With the hurricanes bashing America, the catalogue of terrorist attacks and the fighting talk between Mr Trump and North Korea, it's all too easy to get depressed about the future of the human race. And hot off the press is the CAF World Giving Index,
which shows a decrease across the globe of the % of people claiming to help a stranger, donate money to charity or volunteer time. More bad news.
I read a fascinating article in The Guardian
a few weeks back, which looks in detail at the 'New Optimists'
- a group of academics and commentators who take the fact-based view that, actually, if you look at it longer-term, life for the human race is improving as a whole. Diseases are being eliminated, child mortality is down, literacy is is on the up, there's less poverty and so on. I've blogged before about Hans Rosling
, one of the key figures in this group.
The article gives the New Optimists' main argument for why people are nevertheless pessimistic and fearful for the future: it's an evolutionary one to do with survival. If your default setting is that there's a wild beast about to jump on you and gobble you up, you're more likely to survive long-term than if you take the view that gobbly wild beasts are the stuff of fairy tales.
The author makes a point towards the end of the article that these long-term, objective fact-based views are all well and good, but unfortunately all of us, as human beings are prone to being selfish, childish, egotistical, and emotion can take over from the sensible 'view from outer space' in the heat of the moment. Why should I care about infant mortality in the third world when I've just lost my job?
I agree - happiness works through the specific, the personal. Much as we may mean it when we say 'I'm really happy for you' to a friend, in our heart of hearts, we know our own feelings of happiness are so much more intense. When we use facts and stats in brand communication, it is important, too, to allow for personal relevance. How does that connect with me, and how I feel? Getting to the human beings behind the statistics may sound like a cliche, but it has been said loud and often for a reason.
Another thing about joy, and happiness is that it only exists when we have also experienced the opposite. As human beings we need melancholy, sadness, fear and the rest of the so-called negative emotions.
Only then do our lives - and the world - start making sense.