Do you think that the world is generally becoming a better place?
No? Then you’re in good company.
If you asked a hundred people the same question, there’s a good chance that a significant majority of them would give a negative response.
But why? What is it that makes most people so pessimistic about the world we live in? Why is it so hard to recognize all the wonderful progress that we are making as a society?
That’s what we’ll try and answer below…
Is Life Actually Getting Better?
This is a tough question to answer because life is, generally speaking, a personal thing. When asked this question, you will most probably respond based upon your experience of life and your perception of the world around you.
By doing so, you are only basing your decision on the limited, personal knowledge you have about the people and events in your life. You might consider your health, wealth, happiness, lifestyle, relationships, etc.
But what about if we take a step back and look beyond our own personal bubbles at the bigger picture? What then?
Well, despite a slight recent increase due to the ongoing conflicts around the world in countries such as Syria and Yemen, deaths from war have been on a downward trend for decades.
Rates of violent crime in the US have plummeted since the 1990s, global poverty rates continue to fall, life expectancy across Africa has risen by almost a decade in less than 20 years thanks to major successes in the fight against AIDS and malaria, and major killers in developed countries, such as cancer and heart disease, are on the decline.
2016 was a great year for so many different reasons, regardless of how you feel about the political movements that took place. While the human race still faces massive challenges – not least from climate change and the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation – we can safely say that life, when viewed from a global perspective, is getting better.
Why All The Doom And Gloom Then?
There are, then, many reasons to be cheerful when you look at human life from a planetary point of view. But perhaps that’s the problem – our minds struggle to consider such grand scales and our egos struggle to care.
The challenges of everyday life are enough for most people to contend with, so the great strides being made elsewhere in the world just don’t get the time of day. Or at least, that’s one theory…
Alas, as easy as it might be to blame our busy lives and daily struggles, this can only be a part of the puzzle as to why it doesn’t feel like life is getting better. For a start, most of us will still take at least some time each day to read/watch/listen to the news. Very rarely are we so wholly absorbed with our own lives that we don’t catch something of big world events.
And here we find another reason why many of us are so pessimistic about the general state of affairs: most media is driven primarily by fear, violence, outrage, and negativity. It’s a wonder how anyone can remain upbeat after indulging in mainstream news. And yet we keep on consuming it day after day.
Why? Is it because we are all masochists who derive some sort of weird pleasure from inflicting such negativity upon ourselves? Or is it FOMO – the fear of missing out on some important event and not having the necessary knowledge to talk about it with colleagues/friends/family members? Could this be driving a collective obsession with bad news?
Either way, the news outlets know what sells – you want negativity, you get it. Headlines about some horrific event or pending disaster are rife while column inches and air time dedicated to upbeat stories are limited.
Or could it be that most of us are hard-wired pessimists that can’t help but pay more attention to all things depressing? Perhaps.
The Theory Of Adjustment
We are, as a species, incredibly adaptable to changes in our environment. Just think about what it is like to move house and have all new rooms with unfamiliar layouts; at first you can’t find anything and it all feels a bit alien to you, but after a week or two, suddenly it begins to feel like home and you can’t really picture yourself anywhere else.
Maybe life doesn’t feel like it is getting any better because we simply adapt to any improvements in our circumstances and reset the baseline from which we measure change. We just get used to better healthcare, increases in wealth, and more stable relationships, and forget that we have, in fact, benefitted from them.
This, then, is one good reason why you should look back at bygone times and truly evaluate the progress and general improvement that has taken place in your life. Only in this way can you pull the wool from your eyes and be grateful for the positive steps forward that you and society have made.
Does Gloom Lead To Doom?
Much like the proverbial chicken and egg scenario, you have to wonder what came first the doom or the gloom? Now clearly there are many bad things that happen in this world (the doom) and they are typically very complex events. When these bad things happen, it is natural to be saddened by them (the gloom).
Flip things around, however, and could it be that your despairing attitude in some way contributes to the negative things that happen to you?
Some believe that the entire universe works in energy and frequencies and that you attract what you give off (this will be familiar to anyone who has come across the idea of a universal law of attraction). Whether or not this is true, how you think and act will inevitably impact your life.
If you come from a place of negativity, if you believe bad things are about to happen, it can actually cause them to. And this is true in all sorts of areas of your life. In our article on the mind-body link, we explained how your thoughts – and the resulting feelings that come from them – can influence your physical health and wellbeing.
The same is often true in personal relationships. How many times have you thought or acted in a pessimistic manner towards a friend, partner, or family member and then experienced a breakdown in that relationship?
In the world of work and careers, a negative attitude about the state of your job or company can be very visible to your colleagues and boss. You might just put your position in jeopardy simply by believing it already is (even when it’s not). Or, if you are looking for work, entering a job interview believing you don’t stand a chance is almost certainly going to be a major factor in you NOT being offered the position – it will be evident to whoever is conducting the interview.
Across the full spectrum of life, it is very possible to bring about negative events simply by believing that they are somehow inevitable.
Of course, it could be that none of the above reflects reality. Maybe we are generally upbeat, optimistic people after all. There is certainly some evidence to suggest this. Could it be that part of our psyche looks for the bad while the other focuses on the good? Does your answer to the question “is life getting better?” depend on which part is currently in control?
Whatever the case may be, the data points strongly towards a positive trend in most aspects of human civilization. So whether it feels like it not, life really is getting better.
Does it feel like life is getting better to you? Does any of the above make sense? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts and perspectives.