Some Things Keep Getting Better, But Our Mood Isn’t One of Them

AmyBucherPhdIf you remember the male makeover hit of the early 2000s, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, you’ve heard the song that says “All things just keep getting better.” While this is not generally true (three words for you: fish, tuberculosis, taxes), it actually does seem to have some merit in describing a whole bunch of stuff going on in the world right now. Among the dimensions that have been improving in the past few decades are:

  • Life expectancy
  • Average human height
  • Global economic outlook
  • Child labor and child mortality
  • Literacy
  • Quality of and access to technology

There’s more, too, but these examples should give enough of an indication that several global trends are on a positive swing. Why, then does research by Gallup suggest that worldwide, the frequency of negative emotions has increased since 2007?

I’m tempted to chalk it up at least partially to methodological issues, but I don’t know exactly how Gallup conducted their surveys. Another possibility is that although many aspects of life are improving, those aren’t the ones that are most obvious to people in their day-to-day lives. Overall improvements in child mortality don’t impact the quality of a person’s mood the way their interactions with family do, for example. There’s also the fact that negative events have a tendency to overpower positive ones in their effect on our experience (see Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Finkenauer, & Vohs, 2001). So even if some events are getting better, we still may be paying more attention to the ones that aren’t.

Human nature is to focus on what’s immediate, personal, and, unfortunately many times, negative. The good news is that if we take a few moments to look around, there are many wonderful things happening in the world that can help alleviate the frustrations of the day-to-day. Some of them are philosophical and humanitarian, like feeling happy that more people worldwide have access to education than ever before. Others are more superficial and in-the-moment, like enjoying the highly dated flip phone technology of the Queer Eye squad:


Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, 5(4), 323-370.