Is the world getting better or worse?

Is the world getting better or worse?

After a quick search through LinkedIn, and a cross check on Facebook, I’ve confirmed that I know exactly ten Debbies. I wouldn’t say that I’m a Debbie expert, and I’ve never done a formal Debbie audit, but I believe I can tell you from experience that these Debbies are among the best Debbies the world has to offer. They are kind, bright and optimistic. You know who you are, Debbie – (Can I call you “Deb”?) – You’re doing great, I appreciate you.

But not all Debbie’s are made equal, and that’s why I want to ask some of you this question:

Why are you being such a Debbie Downer?

No offense to the Nancy’s of the world including my mother in law, but the notion that we have been negative ones is not a matter of dispute. Being negative is what we do.

I wrote an essay about the human condition once, and the thing that I love about the concept of this condition is that every problem in this world can be attributed to this obscure disorder that all humans are subject to (thus the name). If I was to summarize the affliction of being human, there are four main features:

  • Survival instinct
  • Self centeredness
  • Negativity bias
  • Several other things

Sounds like a mess doesn’t it?

Well if you said yes, that simply proves bullet point number three. We always seem to default to the negative. Have you ever had your child come home from school with a report card that looks just shy of perfect? Perhaps you said, “Great job on all these A’s but why did you get a B in history?” We’re hardwired to give more weight to negative things and as a result, we remember them more. In other words, your kid may have gone to bed thinking they failed.

Being negative is what we do

This pessimistic tendency shows up when we talk about the world around us. I don’t know about you, but I grew up with people reminding me that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. In fact, it was once suggested in my hyper-evangelical upbringing that we go door to door handing out hand baskets, solely (no pun intended) for the purposes of offering provisions for the people who reject our thinking (which we knew for certain were better than theirs).

Alas, the evangelicals are not alone. We also have Congress, who’s members are so cynical of each other that they have to sit on opposite sides of the room. Their constituents can confirm, the people on the other side of the room are destroying America.

Then there’s the insurrectionists party. Optimist that I am, I initially expected the large crowd closing in on the Capitol on January 6th to be marching in solidarity with their fellow Americans to celebrate our Union, despite our differences at the voting booth. Unfortunately, it was a swath of the alternative form of Debbies looking to De-Nancify the Capitol.

Negativity is not good for us

Bitter neighbors and insurrectionists don’t live as long as they might prefer (and I think the stress makes their  brains smaller too, although I’m not sure). Negativity can increase feelings of depression and stress, which impacts our health. But being positive makes life better inside and out. People that are more positive enjoy better health and live longer lives, so it’s time to cheer up and celebrate the A’s over the B’s.

Things are looking up

Far be it from me to judge any Nancy or Debbie unfairly. In fact I think it’s the pessimist in us that suggested you two were anything but positive people. From now on, we’ll call you Optimistic Opal, because the stats are promising. Let’s take a look.

People are living longer.

For most of human history, life expectancy hasn’t been much more than 30, but life expectancy has consistently gone up over the last couple centuries (with small drops happening during the 1918 and 2020 pandemic). Today, humans enjoy a life expectancy over 70 worldwide and more in developed nations.

Violence is down.

Since humans respond most to the negative, the news makes this the focus of their content. While the headlines seem to tell a different story, history tells us violence has been going down for centuries. This includes a steady decrease in murders and the frequency of wars.

Literacy rates are increasing.

The same report highlighted above points out that literacy has increased steadily alongside the decrease in violence. Additionally, democratic governments create these positive conditions and reduce the occurrences of wars between countries.

As sickness that leads to death for a young person was common even a couple years ago, but now with the advancements of healthcare and public health mortality rates related to health related issues for all ages is going down.

Even abortions are decreasing.

Americans are divided on the subject of abortion, but most would agree, fewer pregnancies ending in abortion is not a bad thing. Since Roe Vs Wade in 1973, abortion has decreased steadily.

Fewer people are facing poverty.

Poverty has a major impact on human thriving, crime and more. Extreme poverty has been in decline. Even as recently as 1990, the world had 1.9 billion people in extreme poverty. We’ve already more than cut that in half, and projections looking to 2030 estimate we’ll get under 500 million people in extreme poverty.

Technology is improving our lives.

Since the Industrial Revolution, and the more recent Dot Com boom, advancements in technology have provided greater access to jobs, education and communication, directly improving lives.


Seemingly, one of the greatest factors to improve human thriving comes from the environment created by democracy, reducing wars, creating economic growth and improving human rights. Despite some setbacks, democracy has spread, above autocracy and dictatorships. Today, half of the world’s countries are a democracy.

Despite all the problems in the world, by most measures, the world seems to be making progress. So, as you look at the world around you, even while you may see troubles, you should be reminded that we actually have it pretty good.