and a fancier job title - and then you'll appreciate your lovely new colleagues more. That can only be a win.
Lastly, dreadful colleagues teach us resilience, patience, tolerance and people skills. In my case, they also taught me never to do cocaine, and to wear headphones and listen to loud music at work.