The other day when I said goodbye to an old friend who had been staying with me, it was with mixed feelings. This person is a kind and good person, ever helpful, and willing to put herself out for anyone in need. We go back a long way, and old ties tend to endure. Besides that, she now lives abroad, and I knew that it would be some time before we met again. Not surprisingly, considering all this, there was a measure of regret in seeing her leave. On the other hand, I'm ashamed to admit that what I felt more strongly at her departure was an overwhelming sense of relief. There was a reason for this. This friend takes such a gloomy view of life in general and her own in particular that after some time in her company, it is well nigh impossible to prevent the gloom from washing over me. 'Nothing goes well for me,' is her constant refrain. 'It is my karma.'
I am the first to admit that it always helps to discuss a problem with a sympathetic friend. The very act of unburdening yourself to someone close to you who has your welfare at heart has a therapeutic effect. There is undoubtedly comfort to be derived from talking to those who worry with you and for you. But the constant need to bolster the spirits of someone who persists in taking a depressing view of everything imposes an emotional strain that over time drains one's optimism. The truth is that everyone's attitude to life is infectious and despondency is as catching as cheerfulness.
It is extraordinary how people view the same sort of events differently. Take for example the case of two acquaintances I know whose husbands retired at about the same time. Both families were reasonably well off, but nevertheless had to move into homes that were much smaller than the ones they had occupied till then. The two women reacted in a totally different way to their new situation. While one moaned and groaned about the house she and her husband had moved into, of how cramped they were, of how there was no garden, of how isolated they felt, and so on, the other spoke of how convenient it was to have a smaller place to look after, of how pleasant and helpful the neighbours were, of how well placed they were in terms of shops and cinemas.
When I was young, we used to be irritated by the constantly optimistic. We spoke derisively of such people as Pollyannas, after the character in a schoolgirl series of books who always saw the bright side of things. Now with the advantage of age and experience, I know that those who are determined to look for the break in the clouds, in anticipation of the blue skies beyond, are the ones who will discover a sunny road ahead, and take their friends along it. Give me any day someone with a happy disposition rather than a gloom and doom merchant who, like my friend, affects those around them with the contagion of their persistent despondency.