Everything Is Not Terrible

The feeling that everything is terrible is a familiar one to news followers everywhere. I question my own news consumption from time to time. I tell myself that I want to keep informed, but most of the time my relationship to the news is like my relationship to the TV show Game of Thrones. I like keeping up, guessing what will happen and getting morbidly excited the rare with dark twists.


I like this article:
How to Stay Happy When the News is Bad. It moves from the classic advice on news overload (stop reading the news) through the optimist viewpoint (the world is better now than ever before) to something more subtle all together.

Stop Reading

“Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months,” Rolf Dobelli, author of The Art Of Thinking Clearly, “name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of news is irrelevant to you.”

Good point, but the news feels relevant to people who are connected to many places in the world or who have friends living in some of the places that pop up in the headlines. Reading news becomes a way to stay connected to those people, to keep up with their reality, even if it’s in a superficial way, even if it’s not truely relevant. It feels important.

Look on the Bright Side

We know, rationally, that people in every era have always believed that theirs was the worst in history – and that, by many yardsticks, things are better than ever. Yet the conviction that Everything Is Terrible remains. And now it is joined by the conviction that everything is uncertain, too, fuelling an escalating anxiety about the future.

I find myself saying this kind of thing all the time. I’m safe, you’re safe. We’re all better off now than ever before, but still just as worried because there is a baseline of pain and anxiety that every generation feels. If we judge the circumstance as really bad, then, wow, I can’t believe you made it through all that with a smile on your face. Or if we think the circumstance is comfortable (Millennials) we think, stop complaining so much and get to work. But through history everybody has felt about the same.

“Stability isn’t news” is the argument here. Things are OK but shocking things happen pretty regularly somewhere in the world and we’re reading about those things. Simultaneously expanding our personal circle of compassion and feeding into our worry.


The Solution?

“The answer is that life is really, really good. I am a complex enough being that I can hold in my heart the understanding that we are really, really fucked, and at the same time that life is really, really good. I am full of rage, sorrow, joy, love, hate, despair, happiness, dissatisfaction, and a thousand other feelings. We are really fucked. Life is still really good.”

Ten years ago I was in the doctor’s office getting a check-up before I left for college in New Zealand. Near the end of the visit my doctor asked if I had any questions or if anything was bothering me. I mentioned that my hips would hurt from time to time, a kind of stiff grinding feeling. I was thinking that maybe I would get some treatment, he’d have a closer look, find that there was some inter-muscular-boneitus failure of some kind. He asked me how often I exercised. “Never really,” I said. “Exercise, and it will go away,” he said. The oldest prescription in the book. Right next to eat better, sleep more.

There are no philosophical tricks to being able to beat the news blues. It’s a simple prescription. Something is bothering you? Do something about it. Make some effort, however small, toward building a better world. Volunteer, donate, write a letter to the Editor. Something that will activate you.

Because the news is not Game of Thrones. We have the option to play along and participate and that alone might be the answer to feeling overwhelmed. It might not fix the world or prevent the next Red Wedding but it’s something.


2 Comments so far. Comments are closed.
  1. Ilgaz,

    I pretty much agree upon the idea of “do something even it would have small impact” but when you’re in a closer geography to the “bad news” and it’s happening right outside of your window you might be overwhelmed already enough not to see the life’s beauty. If you’re living in a war zone, yes making an act is the only way you could keep living and hoping. Same if you’re far enough from the war zone to get informed just via the headlines of the newspaper, it’s possible to use this distance as an active tool to be more analytic and move towards a useful direction. But when you are in a district which is in between, where you feel some kind of danger or hopelessness concerning what’s coming next, what could happen worse than the current situation, then there is a foggy reality in which you feel doomed and paralyzed. That’s why it takes more time for those in between to shake off themselves to be able to see the goodness, worthiness of living. I think. I hope I could express my thoughts flying over my head clearly. Last but not least, I love your blog as much as I do the fantastic creature behind that screen. Cheers…

    • I agree about feeling foggy and stuck. The prescription to do something still doesn’t feel great because the change you make feels too slow, or totally impotent against the crushing wave of dread. I’d rather be able to take something to make everything all right right now. But that’s dangerous. In the article he says that feeling of dread is what leads to people electing demagogues like Trump or voting for something spectacular like Brexit. As if blowing it all up is the only way to build the world we want. But you’re right, that in some situations the simple prescription won’t work. If a guy is having a heart attack going for a walk or sleeping better won’t work.