The 21 Gratitudes for the 21st Century
Welcome to The Weekly Better Bulletin! I'm honored that you subscribed and feel grateful for your friendship and support. Indeed, gratitude is the theme of this week's Weekly Better and will be until November, the month that my book The Daily Better comes out. So let's begin the gratitude celebration!
Why is gratitude so important, anyway? Our parents told us that we should be grateful for things like food on the table and a roof over our heads. Thanksgiving is a holiday when we count our blessings here in America. But is gratitude more than just a treacly sentiment?
Psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough have done decades of research on gratitude. They define it as “recognizing that one has obtained a positive outcome” and “that there is an external source for this positive outcome.” Emmons, McCullough, and many other researchers have found that gratitude is associated with physical health, psychological well-being, and happiness. Grateful people are also more satisfied with life, have lower rates of burnout, and are less materialistic. So you can see why gratitude is often extolled as one of the most important virtues. It really is good for you!
My personal love of gratitude was wrought by difficult experience. I was a depressed kid who grew up to become an alcoholic adult. It wasn't until I got sober that friends and mentors pushed me to focus on what I had rather I what I wanted. This, more than any other habit, changed my perspective and my life.
I want everyone to have this perspective, to develop "an attitude of gratitude." This attitude is not about becoming a Pollyanna or Pangloss. Far from it. We live in a world full of problems that need our attention. But let's pay attention to what works, too, not just the bad stuff that the news media reports. I think we'll fix our big problems faster if we focus on what's already working and apply those solutions. And I think that cultivating "an attitude of gratitude" might make a dent in the depression and anxiety epidemics.
So in the next 21 weeks I'll focus on what I call The 21 Gratitudes for the 21st Century. Each week I'll shine a light on one good thing.
This week's gratitude: life
Life is where it all begins. No life? Then no love, ice cream, or sunsets. No great novels or days at the beach. So I think it's uncontroversial to say that, all else being equal, more life is better than less life.
And today we have much more life than ever. For nearly all of human history, life expectancy was in the 30s. This statistic was low thanks in part to high child mortality rates. In the past 150 years--and especially in the last 30--child mortality rates have gone down. Way down. They've plummeted so much that in wealthy nations the death of a child is a rare tragedy, not something that most families experience, which was true for our ancestors. Even most developing countries have low child mortality rates. For example, according to Gapminder.com, Vietnam today has lower child mortality rates (20.2 per 1000) than the US did the year I was born (26.4 per 1000 in 1966).
Long life has been abetted by the abundant, nutrient rich diet that most people on the planet eat. In fact, for the first time ever, obesity is a bigger global health problem than starvation. Obesity is a problem, but it's a problem born of plenty.
Treatments for health problems like heart disease and stroke continue to push life expectancies higher. And don't forget about vaccines and disease eradication!
So if you want to live a long life, there's no time like the present. Life expectancy rates have never been higher.
Live long and prosper!
And in other good news...
Animals are just dying to get better vegetarian options on the menu! Maybe meat will be a thing of the past. Less methane. Less groundwater pollution. Less pain and suffering. Check out the growth in plant-based meat substitutes.
Population growth continues to slow down. What happened to Famine 1975! and Paul Ehrlich's Population Bomb?
The Brennan Center reminds us that we live in a time of very low crime rates. In 2018, crime rates in the 30 largest U.S. cities declined for the second straight year, reaching near-record lows.