Editor’s letter: Trust me, life’s a lot better on the bright side

Years ago I was the editor of a young women’s magazine and we were having staff drinks to celebrate some huge sales. We were elated, proud and, to be honest, I couldn’t believe it was happening. I gave a rousing speech to my team, thanking them for their brilliance and dedication and then I added something along the lines of: ‘Enjoy this, because these sales figures are insane – it can’t last.’ One of my staff pulled me aside and said, ‘Jeez, can we not just enjoy this moment?’ She was right. Why was I bringing the Debbie Downer vibes?

I’ll tell you why. I’d spent years training myself to be a ‘glass half-empty’ sort, and I truly thought it was a shrewd form of self-preservation. I used to think that if I always set myself low expectations, if I trained myself to always assume the worst would happen, I’d save a whole lot of heartache and shock when it did. I believed that optimists must be miserable, what with being constantly let down and disappointed when things didn’t go their way. I signed up to the pessimists’ code, that if you never expect good things, you’ll never be blindsided by bad news and – bonus! – you can be pleasantly surprised if things occasionally do go well.

I was proud of being that bleakly cynical about everything – and everyone. But a few years ago, I had the sort of realisation that feels like a mini earthquake going off in your brain and it was this: forcing myself to expect the worst in any situation – losing loved ones, relationship break-ups, career lows – had never once saved me from the pain of it. It took me decades to understand how pointless this ‘strategy’ was. I didn’t avoid heartache and sorrow, and, what’s more, this instinct of mine – to be like a vigilant meerkat, forever scanning the desert horizon for threats – stopped me ever wholeheartedly enjoying anything. There was always a tape looping over in my head: ‘Don’t get comfortable. Things are so good, there must be something awful afoot, any time now.’

What a complete waste of energy. I’m so relieved to have finally realised that actively choosing optimism is much better for your health. Expect the best of situations, of people, of yourself. The worst might indeed happen, but nurturing a knot of dread in your stomach now won’t stop that later. Or make it easier. I read somewhere that optimism is a muscle that, like any other, will grow stronger if you exercise it. Some of you will be reading this, absolutely incredulous that it took me years to figure this out. Our cover star Joanna Lumley could well be among them. In our interview with her, her positive energy really leaps out at you. Her rousing call to remember that people are good and times get better feels practically medicinal right now – and of course it doesn’t hurt that you can’t help hearing her silk and satin voice in your head when you read her quotes.

If you need a bit more than just thinking your way to happiness, travel presenter and countryside enthusiast Julia Bradbury has just the tonic, as she explains here – get walking. Between the two of them, these wise souls might just save our collective sanity today.

Editor’s picks

A few things I’m coveting this week

M&S bra

A genius buy if you need support while you sleep. Bra, £16, marksandspencer.com

speaker

Love it when practical things get stylish. Speaker, £39, Gingko, conranshop.co.uk

jewel and the gang

A gift that keeps on giving for a year! Monthly jewellery subscription, £24*; one-off payment for chain, from £8, jewelandthegang.com

*Special offer until 28 Feb: Enter code HALFPRICE when prompted to get 50% off everything for life.