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Andrea McLean: “Looking For Happiness In A Dark Time Is Vital For All Of Us”

3 MIN READ • 21st March 2023

Our columnist and Loose Women presenter Andrea McLean reveals how she and her family have been looking for positives in 2020

When we think back on 2020, one of the questions that I think it’s important to ask ourselves is: “How and where did we manage to find joy?” In the midst of it all; the fear, the grief, the anger and the unknown, what were the little things that taught you a life-changing lesson or brought you happiness? If you’ve picked your phone up to rage at me that it is selfish and wrong to look for positivity at a time when the world has rocked with pain – pause, read the rest of this before judging.

Looking for joy and happiness in a time of darkness is vital for all of us, because it is when things are going terribly that we must look for the little things that have gone right. As someone who has felt this darkness, I know how immensely difficult this can seem, and how incredibly important it is that we do it.

In my kitchen at home we have a tall glass jar. It sits on our counter-top, next to a pad of multicoloured post-it notes and a pen. This is our jar of happiness, where the whole family writes down anything that has happened to them that they are happy about or grateful for, dated at the top, then folded over and popped inside. On New Year’s Eve or Day, depending on when everyone is home, we sit at our kitchen table and pour the post-it notes out, each taking turns to pick up a brightly-coloured square and read it out. This year, our tall jar is filled to the brim, because it was more important than ever that we took the time to notice and celebrate the things that went right rather than ruminating over the things that went wrong.

Our jar includes my teenage daughter Amy getting into a dance class she wanted to join after school, but was nervous about trying out for in case she wasn’t good enough. We encouraged her to try anyway – what did she have to lose? She got in, loves it, and has reconnected with some friends she hasn’t seen since primary school. It’s a simple class but it meant a lot to her, so it means a lot to us. My son getting into the university of his choice is in the jar. It was a stressful time; like thousands of students, he couldn’t take his A-Levels and was left in limbo for a time. He has now left home, and while he’s not having the experience he would have had a year ago, he’s grateful to be there, making new friends, sharing new beginnings during a time that will go down in history.

For me, this year has been life-changing in a way I could never have imagined. It marked 12 months since having a nervous breakdown that culminated in suicidal thoughts and, thankfully, unsuccessful actions. This is a year I was grateful to experience, and thankful that I did so feeling mentally and physically strong. I am grateful that I was able to articulate everything I went through and then pass on the incredible support and advice I was given in a book that I completed during lockdown; not knowing what strange new world it would be published in. That book has gone on to change women’s lives, and in one instance, to save the life of a woman who reached out to tell me and thank me. Finally, opening up and sharing not only the problems I faced, but the solutions I found to them, has been life-changing for me also. It’s stopped me being afraid of being judged for failing, for showing women that they don’t have to wear a mask of perfection, of coping, of smiling through and saying: “I’m fine!” when they are anything but.

So, as this year draws to a close, I am thankful that I am here to feel the wintry sun on my face, to smell my favourite candle and savour the taste of my morning cup of coffee. This year has given me the strength to say ‘enough is enough’ to things that no longer serve me and walk away from them, not knowing what the outcome will be. You see, no one could have seen this year coming. No one could have prepared for it. Which is the very thing that has given me the courage to start 2021 afresh; nervously excited, doing things my way, and on my terms. I have no idea what next year will bring, but I will look for the joy and the lessons to be learned from it. Because isn’t that all any of us can do?

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