How (And Why) You Should Be Happier About The World, By Paul Armstrong

Illustrations by Tess Smith-Roberts

The world can seem like it’s circling the drain sometimes. People are self-obsessed, are angrier, political unrest, natural and human-made disasters, humanity seems to be going backwards, oh and we’re sleep-shopping (no, really, it’s a thing). It turns out it’s not as bad as you think but what you read (and subsequently think) matters. What’s going on? It has never been more critical (and easy) to have the facts and see the bigger picture.

Illustrations by Tess Smith-Roberts

There are lots of reasons to be happy and confident about the future. Globally speaking, we’ve never been in such good shape economically. The world’s GDP has multiplied 100-fold in the last 200 years. As a species, we’re more prosperous and productive than any time in history.

My three tips for a better media diet are straightforward, take a bit of time and a bit more willpower; ‘simplify’, ‘commit’ and ‘converse’.

Financially speaking, billions are doing better thanks to services such as what3words and technologies like Blockchain. Two billion people in developing nations now have greater access to banking (some for the first time) thanks to more accurate location data and secure transaction options. No bad thing. Health-wise we are also doing better thanks to advancements in technology, procedures and drug manufacturing. India’s life expectancy has tripled. South Korea’s life expectancy has quadrupled and is now higher than in the United Kingdom. All this is as we have only scratched the surface with Stem Cells, CRISPR and nanotechnologies. Energy is far more abundant and getting cheaper thanks to green energy initiatives, public opinion and regulation. What’s more important (and inspiring) is that a lot of this is happening in poorer parts of the world.

Illustrations by Tess Smith-Roberts

Food is also seeing vast change when you look beyond ‘The West’. From human-free farms (using robots, drones) to meat-free products, supermarket shelf space expansions and lifestyle alternatives taking off. The energy and environmental impacts this continues to have are astounding although our meat obsession is far from cured. Grasshoppers are the new crickets so expect to hear more about them in 2019. Negative outlooks are all too easy to reinforce thanks to poor algorithms, and the ease at which indicators (likes, comments, retweets) get applied. A busy, economically challenged mainstream media doesn’t help, but it is possible to change. Some say pyramids work (I don’t), others will say use a timer (even the apps are starting to tell you how much time you’ve wasted on them), and some order you to delete everything and start again. The trouble is with all these ‘solutions’ is that you’ve not fixed the behaviours you need to, you’ve just started again.

Illustrations by Tess Smith-Roberts

The first is not to try to read everything but read multiple quality sources. I try to find curators, aggregators and services like Flipboard, Techmeme, Knowhere, Google News that help me get a lot of perspectives in one shot. The other element to this step is to read outlets you perhaps wouldn’t usually (Flipboard is excellent for this). Sites like The Hustle, The Outline, Quartz and Singularity Hub will stretch thinking. Committing can be as simple as putting the time in your calendar every day to sit and just read a newspaper, news site, an aggregator or Reuters TV app. The final part is to converse, reading news is one thing but sharing it with others is quite another. Go beyond the sensational and the trash TV and look for intriguing nuggets to start off meetings or conversations. Ask for other people’s thoughts, challenge them, allow yourself to feel uncomfortable for a second.

Protecting what goes into the grey matter between your ears means what comes out of your mouth (or perhaps onto the page) is likely to be better quality than if you stay on the surface or try to absorb everything. Stop reading everything, take your news diet seriously and commit to expanding your view. Good luck.

Written by Paul Armstrong.

Illustrations by Tess Smith-Roberts.