It started out innocently enough. I asked a friend of mine whether he thought the world would be a better or a worse place 100 years from now. Worse, he said.
We had a little discussion about his
answer and then went on about our business. A few days later, he said he
wanted me to look at a magazine called Colors. Published in Italy, it
illustrated some of our global problems graphically. For example, on the
back cover were two pictures: One was a man in a polyester jump suit
standing on a well-manicured lawn with a nice house in the background,
and he was feeding a tidbit to his well-groomed poodle.
The other picture was five or six young boys, dirty and ragged, living in a hole in the street.
magazine did a good job contrasting how wealthy many of us are in
industrialized countries with how horribly many people live in
Later, my friend asked me how I liked the magazine.
I replied, It was disturbing.
It's REAL! he said with a self-righteous tone that said "I'm not a person who is afraid of facing the truth."
that was the beginning of my crusade against bad news. What disturbed
me was not the reality of it. I'm well aware of how miserably much of
the world lives compared to how even a poor American lives. What
bothered me was that the "information" in the magazine was delivered in a
context of hopelessness.
There wasn't one tiny scrap of any indication anywhere in the magazine
that you, the reader, can do anything about it. The world is a horrible
place, it seemed to say, and you are helpless to influence it.
If the information had been delivered in the spirit of Here's some bad news, but here's what you can do about it, the same information would have been motivating rather than demoralizing.
if the reader feels helpless about it or thinks the situation is
hopeless, the magazine did harm, and the reader would have been better
off without it. Studies have shown that most television news leaves the
viewer depressed because it is primarily bad news that the viewer can do
nothing about. The problems are too big or too far away or too
permanent to be able to change. This sort of news encourages a
pessimistic view of the world.
Pessimism produces a
feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. In other words, pessimism can
lead to depression. This is not just an opinion. Lots of research has
been done on this subject. A tremendous amount of evidence exists and it
all points in the same direction. Pessimism makes people less capable
of acting effectively, even in their own best interests. It produces
apathy and lethargy. It makes people give up.
is bad for your health, bad for your relationships, and bad for the
planet (because pessimism not only stops constructive action, but IT IS
Raw, in-your-face reality is good, but
only halfway there. The other half is what can be done about it? If
nothing can be done about it, why tell anyone? If something can be done
about it, why not give that news too? It is a crime against humanity to
Because of the shock value and
attention-getting power of tragedy, horror, and cruel irony, a
pessimistic, unconstructive attitude is infecting the minds of more and
It must be stopped. And you can help. Here's how:
Stop tuning into any news that makes you feel helpless, distrusting,
fearful, hopeless, and that doesn't give you the sense that you can do
something about it. If you want to "stay up on the events of the world,"
try to find sources that don't create pessimism.
2. Pick the global problem that most bothers you and do something about it. If you think there's nothing you can do, then first cure yourself of your own pessimism.
3. Share this article with people you know. And if someone tells you some bad news, tell the person about this information.
4. Read some good news.
5. If a friend of yours seems pessimistic, help her or him become more optimistic.
Optimism does not include burying your head in the sand or in the
clouds. It is a balanced look at reality. It is practical and effective.
As I say in the second chapter of Self-Help Stuff That Works:
a study by Lisa Aspinwall, PhD, at the University of Maryland, subjects
read health-related information on cancer and other topics. She
discovered that optimists spent more time than pessimists reading the
severe risk material and they remembered more of it.
are people,” says Aspinwall, “who aren’t sitting around wishing things
were different. They believe in a better outcome, and that whatever
measures they take will help them to heal.” In other words, instead of
having their heads in the clouds, optimistic people look. They do more
than look, they seek. They aren’t afraid to look into the situation
because they’re optimistic.
Optimism will give
you the strength to confront difficult realities with open eyes.
Optimism has the potential to be even more contagious than pessimism. If
nothing else, optimists tend to have more energy. Optimism is very good
for your mood.
But there is something else: Optimism
is more ethical. It is more life-giving, more enjoyable. It is more
right. Pay more attention to the news you bring into your mind and you
will enjoy a healthy good mood more often.
Adam Khan is the author of Self-Help Stuff That Works and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.