Last week, I wrote about creating daily highlights to help us through the dark, cold and damp months of winter.

In this column, I’m sticking with the subject of highlights or, to be more precise, compensations when the going gets tough. 

It might not be very Christmassy to say this, but as we grow older, we do have to deal with a lot of loss – loss of parents and partners, and frequently a loss of some of the fitness we once had.

Unfortunately, all this loss, which is invariably difficult, weighs even more heavily on us at this time of year.

As you’re aware, I’m constantly extolling the positives of ageing, but we all know it’s not a perpetual bundle of laughs, because there are negatives too. 

However, in the midst of sorrow or disappointment, it’s common to find comic moments or indeed to gain a different and more engaged perspective on life. 

Recently, I read an article in The Sunday Times by Stephen Bleach which featured an interview with academic and writer Robert Douglas Fairhurst.

Both men have Multiple Sclerosis. Interestingly, in the piece, they acknowledged that they had experienced some compensation from having MS, though they both stopped well short of saying they were pleased to have contracted it.

Fairhurst commented, “I was sleepwalking through much of my life. I was on autopilot. Now I take pleasure in small things.”

And Stephen Bleach added, “I think I’m happier too.”

At first this might seem strange, but it’s a big part of human nature to want to uncover some reason, or meaning, or benefit from life’s reverses. And certainly, it’s not unusual for adversity to somehow sharpen our appetite for life.

I follow a woman on Twitter who’s documenting her struggle from alcoholism to sobriety.

There’s no doubt this is terrifically hard, but she’s beginning to see bonuses such as how much money she’s saving now she’s no longer buying booze, and how much kindness  and love is coming her way from friends and family.

This must feel different and heartening because, let’s face it, when your focus is entirely on how and when you can have your next drink, you probably don’t notice when others show affection or try to help you. 

George, a friend of mine, has had a different kind of struggle.

In his case it was to get his type 2 diabetes under control.

He has actually managed to reverse his diagnosis, so that is a massive compensation for all his effort. And he’s become a real convert to eating wisely and exercising regularly.

More than that, he’s determined to stick to his new regime because he knows it could extend his active life.

However, he has also realised that he could have altered his lifestyle much earlier and saved himself and his family from so much trauma. “For years I’ve ignored all advice and eaten too much junk and been a couch potato,” he said.

“I’m lucky that my recent changes have been effective, but I should have done this for myself years ago. I wish I had.” 

Perhaps his story will inspire other readers to improve their habits in time to lengthen their health span and indeed their lives.  

Many individuals of course are struggling with other people’s illnesses rather than 
their own, and this week I’ve been talking with a former colleague who is nursing a dying spouse.

We spoke about finding upsides to the situation, because there are always some, and it’s helpful to notice and celebrate them. 

For example, many couples discover a special pleasure in their companionship now that they are together much more and have both stopped rushing around and leading hectic lives.

Severe illness keeps you in one place and sometimes there is a sense of contented peace in that. 

I also told this lady about a sense of surprising joy after my husband suffered a stroke on Christmas Day in 2016. I’ll never forget our heightened emotions after this event, which might have killed him.

As he gradually recovered, we experienced an intense excitement in each other’s company. I suppose it was relief. But we both acknowledged that we had never been more powerfully in tune, and in love, than we were that week.

I often think of it, and it remains a consolation. 

So, if you’re going through something awful now and are perhaps doing all you can to cope with upheaval and sadness relating to your own health or that of a parent or partner, I wish you strength and comfort.

And if you are someone who is fearful that you may not shape up and be competent when bad things happen to you or your family, I want to reassure you that most of us do amazingly well when the worst happens.

Whatever your situation, I hope you will take heart from this column today.

The truth is that we have a capacity to feel happiness in sorrowful moments and to find benefits and a sense of compensation in them, which can help enormously.