Judaism and The Comfort Book.
Can Matt Haig’s book help you?
Times are tough and we are all coping with uncertainty and loss. The pandemic has led to a great rise in popularity of self-help books dealing with trauma and mental health. Clearly many people are suffering. Matt Haig, author of The Comfort Book adds his compassionate voice offering hope and encouragement in his “warm hug of a book” as described by one reviewer. It became an immediate NY Times bestseller, and named the best feel-good book of 2021 by The Washington Post.
Matt Haig is upfront about his own mental health struggles with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Besides drawing on his own experiences, he shares what inspired him at his lowest points: stories and quotes – about self-acceptance, loving kindness practice and connectedness – from well-known thinkers to others he met from all walks of life.
I wanted to find out if this book really helps, and how much it lines up with my own Jewish philosophy and practice to which I naturally turn in hard times.
Perspective and Choice
Perspective is everything in this book. How you view a situation is the key to how you feel about it. The book gives a number of examples as to how we can use this power to feel better and improve the world.
Free will is a fundamental principle in Judaism; even happiness is a choice. For inspiration we can look to Dr Edith Eva Eger, a psychologist and Holocaust survivor, who embraces and embodies resilience and the power of choice. She survived the concentration camp while choosing to help fellow inmates. She even chose to transcend her hatred for and anger at her captors so as not to be forever imprisoned by these emotions. She teaches others to live while struggling with challenges, not by denying or minimizing, but by choosing to see what is possible no matter what the situation.
Faith and Hope
Jews traditionally pray to God in times of distress. We seek outside intervention, asking for help in the merit of our ancestors and out of God’s mercy. And we have faith that God will respond.
This book focuses on the idea that things constantly change and in this uncertainty there is always the possibility that things will improve. So, there is always reason to hope. And even a small amount of hope can be a strong motivator.
Self-Development and Self-Acceptance
When the problem is how we feel about ourselves, the Jewish paradigm would be to analyze our behavior, delve into our deepest feelings, and become aware of what is holding us back and try to make a change. This is part of the mitzvah of doing teshuva, returning to your true self.
This book is crystal clear on that point. Accept yourself and be yourself. You are enough!
Connectedness and Community
Judaism puts a particular emphasis on the need for community, not just to pray with a minyan or to say kaddish for a loved one, but for everyday life challenges. It dictates how we relate to others in ways large and small and to even to love our neighbors as ourselves. One of the first admonishments in the Torah is that it is not good for a man to be by himself.
The book also speaks of the importance of connectedness – from a species of plant which can only survive in the Artic by its flowers clustering together to the notion that the quickest route to happiness is to make someone else happy. Feeling a part of something larger than oneself helps to dilute the fear of death.
I enjoyed reading The Comfort Book and believe that in these times we need all the help we can get.