Individuals who do not have psychiatric problems but score very high on a personality test pessimism scale have a 30 percent increased risk of developing dementia 2-3 decades later. The same is true of individuals who score very high on the test’s depression scale.
The risk is even higher, 40 percent more, for individuals who score very high on both anxiety and pessimism scales. Dementia is a neurological disorder that affects the ability to think, speak, reason, remember and move. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.
Although it’s common to see personality changes such as pessimism, depression, agitation or withdrawal once a person develops dementia, Mayo Clinic investigators believe that pessimism and depression are more likely to be risk factors for dementia rather than early manifestations of the disease.
The best way to offset pessimism and depression is trust in God. The Quran teaches: “My sons (said Prophet Jacob) go and enquire about Yusuf (Joseph) and his brother (Benjamin), and never give up hope of Allah’s Mercy. Certainly no one despairs of Allah’s Mercy, except people who disbelieve.” [12:87]
To despair of God’s mercy is to abandon hope and become a negative thinker. People who do that will not be open to new opportunities.
All Christians, Jews and Muslims would agree that a truly religious person is someone who trusts in God; strives to persevere in spite of adversity, and waits patiently for times to get better; without turning bitter or becoming filled with despair.
In the Jewish tradition this psychology is best embodied by those Orthodox Jews who call themselves Hassidism. For many people, Hassidic Jews are noticeable because of their Amish like dress and ultra orthodox behavior. But it is their unique stress on trusting God and elevating one’s soul through joyful religious activities that makes them distinctive.
Many of their teachings reflect a trust in God taught by the Quran: “Put your trust in Allah. Allah loves those that trust [in Him].” [Quran 3: 159]
Notice that the actual text does not end [to Him]. If we take the text literally, it states “Allah loves those who trust.” which means that believers themselves have a duty to learn to persevere; and never abandon optimism and hope for the future.
“And give good news to those who persevere, those who say, when a misfortune strikes them, Surely to Allah we belong, and surely to Him we will return, these are the ones on whom blessings from their Lord descend, and mercy, and these are the ones who are rightly guided”. [Quran 2: 155-157]
The following sayings give a taste of the inner spiritual life of Hassidic Jews. One of the most important teachings of Hassidic Rabbis was not to worry about the future or sacrifice present joy because you fear it will not last very long. After all, most things people worry about never occur.
As Rabbi Mordecai of Lekhovitz taught, “We must not worry. Only one worry is OK. We should worry about (always) being worried.” because worrying by itself does not take away tomorrow’s troubles, it only takes away today’s joys and contentment.
Rabbi Moshe of KobrIn taught, “When people suffer they should not say – That’s bad, that’s bad! Nothing that Mother Nature imposes on us is bad. But it is all right to say- That’s bitter! For there are some medicines that are made with bitter herbs.”
Some people are embittered by adversity while others are strengthened by it. How we react depends in large measure on our attitude. Making oneself a victim leads to self-pity, hopelessness and despair. But you do not have to entirely ignore or deny your pain. It is OK to say it’s bitter as long as you also think, I can make something positive from this.
Rabbi Simcha Bunam taught, “Everyone should have two pockets, so you can reach into one or the other according to your needs. In the right pocket should be the words. For my sake was the world created. And in the left pocket the words, I am dust and ashes.”
When we are defeated, depressed, discouraged or down on ourselves we need to remind ourselves that we are created in the image of God. When we are self-centered, insensitive, self-righteous or conceited we need to remind ourselves that we are only one of eight billion human beings on Planet Earth.
As the Quran states; “My servants, you who have transgressed against yourselves, do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Truly Allah forgives all wrong actions. He is the Ever-Forgiving, the Most Merciful.” [Quran 39:53]
As Rabbi Simcha Bunam taught, “The many sins most people commit are not great crimes. The great crime is that every day we are all capable of repentance/change/reform, and we do not do it.”
So Rabbi Shelomo of Karlin taught, “What is the worst thing that Satan can accomplish? To make a person forget that he or she is a child of God.”
Rabbi Nakhman of Bratzlav said: “The whole world is one long narrow bridge, so it is essential not to be afraid.”
And a 20th century German Reform Rabbi said: “Judaism is a religion of ethical optimism.” Where did Rabbi Leo Baeck teach this? When he was in a Nazi concentration camp, with the number 187984 tattooed on his arm.
As the Qur’an states: “Do not lose heart nor fall into despair! You shall triumph if you are believers.” [Quran 3:139]