Millions of us check the news each morning. We start our days with a quick update on the top stories, whether on our phones, laptops, TV, or radio. Focusing on current headlines (rather than on what really matters), it’s easy to feel there isn’t a lot to be thankful for right now.
It’s not just the stories about war, crime, or the latest environmental scare, all of which have been staples of news coverage for decades (centuries?). The amplification of the news through 24-hour cable networks and social media can make things unprecedentedly bad.
Is your glass half empty…
Politically, after a presidential race pitting the two most unpopular candidates in polling history against each other, we the people seem divided as seldom before. Each side sees the other as not just misinformed or misguided, but as bad, even hateful.
And it’s not merely the usual partisan divide. Both parties are struggling with internal ideological divisions. Almost anyone to the left of Steve Bannon but to the right of Bernie Sanders gets branded with the label “establishment,” which has apparently become the worst slur imaginable.
Culturally, we have controversies over protesters shouting “black lives matter” and college students posting signs saying “It’s okay to be white” (which some view as racist and some don’t). But shouldn’t it be “okay” to be white—or black or brown or any shade in between? Shouldn’t all lives matter? And shouldn’t those beliefs be so obvious and widespread as to be beyond controversy?
And professionally, except for the top one percent of uber-geeks, we’re all screwed. If you’re over 50, your career is already doomed, especially if you work in tech or marketing. And for younger workers, it’s only a matter of time before robots and artificial intelligence take your job.
…or half full?
Actually, there’s an incredibly strong argument to be made that those of us here now are alive at the best time in history.
People are living longer—and not just longer, but healthier as well. Since 1990, more than a billion people worldwide have been lifted out of poverty, and the percentage living in “extreme” poverty has been cut by more than half. The vehicles we drive are more reliable, environmentally friendly, and safer than ever.
Most of us now carry smartphones in our pockets that have thousands of times the computing power of the machines that helped land the first man on the moon, and even several times more powerful than a Cray-2 supercomputer from the 1980s. We can instantly share thoughts, images, even video with other people anywhere in the world.
Nostalgia has its place, but there’s a lot of 20th-century technology people are happy to leave behind: film-based cameras, “long distance” phone charges, cassette tapes, typewriters, leaded gasoline, TV antennas, and library index cards, to name just a few.
Columnist George Will wrote an interesting piece asking if you’d take this bargain: would you choose to a billionaire, if it meant living with the technology of 1916 (the year John D. Rockefeller reputably became America’s first billionaire)? You could own several beautiful homes, and have personal servants of course, but—you couldn’t have air conditioning, radio, movies with sound (let alone color), TV, antibiotics (or most modern vaccines), or interstate highways, much less the Internet.
Each of us has the choice each day to focus on the negative (the bad news, the problems, envy for the success of others and the things we lack) or the positive (gratitude for all the good things in our lives). Psychological research shows a strong link between thankfulness and happiness. In a series of studies, participants of various ages were divided into three groups, with each told to keep a diary for 10 weeks. One group was told to focus on hassles and annoyances, another on things were grateful for, and third on neutral subjects. At the end of 10 weeks:
Those in the gratitude condition reported feeling more positive about their lives as a whole, more optimistic about the upcoming week, having fewer physical symptoms, and spending more time exercising…the gratitude group had more positive views of their life as a whole than control participants. They also reported more positive mood and less negative mood on a daily basis during the study period. Their partners also reported that the gratitude participants had more positive mood and greater satisfaction with life. With respect to health, the gratitude condition actually improved participants’ sleep—both amount and quantity. Perhaps focusing on life’s blessings reduced the worry and angst that keep people awake at night.”
This isn’t to say that checking the news each morning is necessarily a bad practice. But perhaps preceding that by writing down a few things we feel thankful for would be beneficial to our health, happiness, and relationships.
As for me:
I’m thankful for my entire family, especially my wonderful wife and amazing children. I’m grateful for good health, good friends, and the beautiful summers here in Minnesota (the winters…not so much). I’m grateful to have fantastic clients who’ve enabled me to build a consulting business based on referrals. And I’m thankful for everyone who takes the time to read this.
How about you?