Why Things Are Better Than You Think

8 Bad Things Increasing

Feeling, Not Thinking

There’s something else going on as well.  What are people really thinking when they say the world is getting worse? My guess is they are not thinking. They are feeling. If you still feel uncomfortable agreeing that the world is getting better, even after I have shown you all this beautiful data, my guess is that it’s because you know that huge problems still remain. My guess is you feel that me saying that the world is getting better is like me telling you that everything is fine, or that you should look away from these problems and pretend they don’t exist, and that feels ridiculous and stressful.

But it is just as ridiculous, and just as stressful, to look away from the progress that has been made. People often call me an optimist, because I show them the enormous progress they didn’t know about. That makes me angry. I’m not an optimist. That makes me sound naïve. I’m a very serious “possibilist.” That’s something I made up. It means someone who neither hopes without reason, nor fears without reason, someone who constantly resists the overdramatic worldview. As a possibilist, I see all this progress, and it fills me with
conviction and hope that further progress is possible. This is not optimistic. It is having
a clear and reasonable idea about how things are. It is having a worldview that is constructive and useful.

When people wrongly believe that nothing is improving, they may conclude that nothing we have tried so far is working and lose confidence in measures that actually work. I meet many such people, who tell me they have lost all hope for humanity. Or, they may become radicals, supporting drastic measures that are counterproductive when, in fact, the methods we are already using to improve our world are working just fine.

Take, for example, girls’ education. Educating girls has proven to be one of the world’s best-ever ideas. When women are educated, all kinds of wonderful things happen in societies. The workforce becomes diversified and able to make better decisions and solve more problems. Educated mothers decide to have fewer children and more children survive. More energy and time is invested in each child’s education. It’s a virtuous cycle of change.

Poor parents who can’t afford to send all their children to school have often prioritized the boys. But since 1970 there has been fantastic progress. Across religions, cultures and continents, almost all parents can now afford to send all their children to school and are sending their daughters as well as their sons. Now the girls have almost caught up: 90 percent of girls of primary school age attend school. For boys, the figure is 92 percent. There’s almost no difference.

There are still gender differences when it comes to education among the poorest people
in the world, especially when it comes to secondary and higher education, but that’s no reason to deny the progress that has been made. I see no conflict between celebrating
this progress and continuing to fight for more. I am a possibilist. And the progress we have made tells me it’s possible to get all girls in school, and all boys too, and that we should
work hard to make it happen. It won’t happen by itself, and if we lose hope because of stupid misconceptions, it might not happen at all. The loss of hope is probably the most devastating consequence of the negativity instinct and the ignorance it causes.

How to Control the Negativity Instinct

How can we help our brains to realize that things are getting better when everything is
screaming at us that things are getting worse?
Don’t Censor History
When we hang on to a rose-tinted version of history, we deprive ourselves and our children of the truth. The evidence about the terrible past is scary, but it is a great resource. It can help us to appreciate what we have today and provide us with hope that future generations will, as previous generations did, get over the dips and continue the long-term trends toward peace, prosperity and solutions to our global problems.

Hans Rosling was a medical doctor, professor of international health and renowned educator. He was an adviser to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, co-founded Médecins sans Frontières in Sweden and was one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. Hans died in 2017, having devoted the last years of his life to writing this book. Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Hans’s son and daughter-in-law, were co-founders of the Gapminder Foundation, and Ola its director from 2005 to 2007 and from 2010 to the present day. After Google acquired the bubble-chart tool called Trendalyzer, invented and designed by Anna and Ola, Ola became head of Google’s Public Data team and Anna the team’s senior user experience (UX) designer.