Being optimistic isn’t easy today. News feeds shove horrible stories of war, terrorism, disease, and atrocities down your throat every time you look at your phone. Bumper stickers scream If You’re Not Outraged, You’re Not Paying Attention. CNN’s current headlines warn of explosions, army movements, spine injuries, salmonella in baby formula, and that total nuclear destruction is just “one impulsive tantrum away.”
Longer, Healthier, Happier Lives
Humans are primed to pay more attention to the negative than the positive – and there’s plenty of negative in the world. But tweak your perspective just a bit and you’ll see that there are plenty of reasons to be more optimistic. Positive, long-term trends don’t get attention – so the media doesn’t cover them.
“Evidence from academic institutions and international organizations shows dramatic improvements in human well-being. These improvements are especially striking in the developing world. Unfortunately, there is often a wide gap between the reality and public perception” HumanProgress.org aims to compile data from third-parties like the United Nations in order to counter the doom-and-gloom outlook espoused by many today.
Think that the world is worse than ever? Think again.
6 Ways the World Is Getting Better
- In 1800, only 12.5% of the world’s population knew how to read. By 2014, 85.3% of earthlings could read this sentence. (Our World in Data based on OECD and UNESCO)
2. Life Expectancy
Are you over the age of 32? A century ago, you’d be thinking about your funeral. Average life expectancy worldwide has increased from 32 in 1900 to 70 in 2012. (World Health Organization Global Health Histories and World Bank Public Data Explorer)
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Over 50% of people live in democracies today vs. less than 1% in 1816. Two centuries ago, 38% of people lived in colonies and 46% of people lived in autocracies. (World Population by Political Regime They Live In).
With mass shootings, terrorists, and road rage, violent crime seems to be on the rise. But it’s not. In 1982, over 50 out of 1,000 people were victims of violent crimes. By 2009, that number had dropped to 15 in 1,000 people. (Violent Crime, Bureau of Justice Statistics)
5. Child Mortality Rates
Global child mortality rates (for children under 5 years old) have plunged by more than half (53%) since 1990. In 62 countries, child mortality rates have decreased by at least 66% in the same time period. (Levels and Trends in Child Mortality Report, World Health Organization)
- More than one billion people have moved out of extreme poverty since 1990. In 2013, 767 million people lived on less than US$1.90 per day – down from 1.85 billion in 1990. (World Bank Poverty and Shared Prosperity Report)
- The percentage of U.S. citizens living in poverty has been reduced from 22.4% in 1959 to 15% in 2011. (Angus Deaton, The Great Escape, Princeton University Press)
- GDP per capita worldwide has increased from $2,000 in 1900 to $10,070 in 2012 (in 2005 dollars and adjusted for inflation). (World Bank GDP Per Capita)
How to Be More Optimistic
The world isn’t perfect – but by most measurements, it’s a whole lot better now than it has been in the past. Being an optimist is good for your health, and you can change your perspective.
- Read a chapter in a history book. Any history book. Suddenly, your life doesn’t look so bad, eh?
- Practice gratitude. Make it a daily practice to enumerate what you are thankful for. Don’t forget the “basics” like clean water, food to eat, and a safe place to live.
- Don’t automatically check the news throughout the day. Read the headlines once and then focus on something positive – like the fact that you have a refrigerator. Awesome!
- Stop complaining. No one wants to hear it, even your mother, and it drags everybody down – including yourself.
- Surround yourself with optimists. Their positive outlook will rub off on you.
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