There are plenty of reasons to be down about the state of the world.
There are financial crises occurring and then being forgotten and then occurring over and over again in an endless cycle of incompetence and greed.
Cars and buildings and people are blowing up left and right, with various clusters of irrational and fervent extremists to blame.
Governments are becoming more and more totalitarian. Information is being hoarded by the highest bidder. Soulless corporations are taking over.
And did I mention the impending Singularity? We’ll all be robots soon. Shit.
Despite all this, I think there are a great many cold, logical reasons to be happy that have nothing to do with sunshine, rainbows, or spirit animals, and everything to do with nice, clean, rationality.
1. Science is evolving, and so are we
I know, I know, it seems like every time you turn around there’s a new world-ending problem popping up somewhere. If it’s not the chance of nuclear winter, it’s an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s easy to look at this and say ‘well, if we would just slow down a bit and stop being so technologically ambitious, we’d be fine!’ I mean, if we hadn’t developed The Bomb, no Cold War, right?
If we didn’t have the problems we have now, we’d just have a completely different set of problems, and possibly ones that would keep us from fighting back. There will always be problems plaguing us, what changes is our ability to live with them and the quality of life we enjoy despite them.
For example, if we hadn’t developed the Internet and other methods of mass communication, we wouldn’t have nearly as many medical breakthroughs as we have today. We’re coming up with cures to diseases left and right, and surgical procedures have become far more effective and efficient since the web made the sharing of techniques more doable.
Okay, but now that we have the Internet, we also have spam and hackers and the possibility of being Rick Roll’d and all kinds of other horrible web-based problems. Have we really solved anything?
Yes we have. Think about it this way: we’re going to have problems either way, but as we continue to develop, to create new solutions to problems of the past and create new realities for the future, in addition to increasing our quality of life in the meantime, we also increase our chances of coming up with something that is truly problem-ending.
Some new technology or philosophy or who-knows-what could conceivably come about that would solve every current and future problem. Maybe it’s a mind-melding device that allows all humans to communicate with and be one with every other human simultaneously? Maybe it’s some kind of Singularity event where we merge with machines and are able to combine the best of the flesh and the bolt and end up with some impossibly excellent superhuman species?
There’s no way to predict for sure what will happen in the future, but it’s nice to know that we’re going somewhere. I’m filled with joy every time I see a new invention or hear a new idea. It makes me think, ‘we’re one step closer to making everything all right.’
If we’re not working on a solution, we’re no better than any other animal; that is, the ones that don’t have the brain-parts to even think of trying.
2. The Law of Attraction is bullshit, but being positive actually does help
There’s no voodoo involved in it, but it’s been shown over and over that if you have a positive outlook on life, things just tend to go your way more often.
This isn’t a sign of spirits smiling down on you, but rather the summation of all the little things we do when we’re feeling good and motivated.
When you feel like something is attainable, you’re more likely to keep pursuing it, even when it seems impossible. You’re also more likely to put in extra time and effort, and to see past short-term barriers. Bigger-picture problem solving is also easier, as you will have taken the time to think through the details. If you are pessimistic about the chances of it working, you’ll likely spend more time thinking about escape plans, rather than throwing yourself wholeheartedly into a project.
Positive people also tend to have better posture, healthier bodies, and to be more socially magnetic.
Think about it: would you rather hang out with someone who is excited about life, or someone who sits around and mumbles about how bad everything is?
Even if you truly feel that things are going badly, why not be positive and optimistic about the opportunity to change the way things are going? It all comes down to attitude, and then acting on that outlook. At the end of the day, being a pessimist holds you back while finding something to be optimistic about pushes you forward.
Which makes more sense to you?
3. We’re frickin’ alive, maaannnn
This will seem a little nebulous at first, so bear with me here for a moment.
Take a second to really think about reality. Go ahead. Sit back in your chair, feel it give as you lean back: feel the texture of the armrest under your fingers.
Look at the things around you. I mean, really look at them. This is not a TV show or a cartoon. Everything you see exists in tangible reality. You and your thoughts and your family and your dog are all real.
And you can change this reality. The social constructs we’ve built in our heads are just that: constructs. The rules we’ve followed since birth can be bent or broken. No one knows how we got here or where we are going or if we even really exist (and anyone who says they know for sure is a liar, and probably trying to sell you something), which means that you cannot be wrong in an absolute sense.
Sure, you can do things that don’t fit with the rules we’ve built as a society. It’s not okay to run around naked in most cities, for example. But really, what are the true consequences if you did? What rules can you dodge and twist and dismiss entirely?
Most of what we take for granted as being true and solid and an anchor to cling to is much more malleable than we tend to think about on a daily basis (or even throughout our entire lives, in some cases). There’s so much untapped potential, it’s unbelievable.
Knowing this, and understanding that there’s so much you don’t know about yourself because of it, you can’t help but feel pretty good about what you’ve already accomplished from within the confines of perception, right?
4. Nothing you have ever done or ever will do matters
I probably get more complaints about this concept than any of the others on this list, but I think it’s important (and probably the biggest contributor to my own personal happiness).
The world we live on is in constant motion. It’s a complicated machine wherein things grow and then erode away. Living things are born and then die, the organic parts whittled down and reabsorbed into the stew of atoms the make all things, living and dead. Climates shift, compositions change, and everything that happened before is eventually washed away by the sands of time.
At the most basic level, our brains are made up of particles that have arranged themselves in such a way that chemicals have been formed and electrical impulses can be conducted from one side to the other. This allows us to transfer information from different sets of particles that are arranged into the muscles and bones and nerves and capillaries that make up our bodies, and the end result, after billions of years of evolution, is that we can manipulate and change our environments to a degree that seems almost scary at times.
But what we need to keep in mind is that no matter how much we think we have control over our planet, we are still just footnotes on a very long timeline. And throughout that timeline there may have been other creatures who felt the same way (but which are now so totally forgotten that we aren’t even aware they existed).
This sounds like a downer statement, saying that humans are so insignificant that everything you’ll ever do is meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but I like to see it as a reason to set myself free from the inhibitions and responsibilities that come with the alternatives.
If I felt like every moment of live I had on Earth was meaningful and preordained, I wouldn’t be having nearly as much fun as I am now. I would spend most of my time worrying if I were living up to my purpose, fulfilling my destiny, yadda yadda yadda. Instead, I’m able to take the road that I like best at the moment, make mistakes, have adventures, grow to become the best me I can possibly be, enjoy the time I’ve got, and help others do the same.
If you had no place to be, no role to fill, what would you do?
Update: January 6, 2017
There are a lot of ideas here, most of which I still very much agree with.
That last statement in particular is still a driving force for me. No matter what happens, I feel liberated by the idea that none of it matters on a grand scale. That sets me free to pursue things that matter to me, personally, and to people I care about. Making one’s own meaning, rather than adopting that of others, is a shortcut to fulfillment, because you’re not trying to live up to unrealistic, or unproductive standards.