Why Things Are Better Than You Think

Excerpted from “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—And Why Things Are Better Than You Think,” Copyright 2018 by Factfulness AB. Reprinted with the permission of Flatiron Press. All rights reserved. 

Which statement do you agree with most?

A: The world is getting better.

B: The world is getting worse.

C: The world is getting neither better nor worse.

“Things are getting worse” is the statement about the world that I hear more than any
other. And it is absolutely true that there are many bad things in this world.

The number of war fatalities has been falling since the Second World War, but with the Syrian War, the trend has reversed. Terrorism too is rising again.

Overfishing and the deterioration of the seas are truly worrisome. The lists of dead areas in the world’s oceans and of endangered species are getting longer.

Ice is melting. Sea levels will continue to rise by probably three feet over the next 100 years. There’s no doubt it’s because of all the greenhouse gases humans have pumped into
the atmosphere, which won’t disperse for a long time, even if we stop adding more.

The collapse of the U.S. housing market in 2007, which no regulators had predicted, was caused by widespread illusions of safety in abstract investments that hardly anyone understood. The system remains as complex now as it was then and a similar crisis could happen again. Maybe tomorrow.

“It is easy to be aware of all the bad things happening in the world. It’s harder to know about the good things: billions of improvements that are never reported.”

In order for this planet to have financial stability, peace and protected natural resources, there’s one thing we can’t do without, and that’s international collaboration, based on a shared and fact-based understanding of the world. The current lack of knowledge about the world is, therefore, the most concerning problem of all.

I hear so many negative things all the time. Maybe you think, “Hans, you must just meet all the gloomiest people.” I decided to check.

People in 30 countries were asked the question at the top of the chapter: Do you think the world is getting better, getting worse or staying about the same? The majority said they think the world is getting worse. No wonder we all feel so stressed.

Statistics as Therapy

It is easy to be aware of all the bad things happening in the world. It’s harder to know about the good things: billions of improvements that are never reported. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not talking about some trivial positive news to supposedly
balance out the negative. I’m talking about fundamental improvements that are world-changing but are too slow, too fragmented or too small one-by-one to ever qualify as news. I’m talking about the secret, silent miracle of human progress.

The basic facts about the world’s progress are so little known that I get invited to talk about them at conferences and corporate meetings all over the world. They sometimes call my lectures “inspirational,” and many people say they also have a comforting effect. That was never my intention. But it’s logical. What I show is mostly just official UN data. As long as people have a world view that is so much more negative than reality, pure statistics can make them feel more positive. It is comforting, as well as inspiring, to learn that the world is much better than you think. A new kind of happy pill, completely free online!

Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund :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.