In this comprehensive review of over 200 studies of various forms of well-being and cardiovascular health outcomes, Harvard researchers Julia Boehm and Laura Kubzansky discovered that certain psychological traits—optimism, positive emotions and a sense of meaning—offer measurable protection against heart attacks and strokes. These characteristics have been found to slow the progression of cardiovascular disease as well.
Most science fictional and futurist visions of the future tend towards the negative — and for good reason. Our environment is a mess, we have a nasty tendency to misuse technologies, and we’re becoming increasingly capable of destroying ourselves. But civilizational demise is by no means guaranteed. Should we find a way to manage the risks and avoid dystopic outcomes, our far future looks astonishingly bright. Here are seven best-case scenarios for the future of humanity.
We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world. Even when we don’t “win,” there is fun and fulfillment in the fact that we have been involved, with other good people, in something worthwhile. We need hope. An optimist isn’t necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.
People think the world is falling apart, and many are in a very dark contemporary mood. But what is curious about this situation is that in nearly every measurable way, the world is much better off than it has ever been.
I am a realist, after all, and I do fret over things I may be able to do little or nothing about directly: economic injustice; wars and the repeated failure to learn from history; our gun-crazy society; the overreliance on tests to spur academic achievement; and attempts to strip women of their reproductive rights.
But I’ve found that life is a lot more pleasant when one looks at the bright side, seeing the glass half full and assuming that reason will eventually prevail.
We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world . . . An optimist isn’t necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
Whereas in the past optimism had been regarded as rather shallow — because “oh well, it’s just your temperament, you happen to be just a cheerful sort of person” — what I wanted to do was to establish that in fact it is the pessimists who are allowing all kinds of errors to creep into their work.
Matt Ridley gave a talk at the Long Now Foundation’s Seminar of Long Term Thinking called “Deep Optimism”. Ridley is the author of a recent book, The Rational Optimist, where he makes the case that human culture was created not by language (conventional wisdom) but by the exchange of ideas. That’s a useful theory, but not upsetting. Much more provocative and powerful is Ridley’s larger thesis that progress is real, enduring, widely spread, and for the near future, unlimited. In other words, civilization as a whole is (and has been) experiencing real progress, in most dimensions, and for most people, not just the privileged. And further, this goodness shows no signs of stopping.
Every new year, John Brockman of the online intellectual powerhouse Edge (www.edge.org) asks its virtual community of scientists and social thinkers one question. In 2007, it was this: “What are you optimistic about?” To strike a less than despondent chord this January, I put the same question to a few people in the British book world who are best placed to know. Read their answers on these pages.
Africa may often be seen as a lost continent, but a new study reveals a completely different image. Africans are becoming increasingly wealthy—at a faster pace than most assume. The growth spurt started in 1995 and is increasing at a constant rate. “Africa is reducing poverty, and doing it much faster than we thought,” write American National Bureau of Economic Research economists Xavier Sala-i-Martin and Maxim Pinkovskiy.
You can always make news with doomsday predictions, but you can usually make money betting against them.
Natural gas . . . is selling for less than half of what it was five years ago.
There’s so much available that the Energy Department is predicting low
prices for gas and electricity for the next quarter-century.
The idea that America’s best days are behind it is no longer just a rhetorical device: It’s conventional wisdom…But is it true? America is characterologically, almost definitionally, optimistic. The country, after all, was founded on the idea that anyone could come here and make a better life for himself. And for 234 years and counting, millions of people have done just that.
Humanity will be radically changed by technology in the future. We foresee the feasibility of redesigning the human condition, including such parameters as the inevitability of aging, limitations on human and artificial intellects, unchosen psychology, suffering, and our confinement to the planet earth.