Good news glow: how positive stories can help in dark times
There’s a curse for which everyone blames the Chinese, but which is apocryphal: “May you live in interesting times.” It’s always wryly invoked when the news goes mad, but we passed that point long ago. We now live in dark, depressing, God-awful times – so bleak that many have turned away from the news. War, famine, the rise of the far right, Trump, antisemitism, Brexit, Brett Kavanaugh, Jair Bolsonaro, austerity, racism … every day we are witness to a parade of awfulness. Studies claim news can make you depressed. Tell me something I don’t know.
No wonder that, mired in gloom, we seize on glimmers of light – the good news stories. The story of how Leamington Spa welcomed several families of Syrian refugees has kept me away from the brink since February. (My husband, who is from Leamington Spa, claims that tailoring your news feed towards local news makes for a much less distressing experience. Alas, when I tried this I was greeted with an abundance of drownings.) More recently, I was cheered by the news that the UN has said that the ozone layer is finally healing after years of aerosol damage. The possibility that the ozone layer may be fully repaired by 2060 is something we can all feel positive about, though it leaves Australians in want of conversation topics. Climate change warnings have become so ominous that positive news constitutes a diamond in the dung. Here’s another: humpback whales are doing fine.
The Irish abortion referendum result, too, cheered those of us who have mourned the recent lack of progressive changes. I also find myself seeking solace in archeological and scientific discoveries. The story of Saga Vanecek, who pulled a 1,500-year-old pre-Viking sword from a lake in Sweden, kept me going last month. All I need now is for her to be made the rightful queen of Sweden. This month, news that a new dinosaur species has been discovered in Argentina has me smiling. It is impossible to be sad when thinking about dinosaurs. Another story, closer to home, is that of the Tesco store manager in Bradford who invited Jay Burke, aged 10, who has Down’s syndrome, to have a go on the checkout.
Positive stories have become so popular that many news outlets now have good-news sections. We need these tales of human progress and kindness to prove that the world and its inhabitants can still be good, even wondrous. There seems to be a backlash against positive thinking, and when you are in the depths of depression I grant that entreaties to “look on the bright side” can be maddening. Equally, the cognitive behavioural therapy technique of countering, which involves contradicting a negative thought with opposing evidence, can, with practice, become an automatic reflex. So while Pope Francis might claim that “the Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth”, I could equally say: “Well, that might be, but in Ramsbottom, near Bury, a woman called Mary Bell just celebrated her 100th birthday by flying a plane over her care home.”
The glow from that should, I hope, get me through the winter.
Scandi cheer … Saga Vanecek, who found a preViking sword