During the year, the debate has been raging between those who see the world’s glass as half full versus those who see it as half empty. The optimists, trying to promote a fact-based worldview, are right: Almost all the indicators confirm that the world is “better” than it’s ever been and certainly not nearly as dangerous as we think/feel.
If the world is getting so much better, why do so many people feel so miserable? What can explain such a disconcerting disconnect between a situation where most global macro variables, which measure progress, are improving (there is less poverty, less illiteracy, less deadly violence, etc.), and yet, the micro indicators that capture our sense of wellbeing (in particular mental and physical health) are going in the opposite direction?
The first observation to make is that money (the best proxy for progress since it is economic growth that makes the world a better place) and wellbeing are not equivalent. This may sound counterintuitive to some, but there are plenty of studies in psychology and behavioral economics showing that money and happiness/wellbeing, beyond a certain threshold, make bad bedfellows. However, the most compelling reason that best explains the level of unwellness around the world is the growing impact of stress and anxiety on our lives.
Stress and anxiety are sourced in a variety of spheres ranging from climate change (it has such a quantifiable impact on many people’s lives that “eco-anxiety” is now a clinical diagnosis validated by the American Psychological Association) to the modern workplace, which takes an increasingly heavy toll on many workers (who suffer from the psychological effects of long hours and work-family conflict, disappearance of good health insurance and more). The bottom line: Today’s world is getting better, but simultaneously, it is also becoming more stressful.
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In addition, many people are stressed about the political situation in their countries including the rise of autocracies, hatred between people with differing beliefs, the lack of civil discourse and the erosion of personal freedoms.