Firstly, I hope you and all those you love have had the happiest of Christmases.

Published: 27 December 2022

Secondly, I believe that the United Kingdom’s prospects are a great deal better than the doom-mongers claim.

They usually are. Bad news sells: good news doesn’t.

Coming up to 2023, we’ve been so inundated with gloomy reports and predictions that I was delighted to see a cheerful article by Daniel Finkelstein in praise of optimism (‘Don’t fall for gloomy tales of British decline’) pop up in The Times last week.

I have to declare my bias: I have a cheerful disposition.

Even though I spend a lot of my professional life urging good people to take a hard line against the bad and being deeply critical of utopianism and ideologies that ignore the reality that is flawed human nature, I do look on the bright side.

Some people are cheered by this: others are maddened. I treasure a card showing a couple tied to a railway track. As from around a corner a train chuffs towards them, one is saying to the other: ‘It’s your confounded optimism I can’t stand’. This was a not very subtle rebuke from a friend who had declared herself fed up with my resemblance to ‘Pollybloodyanna’.

Coming from a bookish home, I read a lot of old-fashioned children’s stories and imbibed from them a respect for such old-fashioned values as resilience, courage, stoicism and not making a fuss, as in ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones/But words shall never hurt me’.

(It’s no wonder I came to like unionists.)

The 1913 novel Pollyanna had introduced me to an American 11-year-old penniless orphan whose clergyman father had taught her a priceless lesson about how to make the best of difficult circumstances. When she was sad when the missionaries’ barrel of gifts yielded her not the doll she had been hoping for but crutches, she learned to be glad she didn’t need them.

She passed on that philosophy to others far and wide. Including me.

Even with such a terrible happening as Putin’s war, it is possible to rejoice that his wickedness has unified the West.

In the United Kingdom we can be proud that it was the ever-optimistic Boris Johnson who took the lead in rallying support for Ukrainians, whom most experts had claimed would be crushed within days under the Russian heel.

Finkelstein points out that pessimists are ridiculous in claiming that “nothing works in the United Kingdom any more”. Inflation is coming down, which is good news for the cost-of-living crisis, an international phenomenon caused mainly by Covid and Putin.

“By any standards,” he pointed out “global comparison, historical comparison, simple observation — we live in a country that is remarkably stable and prosperous, one that is relatively peaceful and secure, law abiding and lawful. Technological advances are dizzying; creativity is extraordinary”.

In the last year we have buried a beloved queen, but despite the sniping from California, saw in the King’s sensitive speech on Christmas Day how smoothly the thousand-year-old monarchy has changed heads of state.

In a world of sectarian turmoil, he showed warmth towards all religious traditions and none with his comment that the uniting theme is that of “light overcoming darkness”.

In Northern Ireland, we should be rejoicing that polls show that religion no longer dictates voting choices.

Parliament dealt with political upheavals by peacefully removing two prime ministers. The latest one, Rishi Sunak, like several Cabinet ministers, is of recent immigrant stock.

The UK has a superb record of integrating foreigners, who unlike the embarrassed natives, unselfconsciously declare their pride and gratitude towards their new country.

Finkelstein, a Conservative peer, is the child of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. He quotes Martin Seligman, an American Jewish proponent of what he calls “positive psychology” who believes that optimism can be learnt.

“The defining characteristic of pessimists is that they tend to believe bad events will last a long time, will undermine everything they do, and are their own fault. The optimists… tend to believe defeat is a temporary setback…[and] not their fault…Confronted by a bad situation, they perceive it as a challenge and try harder.”

Let us all attempt that in 2023.

Happy New Year.

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