Cheer Up!

17 reasons it's a great time to be alive

By Matt Ridley | as told to John Dyson (adapted from Reader's Digest U.K. edition) from Reader's Digest magazine | April 2012

Cheer Up!iStockphoto/Thinkstock
13. Storms are not getting worse

Not at all. While the climate warmed slightly last century, the incidence of hurricanes and cyclones fell. Since the 1920s, the global annual death rate from weather-related natural disasters (that is, the proportion of the world’s population killed rather than simply the overall number) has declined by a staggering 99 percent.

The killing power of hurricanes depends more on wealth than on wind speed. A big hurricane struck the well-prepared Yucatán in Mexico in 2007 and killed nobody. A similar storm struck impoverished Burma the next year and killed 200,000. The best defenses against disaster are prosperity and freedom.

14. Great ideas keep coming

The more we prosper, the more we can prosper. The more we invent, the more inventions become possible. The world of things is often subject to diminishing returns. The world of ideas is not: The ever-increasing exchange of ideas causes the ever-increasing rate of innovation in the modern world. There isn’t even a theoretical possibility of exhausting our supply of ideas, discoveries, and inventions.

15. We can solve all our problems

If you say the world will go on getting better, you are considered mad. If you say catastrophe is imminent, you may expect the Nobel Peace Prize. Bookshops groan with pessimism; airwaves are crammed with doom. I cannot recall a time when I was not being told by somebody that the world could survive only if it abandoned economic growth. But the world will not continue as it is. The human race has become a problem-solving machine: It solves those problems by changing its ways. The real danger comes from slowing change.

16. This depression is not depressing

The Great Depression of the 1930s was just a dip in the upward slope of human living standards. By 1939, even the worst-affected countries, America and Germany, were richer than they’d been in 1930. All sorts of new products and industries were born during the Depression. So growth will resume unless prevented by wrong policies. Someone, somewhere, is tweaking a piece of software, testing a new material, or transferring the gene that will make life easier or more fun.

17. Optimists are right

For 200 years, pessimists have had all the headlines—even though optimists have far more often been right. There is immense vested interest in pessimism. No charity ever raised money by saying things are getting better. No journalist ever got the front page writing a story about how disaster was now less likely. Pressure groups and their customers in the media search even the most cheerful statistics for glimmers of doom. Don’t be browbeaten—dare to be an optimist!

For more on Ridley, visit rationaloptimist.com.

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  • Your Comments

    • Farzad

       Dear Mr. Ridley,

      Almost all the 17 reasons you mentioned in your article do
      not seem to be real and are in blatant contradiction with the third world
      societies situations. Circumstances in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, for
      instance, are worsened day after day. In addition, the condition of a society
      is not only measured materialistically. If the idea “the world is a better
      place to live in now” is going to be proven, peoples beliefs should also be
      compared with old beliefs. I, personally, would rather living with few money
      and be happy than living wealthy but unhappily. How about you?

    • monte hooper

      About Matt Ridley’s “Cheer Up” #16. He said, “All sorts of new products and industries were born during the Depression.” both in the US and Germany. Well, that’s true. Unfortunately much of the new products and industry was war based. I can’t believe that the run up to WWII should be viewed as a reason to “Cheer UP”.

    • Saeed

      Although what you have mentioned seems quite fascinating, I believe the quality of life cannot be measured by merely materialistic aspects. There’s more to life than how much one earns, or where someone lives. I strongly believe that the true happiness lies within, and not without. So if we should see whether this is a great time to be alive or not, we need to compare people’s beliefs and ideologies of life, humanity, and peace!

    • http://www.travelcoconut.com/ pathum

      bookmarked for later reading… interesting points.

    • Cynthiab

      I LOVE this article!  It all is very logical and every statement has research backing it up….love that.  But, the last paragraph is missing a point.  I think that it’s actually the pessimist that drives people to improve the world.  If everyone had an optimistic view, we may be sitting back and relaxing instead of saying, “OH NO!  Something bad is going to happen! We need to invent/develop something to prevent it!”  So, as annoying as pessimism is, I dare say it is necessary. 

    • Jessica

      In 1939 Germany, millions of Jews and other groups were already turning up missing – Germany was invading surrounding nations – and this guy wants to talk about their economy being better in 1939 than in 1930? Of course it was! And not for a good reason! 

      Every single one of this points holds at least a bit of bunk; with a tiny bit of truth thrown in just to throw everyone off. 

      I’m not a pessimist, but I am NOT going to take this guy seriously when he can’t even get his context straight! 

    • Jessica

      In 1939 Germany, millions of Jews and other groups were already turning up missing – Germany was invading surrounding nations – and this guy wants to talk about their economy being better in 1939 than in 1930? Of course it was! And not for a good reason! 

      Every single one of this points holds at least a bit of bunk; with a tiny bit of truth thrown in just to throw everyone off. 

      I’m not a pessimist, but I am NOT going to take this guy seriously when he can’t even get his context straight!