Good news glow: how pos­i­tive sto­ries can help in dark times

The Guardian - G2 - - News - Rhi­an­non Lucy Cosslett

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

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