Objectively, things aren’t easy for most of us right now. We’re facing social, economic, health, and environmental crises.
With all the chaos of today, it can be tempting to lean on nostalgia and believe previous generations had it better or easier. And it can make us long for what seem like simpler times.
In fact, our brains are wired to see the past more fondly than the present. We naturally remember the “golden days” of youth as being greater than they were when we lived them.1
We tend to do the exact opposite when we look at the present, focusing more on the negative things.2
It’s no wonder, then, that more Americans think we’re worse off today than we were 50 years ago.3
Is that true?
Most evidence says they’re wrong—that life in the past was actually more difficult. It was shorter, poorer, sicker, and more dangerous for most people.4,5,6
That’s why we are living through the greatest time ever in human history, experts say.7
So, why doesn’t it feel like that sometimes?
Why don’t many of us feel like this is the best time ever to be alive?
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We're living longer than people have ever lived before. Worldwide, more than 3 in every 4 people live to be at least 65 years old.8 In the U.S., life expectancies for men and women have increased by more than 10 years since 1950.9
That's 10 more years the generations before us didn't have to enjoy retirement, spend time with family, and take in more of life's wonders.
Progress in medicine and health care is one of the reasons we're living longer than ever. In fact, since 1980, MRIs have been invented, smallpox was eradicated, artificial hearts were developed, and the human genome was sequenced.10
These and other advancements have done more than just extend the length of people's lives. They've also compressed end-of-life decline, meaning people live better lives longer.11
Globally, poverty rates have dropped by more than 50% since 2000.12 In the U.S., 8.4 million people have risen out of poverty since 2014.13
Also promising, average earnings in the U.S. have increased nearly 20-fold since the 1950s.4,14 Adjusting for inflation, some experts say wages have grown by at least 35%, increasing Americans' purchasing power today when compared to 70 years ago.15
Technological advancements have changed so much of how we live and navigate the world. Since 1950 alone, new technology has brought us credit cards, artificial intelligence, the internet, electric cars, cellphones, and GPS technology.16
These and other innovations have made our lives easier, safer, and better. In fact, while new tech can save time and reduce effort, it can also help save lives.
Despite the headlines, over the last 25 years, crime has dropped dramatically in the U.S. Violent crime, like assault, robbery, and homicide, has fallen by more than 51% since 1993. Over the same period, property crime, like theft and fraud, has followed the same trend, dropping by more than 54%.6
Labor conditions and laws have come a long way since the early 1900s, creating safer environments with better protections for workers. From safety regulations and wage laws to discrimination and child labor laws, U.S. workers are better protected than ever.18
Beyond safety, workplaces are also more diverse than ever before. In fact, the U.S. workforce has seen a surge of older workers, minorities, and women over the past 25 years.19
Quality of life has improved sharply over the last 100 years, with astounding improvements in living standards across all socio-economic divides. In fact, the average standard of living in the U.S. today would have been envied by even the greatest rulers two centuries ago.20
By all standards, we're living longer, happier, better lives than our great-great-grandparents did.
Let’s be frank: things are far from perfect. The chaos of the day makes that loud and clear. But the volume of the chaos amplifies the problems of the present and mutes the amazing progress made in recent generations.2
By most standards, we’re living longer, happier, better lives than our great-great-grandparents did.21
That can be easy to lose sight of with bad-news cycles and an endless parade of scary headlines.
Pair that with a sour economic mood, and pessimism skyrockets. We’re far less likely to be positive about progress and life today when we don’t feel good about current economic conditions.3
Why does that matter?
After all, some pessimism can be a good thing. It can make us cautious and attentive to risks that we may want to avoid.22
Too much pessimism, however, can lead to fear and feelings of futility.23 If fear sparks panic, we freeze and can end up missing important opportunities.24
You can counteract that by being mindful of the big picture. If you can temper pessimism with a little optimism, you can find meaning in adversity and build resilience.25 You may also be able to recognize opportunities others overlook, make better decisions, and achieve better outcomes.26,27
As an adviser, I see how people’s outlooks affect their financial choices. I’m here to provide perspective so it’s easier to look at the big picture and make decisions that will better support your long-term objectives.
If you’ve been feeling uneasy or frustrated about how things are going, call me at (919) 335-4744 and let’s chat. I’m ready to listen and share some advice that could help you see things in a different light.
Michael Whitman, MBA, CFP® Millennium Planning Group
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