Sarah Sands: Reasons to be cheerful – we're stoical, inventive and we cope in the rain

Wars rage and poverty persists, but for most of us life is unremarkable, which is something for which we should all be very grateful.
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The Independent Online

You must have noticed how juicy and abundant the blackberries are this year? Apparently, summer conditions have been just right: mild, sunshine and showers. It may not have been a barbecue summer, but it has not been a wash out. Some days have been glorious. And even in late August the grass is still green rather than pale and parched.

The disappointment is because of unrealistic expectations. Did we imagine, because we decided to stay in Britain, that we could create Mediterranean conditions on our dear, damp coastline? Why should Wales try to pretend it is Tuscany?

I went on holiday to Cornwall, so each day was planned tentatively. I can't tell you how cold the water was – really can't, because I never went in. If it were fine, and the wind dropped, we might go to look for basking sharks. That boat never sailed. Indeed, I removed my jumper only for one afternoon. So, we are renting again next year. Hope prevails.

Anyway, look what happens if you take holidays seriously and sunbathe on decks of yachts in the Mediterranean. You end up with damaged skin like Kate Moss, as the Daily Mail public-spiritedly showed us in a close up photograph. Or snapped with your top off, like Peter Mandelson, courtesy again of the Mail .

I think we have found our North European inner selves this summer. There is an increase in endurance rather than fun sports – hiking and climbing and swimming. I've been getting daily bulletins from two family members cycling across Britain. They take a grim pleasure in the thigh chafing and the steep hills and arriving soaked to the skin at a bed and breakfast that has just stopped serving supper. The service was much worse than in the metropolis but the mood was better. London, to adapt a friend's description of Christopher Hitchens, is clever but is not always kind.

I have always suspected hikers are the happiest people because there is so much effort for the reward. A dismal aspect of our intolerably bleak summer reading of the short life of Peter Connelly – Baby P – was the disintegration of his mother Tracey into an amoebic mass of appetites. She wanted sex and booze and cigs and internet gambling. She existed in a state of self-pity, escapism and short-term fixes.

Cheerfulness rarely emerges from introspection and never from undirected hedonism. Pleasure is an art and a discipline. The lack of repentance among the adults closest to Peter Connelly, the sapping epidemic of swine flu among the general population, the lengthening roll of dead and injured soldiers in Afghanistan, the rapturous reception in Tripoli for the convicted Pan Am bomber Abdelbaset al- Megrahi, form a gravitational pull of misery.

The reason I am cheerful is that I believe that disorder eventually corrects itself. It comes tragically too late for some people, but even wars end. I had lunch the other day with an army commander who had been in the thick of fighting in Afghanistan. He said that although we have no date for leaving, there will be a slow fading of Afghanistan from the public agenda after a pragmatic, transitional phase. The turnout for the election was not so much lower than in Britain. The Afghan army and police may yet triumph over the Taliban. Richard Holbrooke says that we will know success when we see it. Perhaps success is when we turn our attention elsewhere – Somalia or Yemen. Peace is relative. Just, please, no more round numbers for dead soldiers.

Economic chaos also passes. The most cheerful phrase around is "green shoots". When it was used seasonally in March by Baroness Shriti Vadera, it was seen as a political gaffe. Now the phrase is springing up everywhere. The City is powering itself up again. It may lack humility but that was never in its nature. The system survived. Cheerfulness is often just relief that the worst is over.

It is always romantics who feel despair. The dogged and the realistic have a better chance of cheerfulness. People, like economies, are resilient and resourceful. I am impressed by the refusal of graduates to submit to their rotten deck of cards. If there are not the jobs, then they will embark on further education. If there are not the courses available, then they will look in a different direction. Two young relatives of mine left university this summer. One is in a band, performing where he can, the other is acting on the Edinburgh fringe. For once, nobody is telling them to get "proper jobs". The proper jobs have vanished. You stand as good a chance doing what you really want to do in this climate.

Which brings me to an unexamined, but cheerful economic phenomenon. While unemployment among the under-25s has risen, there has not been a corresponding rise in benefit claims. It may be that enough parents are capable of financially supporting their children. It could be that the young have found cash-in-hand black market jobs. Perhaps an economically significant group is volunteering in undeveloped countries, on expenses only. The culture of "signing on" among the young looks out of fashion. Adversity has produced young men and women of spirit and ingenuity.

Rory Stewart, adventurer, diplomat, chronicler of Afghanistan and now Tory candidate, says that what drew him back to Britain was the attitude of the young British volunteers who came to help him with his restoration project in Kabul. He recognised it as a reflection of national character – humorous, uncomplaining, outward-looking.

The young are also more community minded than some of their elders. They have re-invented allotments and knitting. About 100 skaters rode past my house the other day chattering and laughing. London is full of groups of cyclists. Derelict spaces are occupied by gardeners and artists. Even our graffiti is touched by genius in the figure of Banksy. Green shoots are part of human nature.

The worst-case scenario rarely happens. Social networking and twittering did not reduce the nation to autism but reinforced the notion of society. The "We Love the NHS" twitters did not amount to an intellectual argument but did capture the sentiment at the heart of it. We can love institutions, as we do other people, for all their faults.

Most important of all, we have the capacity for private happiness. Our cheerfulness is not dependent on the state. It is not up to David Cameron to instruct us in optimism or for Gordon Brown to beckon us to an existence of duty and strife. Patriotic happiness arises more naturally from sport than through Government.

Sublime happiness comes from personal relationships. Shockingly, but life-enhancingly, these can blossom in the midst of tragedy. As W H Auden wrote in "Musée des Beaux Arts", suffering takes place "while someone else is eating, or opening a window or just walking dully along". Suffering is rarely universal. We should sympathise with the misfortune of others, but it is vulgar and self-centred to claim it as our own.

The cultural climate favours drama and unhappiness but it does not mean that it is the natural human state. For every Amy Winehouse there are thousands of well-adjusted young women. Even the rich and the famous are more cheerful than not.

It is the role of the media to look for catastrophes and miracles, but human beings mostly jog along a middle course. In Britain we have all the conditions for cheerfulness; inventiveness, a charitable tradition, humorous stoicism and a dull old climate.

The rules for happiness are simple and unavoidable. Hard work, marriage ,consideration for others, gardening. We are free to reject all of these, but we are chasing phantoms.

Who could not be cheerful with the first chill of autumn in the evenings? Those who suffer from depression cannot distinguish between the days. Yet our weather is a constant surprise. I go to work at dawn having no idea what the day will be like. I am sure that our British fashion sense is so inventive because we are dressing on our wits.

A sunny day is a caprice, not an entitlement. We should never have imagined this was to be a Mediterranean summer and must remember that we are better off in Shakespearean comedy than Greek tragedy. We have never had it so good-enough-to-be-getting-on-with.

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