Happiness an illusion we kid ourselves about on a regular basis.

Oh yes, it exists, in bubbles and baubles—like pearls on a string, sometimes many pearls together, sometimes stretched out with mundane filler or truly ugly bits and bobs.

But as a permanent state, no. Happiness is always in flux. It’s not something we can achieve and hold onto if we just cultivate the right attitude of mind. I don’t care how much positive thinking you try to stream through your existence, life will always throw something in your way that trips you up. The power of positive thinking is a good thing, a great thing even, but there are also times when it’s just another form of denial.

Or narcissism: “The world revolves around me and I control all its forces with my Powerful, Positive Mind.” Then it becomes something of a cult, and those are never good.

Happy times are blessings that shouldn’t be taken for granted, but the pendulum always swings the other way. We have to accept that and walk through the shadows.

I try to cultivate an attitude of hopeful acceptance: accepting that the pendulum has swung into a dark place, but hoping that if I go through the dark and allow myself to fully experience it without telling myself I don’t feel it, without beating myself up with toxic “shoulds,” without haranguing myself about my bootstraps and their potential lift, that eventually I will walk through and emerge into light.

There isn’t any easier path. And telling people to cheer up when they’re struggling is another form of toxicity. I will say, in my experience, that the path of walking the shadows can be a peculiarly satisfying path—if you survive it. You walk, you survive, you’re ready to start again. It isn’t easy, and it isn’t a straight path, and hard not to lose your way and head in the wrong direction. But even the wrong direction can be part of the path.

Nothing puritanical here. I’m not talking about clinical depression. Everybody needs help sometimes and there is no shame in asking for it. Only fools—as intransigent as the “always positive thinking” fools—believe they can do it all on their own.

I’m trying to convince myself of that even as I write this.

I have faith in sunshine, though. I catch its faint glint far down the tunnel and believe I am heading in the right direction.