"ALL THINGS considered," the British polling firm YouGov asked 18,000 adults in 17 countries a few years ago, "do you think the world is getting better or worse, or neither better nor worse?"
It wasn't close. Two-thirds of the respondents answered that things are getting worse. In most of the countries surveyed, the percentage of those who believed the world is getting better was in single digits — 8 percent in Denmark, 6 percent in the United States, 3 percent in France and Australia. Only in China did more people express optimism than pessimism.
It's an old story: Most people think the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Ask them about their own lives and they tend to be optimistic, but when they're questioned about society at large, cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker observes, "they transform from Pollyanna to Eeyore."
Of course there's bad stuff in this world. Just open the paper or tune in to a news program, and you'll encounter no end of dismal and discouraging information. Poisoned politics, mass shootings, natural disasters, teenage suicide, rising antisemitism, refugee floods, social-media rancor, opioid addiction: Hate and fear and heartache have always been part of the human condition. But amid all the bad news, there's even more good news. Or there would be, if journalists were as inclined to report tidings of comfort and joy as they are to dwell on what's wrong.
Never have there been so many such tidings. Far from living in a uniquely awful era, we are living in the best era our species has ever known. . . .