Why Things Are Better Than You Think

Expect Bad News

Something else that helps to control the negativity instinct is to constantly expect bad news.

Remember that the media and activists rely on drama to grab your attention. Remember
that negative stories are more dramatic than neutral or positive ones. Remember how
simple it is to construct a story of crisis from a temporary dip pulled out of its context of
a long-term improvement. Remember that we live in a connected and transparent world
where reporting about suffering is better than it has ever been before.

When you hear about something terrible, calm yourself by asking, if there had been an
equally large positive improvement, would I have heard about that? Even if there had been hundreds of larger improvements, would I have heard? Would I ever hear about children who don’t drown? Can I see a decrease in child drownings or in deaths from tuberculosis out my window, or on the news or in a charity’s publicity material?

Keep in mind that the positive changes may be more common, but they don’t find you. You need to find them. (And if you look in the statistics, they are everywhere.)

This reminder will give you the basic protection to allow you, and your children, to keep watching the news without being carried away into dystopia on a daily basis.

Bad and Better

Still, the solution is not to just balance out all the negative news with more positive news. That would just risk creating a self-deceiving, comforting, misleading bias in the other direction. It would be as helpful as balancing too much sugar with too much salt. It would make things more exciting, but maybe even less healthy.

A solution that works for me is to persuade myself to keep two thoughts in my head at the same time.

It seems that when we hear someone say things are getting better, we think they are also saying “don’t worry, relax” or even “look away.”

But when I say things are getting better, I am not saying those things at all. I am certainly not advocating looking away from the terrible problems in the world. I am saying that things can be both bad and better.

Think of the world as a premature baby in an incubator. The baby’s health status is extremely bad and her breathing, heart rate and other important signs are tracked constantly so that changes for better or worse can quickly be seen. After a week, she is getting a lot better. On all the main measures, she is improving, but she still has to stay in the incubator because her health is still critical. Does it make sense to say that the infant’s situation is improving? Yes. Absolutely. Does it make sense to say it is bad? Yes, absolutely.
Does saying “things are improving” imply that everything is fine, and we should all relax and not worry? No, not at all. Is it helpful to have to choose between bad and improving? Definitely not. It’s both. It’s both bad and better. Better and bad at the same time.

That is how we must think about the current state of the world.

You can order “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think” here.

Read more: Why Effective Leaders Embrace The Identity Paradox

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.