It turns out that optimism is good for our health.
A new study shows optimists can cope better with stress and so, are more likely to live longer.
The epitome of British optimism is our music festivals, which a quarter of all adults attended this past year, optimistically buying tickets in October, hoping for sun in August.
Adult festival-goers sometimes dress as broccoli, mermaids or just their best sequined selves, creating an alternative reality of pleasure but also, of purpose. Each year our family heads to Shambala Festival, with its strap-line, “Adventures in Utopia. Act Now”. Utopia and action may seem mismatched – but these beautifully encapsulate a Jewish idea that the meaning of life is the unceasing, positive belief that we can and must change the world.
But optimism has to be realistic. At Shambala, sessions on climate change reminded us of the seriousness of our situation. An optimistic response needs to be based on hope in the possibility of change and information about what’s realistic.
You can’t change things if you believe that things can’t be changed.
This isn’t blinkered naivety as we know that life can be excruciatingly hard. The 18th century Rabbi, Nachman from Bratslav taught that no matter how low a person has fallen, there exists an indestructible, even very tiny part that can re-grow and can form the basis for new life. He says that our task is to find that indestructible part within ourselves, that essence, that no misfortune can erase and to bind ourselves to it, to concentrate on it and allow it to make us happy. When we find ourselves as individuals or communities, in the seemingly most hopeless situations, we may heal if we focus on the pure, indestructible, redeeming feature that exists in each and every one of us, and use it to rebuild ourselves. The route to joyfulness is through recognizing our brokenness.
At festivals and weddings, the Torah commands us to eat, drink, be happy, dance, and relish life. But Judaism is not holy hedonism, we can have adventures in Utopia but only if accompanied by action.
This weekend starts the run up to our festival season, when we’re commanded to be joyful but we also must repent and make atonement, caring for the stranger, the orphan and the widow.
Adventures in Utopia could be a possibility but, as they say at Shambala, only if we act now.