The glass is half full

It is not difficult to find reasons for pessimism and fear
in today’s world. Wars, natural disasters, debt, climate change, the price of
petrol -- these are just the beginning of a list that fills the daily paper and
evening news bulletins. Those of us concerned about the family and human
dignity have our own catalogue of woes. No wonder that the world’s optimists
are working overtime, appealing to the public and governments alike to take
seriously the human desire for happiness, and to give it an equal if not
superior place to material security in our hierarchy of social values.

Of course, we have our own ideas about what would make us
happier; most of us would want to see some real progress in solving social and
global problems before we ticked the happiness boxes on the next government
form. We don’t want to be soothed; we want to know that the world is getting

So, here are seven reasons why things are getting better,
and why we should be happier.

1. Young people around
the world are becoming more pro-life. A year ago Gallup
of the US scene: “All age groups have become more attached to the
pro-life label since 2005, with particularly large increases among young adults
and those aged 50 to 64 years in the latest period between 2007/2008 and
2009/2010.” A video MercatorNet featured on the front page last week showed leaders of US student
pro-life groups at a huge national congress, and their optimism about ending
abortion in their country was impressive. Alveda King was present and, quoting
Martin Luther King, commented: “When you see the young people on board, then
you know that victory is on the way.”

2. Birth rates in
the developed world are ticking up after a long decline. Even in Europe fertility
has been rising
since 2003, climbing from a low of 1.47 children per woman
to 1.60 in 2008. In the United States the birth decline resulting from the
recession has bottomed out, according to Professor Brad Wilcox of Demographic Intelligence.
He predicts that, partly because of an increase in women of childbearing age, births
are now beginning to rise -- good news for the baby products industry “which has
faced a tough market over the last few years, since many Americans cut back on
childbearing in the wake of the Great Recession.”

3. Poverty is
, particularly in the emerging BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia,
India, China). Laurence Chandy and Geoffrey Gertz of the Brookings Institution
in Washington estimate that between 2005 and 2010, nearly half a billion people escaped extreme
hardship, as the total number of the world’s poor fell to 878 million people.
“Never before in history have so many people been lifted out of poverty in such
a short period. The U.N. Millennium Development Goals established the target of
halving the rate of global poverty between 1990 and 2015; this was probably
achieved by 2008, some seven years ahead of schedule. Moreover, using forecasts
of per capita consumption growth, we predict that by 2015, fewer than 600
million people will remain poor. At that point, the 1990 poverty rate will have
been halved and then halved again.”

4. The poor are
taking their own destinies in hand.
Professor James Tooley of Newcastle
University in the UK has written in his book, The
Beautiful Tree
, of the grassroots initiatives by the world’s poorest people
to educate their own children. Disenchanted with what governments manage to
offer (including unmotivated teachers) or not offer, parents in Indian slums
and African villages put aside a few coins each week to pay for “private”
education for their children. For example: Beginning by going house-to-house on
his bike, Sajid-Sir, headmaster of a community school in Hyderabad, taught
pupils and in 1982 built a school "with 15 students on the floor of his
rented house. From there he progressed over the next 19 years to an enrolment
of nearly 1000 students, on three rented sites," in ramshackle buildings
and with few trained teachers, driven by a desire to help and a love of
teaching. It’s a struggle, but when parents are determined to get the best for
their children, things can happen.

5. Philanthropy is growing in poorer countries. The Guardian reports that, according to a recent survey by Barclays bank, India -- which admittedly
now has “69 billionaires … and a sleek new crop of millionaires” -- leads the
way in charity among high net worth individuals. Indians are even more inclined
to give their time -- with top graduates, for example, giving two years to
teach in poor city schools. “Last year the Indian Philanthropy Forum was
born. Venkat Krishnan, who runs GiveIndia,
a reputed fund-raising platform, says that there has been a ‘coming-of-age of
philanthropy in India’. Ten years ago, he had to convince the middle classes to
give but now, once satisfied with the bona fides of the non-profit, they are
happy to write that cheque. Nor is it uncommon to hear of young couples
donating their wedding cash to a cause.”

6. Religion continues
its resurgence
. According to some number crunching done by experts at the Gordon
Conwell Seminary
, religious adherence had declined to 80.8 per cent of the
world’s people in 1980 but that figure has risen to 88.6 per cent, and is likely
to keep increasing. Not what the noisier atheists would like you to think, but
it makes sense. Mainly it has been driven by the collapse of Communism in the
Soviet Union -- thus Albania, formerly a bastion of atheism, is today almost
entirely Muslim or Christian -- and the Gordon Conwell report predicts a
continuing “decline of the non-religious. This is due primarily to the
resurgence of Buddhism, Christianity, and other religions in China. If this
trend continues, agnostics and atheists will be a smaller portion of the world’s
population in 2025 than they are today.”

Also: Over the
next few days churches will be filled to overflowing for the Holy Week and Easter
liturgies, while on May 1 hundreds of thousands of pilgrims will pack St Peter’s
Square and surrounding areas for the beatification of Pope John Paul II.
Whatever else this signifies, it is not the demise of religion.

7. Lastly, the
are throwing their weight behind the happiness movement. Prime
Minister David Cameron has made happiness a target of government policy, and last
week a group of eminent thinkers from the worlds of education, economics, and
politics -- backed by the Dalai Lama -- launched a campaign called Action for Happiness. Although it
sounds rather corny and un-British, there are some very good things in this campaign -- starting
with the Ten Keys to Happier Living: Giving, Relating Exercising, Appreciating,
Trying Out …. The architects correctly discern that decades of
grasping and being all out for ourselves have led to a fraying of social bonds (especially in the family)
and lack of trust -- things that are taking a heavy toll on the mental health
of young people. It’s an international movement, with so far over 114,000
followers from 99 countries. And the great thing about it is this: if the
British can cheer up, probably we all can. So why not give it a go?

Carolyn Moynihan is
deputy editor of MercatorNet.


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