Justine Swainson, 51, from Cardiff, explains how she turned her frown upside down...
Bad things happen and you can choose to frown about it or smile – and, at the end of 2015, I had to make that choice.
I was about to turn 50, and celebrate my 20th wedding anniversary.
Except my husband had just left me. I hadn’t seen it coming.
‘I haven’t been happy in ages,’ he told me. He just didn’t love me any more.
So, instead of planning a big party or romantic holiday, we were dividing up the CDs and talking to solicitors about a divorce.
Although our marriage was over, I knew my husband had loved me once, so while I felt bitter and angry, I was determined to focus on good memories.
But what I did feel was worse…self-pity.
Come 31 December 2015, I felt 2016 had nothing to offer me.
All I had was a 50th birthday in May, which I didn’t feel like celebrating, and a divorce that was likely to be finalised by April.
But it was New Year’s Eve. A friend had asked me round for a drink and, as she poured the fizz, she asked me…‘What’s your resolution?’
‘Now you’re asking!’ I laughed.
Every New Year’s Eve, I set myself a resolution.
Well, more of a goal.
In the past, I’d vowed to clear out the attic, lose half a stone, join a book club.
Then, don’t ask me where it came from…INSPIRATION!
I’d set myself 50 goals, one for every year I’ve been alive. All the things I’d thought about doing and never done.
‘That’s nearly a challenge a week!’ my friend gasped.
‘Well, it wouldn’t be a challenge if it wasn’t tough!’ I laughed.
That frown I was wearing vanished. I had something new to focus on…
Next morning, I made a list of tasks.
Some simple – donating blood, clearing out my wardrobe, trying caviar.
Some physical– cycling at a velodrome, running the Race for Life.
Some fun – a 50th birthday party, a bingo trip.
And others really scary– getting brave tattooed on my foot and walking over hot coals.
But the first challenge was to buy a copy of the Big Issue. An easy one to start.
Whenever I went to the local Post Office, I passed a person selling the mag. Next time, I’d stop and buy one.
Within a couple of days, I’d ticked it off. And I enjoyed reading it so much, I began buying it all the time.
So challenge one, done. Only 49 to go…
Over the following weeks, I ticked challenge after challenge off.
And, with each one completed, my frown felt more like a distant memory.
Sometimes, friends and family joined me on my challenges. Like when I made a baked Alaska and needed help to eat it.
Other times, I was happy to do my challenges solo. Such as when I climbed Pen-y-fan, the highest peak in South Wales.
I’d always wanted to see the view over the Brecon Beacons but I’d never made the time. Now, that was about to change.
I pulled on my walking boots, packed water and sandwiches, and set off. It took me an hour and a half to walk to the top.
I took a selfie and made myself a promise never to put anything off ever again.
The scariest thing I tried by myself was walking over hot coals at Cardiff Bay, but I did it.
Still, there was one thing I couldn’t do by myself – have a 50th birthday party.
My pals helped sort balloons, music, the cake. And bought gifts, like a helicopter ride, to help with the challenges!
I was so grateful.
By the end of December, I was nearly there. Most importantly, I felt happy, as if there was nothing I couldn’t do. Who cares that I’m 50 and divorced?
My last challenge was last New Year’s Eve, a year to the day that I’d first decided to do it.
Me and my mate Karen drove to the centre of Cardiff.
The plan was for me to give 50 free hugs to 50 strangers.
I made a sign, and stood on a busy street, hoping someone would take me up on my offer.
But so many people wanted a free hug, I reckon I gave out more like 250.
What better way to finish my incredible year than with loads of hugs?
I’ve been smiling non-stop ever since.
Life is short, and can be tough. But if there’s one thing I learned in 2016, it’s that you are responsible for your own happiness.
Whether it’s a new job, a new hair-do, if you want to learn Japanese, climb Mount Everest, or take salsa lessons, just do it.
I promise, you won’t regret it.
Now, what are you waiting for?