Soap­box: Paul Lit­tle be­lieves there’s a lot to be cheer­ful about

If you’re wor­ried the world is go­ing to hell in a hand­cart, then cheer up – it’s not all doom and gloom. Paul Lit­tle tells why there’s a lot go­ing right for New Zealan­ders

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TThings must be bad when even the danc­ing co­me­di­ans are wor­ried. Ellen DeGeneres re­cently told Jerry Se­in­feld: “The world is such a scary place right now, in so many ways… It just over­whelms me with dread.” How se­ri­ously we should take pro­nounce­ments on the state of the world that are is­sued on a show called Co­me­di­ans in Cars Get­ting Cof­fee is de­bat­able, but over­whelmed with dread can’t be much fun.

What’s not de­bat­able is that Ellen is not the only per­son who thinks the world is on a one-way fast track to ruin. “An­tibi­otics aren’t work­ing!” “Mur­der rates are on the rise!” “Cli­mate change is killing the planet!” “Ter­ror­ists are… ter­ri­ble!” “Don­ald Trump!”

De­spite the ad­van­tages of liv­ing here, New Zealan­ders are right in there with the worst of the global gloomy Gus’. We’re nine­teenth on the Ip­sos Mori Per­ils of Per­cep­tion Sur­vey, which you have to ad­mit sounds like a more au­thor­i­ta­tive source than Co­me­di­ans in Cars Get­ting Cof­fee. The sur­vey mea­sures the gap be­tween how bad peo­ple think things are and how bad they re­ally are. At 19, we’re ex­actly at the mid-point of delu­sion­al­ity on the sur­vey’s rank­ing of 38 coun­tries. Swedes have the clear­est view of how things re­ally are; South Africans the worst.

Locked in the DeGeneres mind-set, we not only fo­cus on what is wrong, but eas­ily imag­ine things are worse than they are. For in­stance, of the 38 coun­tries in the sur­vey, only 7% of peo­ple thought the mur­der rate in their coun­tries had gone down since 2000. In fact, the rate is down on av­er­age by 29%.

In gen­eral, there are lots of im­prove­ments in many ar­eas that we think are bad, such as ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity. The num­ber of ter­ror­ism-re­lated in­ci­dents around the world was rel­a­tively con­stant from 1970 to 2010, then soared un­til 2014 but has fallen by more than 20% since then. The global threat of ter­ror, which has caused so much dis­rup­tion, was re­ally just a four-year blip.

The num­ber of Aids deaths halved be­tween 2005 and 2015. In 1950, 64% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion could not read or write. In 2014 that had fallen to 15%.

In New Zealand the num­ber of teenagers giv­ing birth has fallen by 79% since its high in 1972. Our av­er­age life ex­pectancy has in­creased by 10 years – from 71 to 81 – since 1960.

So why the long faces? There is some ev­i­dence to sug­gest that we are more likely to re­mem­ber pos­i­tive ef­fects from the past and there­fore to feel that the present, with all its in-your-face re­minders of what is go­ing wrong, is worse than the good old days.

The feel­ing of doom is clearly a sub­jec­tive one. De­pend­ing on how we choose to look at it, the same day can be ter­ri­ble or great. So, if we have a choice, let’s choose great and face facts – be­cause the facts are pretty good.

Ellen is not the only per­son who thinks the world is on a one-way fast track to ruin

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