"Nobody ever said life was easy," my Mum once told me. "But that doesn't mean it's not worth the effort."
That advice has been a pretty good guide to me so far. It has helped keep me plodding on at times when, quite frankly, it would have been easier to simply give up, curl up into a ball of self-pity and hide in the corner.
Though generally I consider myself a lucky person, there have been times when it was tempting to just stop in my tracks, flop to the floor, dissolve into tears and wail "Go'way. Leame 'lone!" to any well-meaning passers-by who encourage me to get up and carry on.
It's tempting - but you don't do it, do you?
We can all find reasons to feel sorry for ourselves. No life is without sorrow, real or imagined. And perhaps that's the way it should be? How else can we appreciate the good times if there are no bad times to throw them into bright sparkling contrast?
Though a lucky person, I could find plenty of reasons to feel despondent:
it's sometimes hard work being a transplanted Brit - I'll always be an outsider and nothing can change that;
I constantly battle between my pride in being different and my desperate desire to 'belong';
my self-esteem takes a hit every time I pass a mirror or see an unkind photo of myself;
my three soul sistahs (they should know who they are) are in the UK and it's been years since we were face-to-face;
I can't just pop in for a cuppa and natter with my Mum whenever I feel like it;
I still feel a failure because my first marriage went pear-shaped in the blink of an eye;
I miss my Dad desperately, nearly four years after cancer claimed him, and have no faith in the hereafter to offer comfort for that loss;
money is tight and it looks like it always will be;
my body is starting to betray me in ways I never knew before;
there are things I have never done and now never will;
I worry that people only pretend to like me;
I'm constantly waiting to be exposed as a fraud as folk discover I'm not really smart, funny, nice or interesting after all;
I don't get enough time with my Other Half and too many conversations are fraught with tension and worry;
I feel like the supporting cast in the drama of my life, rather that the female lead I yearn to be...
My woes are really not so bad. They're just what life is all about. But what I'm trying to say is that we all can find reasons to be miserable. Indeed, some make it their life's work (see http://shemeanswellbut.blogspot.com/2009/05/athens-portraits-eternal-martyr.html).
So why is it that some of the most positive people you will meet are those who have much more than their fair share to deal with? The terminally-ill who savour every sight, sound and sensation to its full. The young woman robbed of her mobility by a drunk driver, who now coaches an Under-16s wheelchair basketball team. The clinically-depressed who find a reason to get out of bed every day. The hippy chick who turned the triple-whammy of losing her job, relationship and home into a new beginning filled with the promise of new fruits and potential.
Maybe the reason is that those positive people have discovered that happiness does not lie in the big picture, but in the details?
The Big Picture is almost universally depressing - global warming, human rights trampled the world over, children abused, youth disengaged and disenchanted, wars raging every second of every day, world pandemics (real and imagines), financial collapse, urban isolation, rural decay.... the list goes on.
It's a wonder we don't all give up and jump off the nearest tall building. And yet we don't. Why?
Because happiness is not a reflection of the world around us. It's a mirror of what's going on within us, and it's also a state of mind.
As hinted at in the experiment in cheerfulness started this week (http://scienceofhappiness.co.uk), the secret is in the little things. The Science of Happiness asks participants to identify a single thing from the past 24 hours, every day. It could be the best cup of coffee, the smell of a fresh-mown lawn, a smile from a friend, or a moment of uninhibited silliness when no-one is looking (at least I hope no-one's looking when I bounce around the house belting out 'It's raining men' by the divine Weather Girls!). Then, throughout your day, think of that moment of happiness - and it should automatically raise your spririts, no matter how tough things might seem.
"Yeah, right" I hear you say. All very well when you're slaving away at a job you hate, it's pissing down, the cat's thrown up on your bed, kids are screaming, the car's broken down, your feet are covered with blisters and the Webster's Dictionary definition of pain has taken up residence in the whole left side of your head.
Believe me, I KNOW how hard it can be to think positive on days like that.
But what have you got to lose? It's worth a try. It doesn't have to be much, but just thinking about some of the things that make me smile did for me when I put together my own list (http://shemeanswellbut.blogspot.com/2009/05/reasons-to-be-cheerful.html) a while ago.
Life never WAS intended to be easy. The most rewarding things are often the most exhausting (just think of raising kids, or conquering that IKEA flat-pack construction). But we don't give up. The feeling of satisfaction when Junior does you proud, or when you finally get to put your knick-knacks in the new bookcase, would be nothing if we hadn't sworn and struggled over the nappies, homework and Allen keys to get there.
One of my favourite comics/actors, Eddie Izzard, seems to have the same 'keep on going' approach. Though known for plenty of things, his sporting prowess is not one of them. And yet, he is running more than a marathon EVERY DAY around the UK for the next 6 weeks or so, to raise money for Sport Relief. The first week brought blog shots of epic blisters - and yet he kept on going, fosusing on the good things of the experience and not the agony underfoot. (You can follow his blog and sponsor him for a great cause at http://www.eddieizzard.com/news/view.php?Id=38)
So, make the effort and get happy.
And if all else fails - smile (people will wonder what you've been up to).