Nuclear apocalypse. AI robots that turn against their creators. Mysterious illnesses. Killer bees. Incompetent doctors. These are just a few of the many, many things that have created what can be called our Age of Anxiety. Basically, if you aren’t worried about a lot of stuff most of the time, then you’re not paying attention (or you’re in deep denial).
However, although things can seem pretty bleak, the fact remains — believe it or not — that this is the best time in human history to be alive. Seriously. We’re living longer, we’re healthier, and we’re unlikely to be devoured by wild animals if we take a cross-country journey (although flying most domestic airlines these days is not that much of an upgrade — have you tried asking for an extra pillow?).
And so, let’s take a step back from our regularly scheduled fears that demand our attention like big, bright, and blinking lighted signs, take a few deep and cleansing breaths, and celebrate three reasons why we should be optimistic about the future:
- We’re getting smarter.
Access to education is still a major problem in many parts of the world, as was profiled recently in the case of China’s media-dubbed “frost boy”. But while there’s still plenty of work to do, we can take heart that 90 percent of all children worldwide attend primary school. That’s a big reason why literacy rates have surged from 12.5 percent in 1800, to over 85 percent now.
- We’re living longer.
We’re living longer than ever before — and the availability and quality of food, clean water and public health facilities are all key reasons. Think about it: about a century ago, most people didn’t live long enough to celebrate their 32nd birthday (which really put the screws to the birthday cake candle industry). Now, according to the World Health Organization, the average life expectancy worldwide has surpassed 70. And in some countries such as Japan, Australia, Canada, France and Italy, it’s more than 80.
- We’re richer.
Although personal and household debt levels have reached epidemic proportions in some parts of the world, as a whole we’re getting wealthier vs. poorer. According to data from the World Bank, in 1900 per capita GDP was $2,000, while in 2012 it was just under $11,000 (and yes, figures are adjusted for inflation).
The Bottom Line
There is no shortage of reasons to worry about the future. Nor should we bury our heads in the sand and pretend that we don’t have some serious problems to solve. But every now and then — and especially when things seem bleak — take a moment to reflect on the fact that in the big picture, we’re actually doing a pretty good job, and there are some reasons to be optimistic about the future.
Or at least, we can take some comfort in the fact that we haven’t screwed things up so much that we need to find another planet ASAP. That’s something to be proud of, right?