A friend of mine has this saying posted on her refrigerator: "In every connection we are either positive or negative. The choice is yours."

Years ago when I worked at a law firm, one of the partners walked by my desk and asked how I was doing. In response I went into a diatribe of all the things wrong in my life. After patiently listening, she said, "Do you have any idea how much you complain?"

I was shocked.

"No," I said, blushing with shame. That conversation changed my life. From that day on, when someone asked me how I was doing, my response was, "I never had it so good," even if I felt like jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge.

My life changed. People smiled upon hearing these words. Some wanted to know why I was so happy. Even if I'd had the worst sleepless night, or had a terrible cold, I grinned and acted as if I didn't have a care in the world. And instead of saying anything about myself, I'd ask "What's going on with you?"

Smiling makes people feel a whole lot better about what is going on in their lives. Not many acquaintances want to hear my hard-luck story of the day. Even really good friends get weary of receiving depressing news all the time. We all have our share of problems. Being a drama queen or self-obsessed with our difficulties gets boring to other people real fast.

Since that fateful day, not only has my response changed, but I've learned to practice random acts of kindness. When someone is ill or going through a bad time, I send them a handwritten note. Also, helping a stranger in some way makes me feel useful.

Something else I've learned is that laughter truly is the best medicine. One of my dearest friends had a terrible accident several years ago, resulting in numerous surgeries and endless pain. Depression captured her mind and soul. Each time we talk I make it my responsibility to cause her to laugh. She often tells me how grateful she is for my friendship.

It has not been easy to consider others before reflecting on myself. My natural tendency is to think it's all about me. With practice, I've learned to listen and talk more about the other's person's problems. When I am seriously upset, I discuss the situation with a few friends with whom I am totally honest. We are there for each other, confident we can depend on good, solid advice.

No matter what happens, the future is bright. I have faith that there are options. The other day I talked to someone who has been presented with the disturbing knowledge that her cancer has returned. Did this woman cry on the phone? Was she hysterical? No. We talked about her looking forward to her daughter's wedding, confident she would be around come July.

Laughing, she said, "If I have to, I'll wear a beautiful wig." We talked about the people who would offer a helping hand. Instead of discussing the negative aspects of her health situation, we discussed how she would spend the time remaining. She believes there are treatments that will slow the onslaught of her disease. Now, that is a positive attitude!

Choosing to be cheerful reminds me of an expression: "I'd rather be happy than right." How true these words are. Life is short. Let's make the best of each day.

On StarNet: Read recent columns by Alexis Powers at azstarnet.com/alexispowers

Email Alexis Powers at northwest@azstarnet.com