This article is about negativity and positivity about life and the world. These aren’t coded opinions about groups or ideologies. Just negativity and positivity.
People were asked on Reddit whether they would choose to flip a coin if the outcomes were $5,000,000 or death. Browse the most popular responses and see if you’re as troubled by them as I was. I know people like to joke about existential apathy, but most of these sound like they’d seriously flip the coin. I know almost none of them actually would, but they’re all saying they would, and that’s the problem.
Major depression is terrible for those it affects, but it isn’t as prevalent as social media would make you think. Judging by the responses to that coin flip question, one might think the statistics on that NIH page should be 10 times higher.
So there’s often a huge disconnect between people’s actual experiences in the world and the way they talk about them. One reason is that it’s easy to do so – no one will challenge your knowing pessimism, but acknowledgement of a positive trend brands you as dismissive of the world’s problems. Ironically, while your point about a positive trend involves no denial of existing problems, denial of that positive trend does implicitly erase the problems of the past.
Too many people are convinced the world is descending into chaos, forgetting that they thought the same thing three years ago, and three years before that, and on and on, and yet here we are.
For the most part, good people will ignore, or at least put in context, all the negativity and make the world a better place anyway. But negativity is infectious, and I worry that this distorted narrative of people’s experiences is putting an extra burden on some vulnerable people. Many of those who lend their voice to addressing mental health issues also seem intent on delivering a distorted, hopeless forecast to those who are struggling enough as it is.
Think of the people forever lamenting that the world is broken beyond repair. Now think of the people with positive messages pointing out progress. It’s usually because they’re part of the progress themselves (read about effective altruism for examples). Which of these two types of people understand the world’s problems? The negative ones claim they do, but the positive ones can’t make the progress they’re making without understanding the problems they’re fixing.
I’ve felt that it’s more important to promote positivity than negativity, but on the other hand it seemed that a balance of the two is best for navigating life and the world. More recently I’ve realized that these thoughts are compatible. More positivity equals more balance, because negativity is winning. And it isn’t just an unintentional phenomenon – people often advocate for using negative emotions like anger to address an issue, and I think they’re 100% wrong, because they’re confusing anger with whatever it is that can support sustained, intentional action.
So I am strengthening my resolve to promote positivity in many forms, and hope that others will too. We’re better off with more accurate views about our own lives and our world.