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Looking at 2015 ... and at 2015

There was plenty of bad news in 2015. But good news -- progress in almost every category of well-being -- vastly outweighed it.

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How do you feel about 2015? If you base your answer on what the world was worried about, the year was lousy. News was a nonstop stream of terrorism, injustice, grieving, burying, and accusing. Ignorant armies clashed by night. There was way too much religious, ethnic, and racial antagonism. No need to relive that. Let’s take a look at another year.

I’d suggest ... 2015. Despite terrorism and mass murders, violent crime per 100,000 population remained at a 20-year low, according to the US Department of Justice. (Because calendar year 2015 is still winding down, these and other statistics are the most recent available.) Climate change was a big concern, but emissions of greenhouse gases fell slightly as China cut back coal burning, the journal Nature reported. Elsewhere, infant mortality continued to sink, now standing at 32 deaths per 1,000 births. As recently as a decade ago, it was 42 per 1,000.

There were 200 million fewer hungry people in the world than in 1990, even as the population has increased 2 billion since then, the United Nations reported. The percentage of people living in extreme poverty was below 10 percent. It was 37 percent in 1990, and the UN thinks extreme poverty can be wiped out by 2030.

Similar progress was evident in everything from food safety to reducing motor vehicle fatalities, life spans to air quality, literacy to female empowerment. And no one says that is enough. Take homelessness. More than 1.4 million Americans currently need a homeless shelter. That is a 10.5 percent decline since 2007, says the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. But the number is still 1.4 million too high. (Click here to read a Monitor cover story on the push to end homelessness.)

So let’s talk about the discrepancy between appearance-based 2015 and data-based 2015. Social scientists cite the “availability heuristic” as crucial in thinking about this. The idea is that people use mental shortcuts that favor more recent, more available, more vivid information. And, as everyone knows, the media are all about the vivid, available, and recent.

Long before the notion of an availability heuristic, the founder of The Christian Science Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, observed that “the press unwittingly sends forth many sorrows and diseases among the human family.” She wanted her Monitor to report news carefully, to look for progress and solutions. A reader recently sent this e-mail: “Sometimes I find myself wading through other news sites, and the amount of sensationalism and focus on trivia makes me feel bad. But then I can always read your front page, and the articles are informative, in depth, focused on the positive elements of the human condition, and have journalistic integrity, and I feel restored.”

There’s also a huge amount of other restorative news that never makes headlines – the quiet joy and progress of individuals, families, and friends every day of the year. Weighing it all in the balance, looking at all factors, not just the vivid and recent, 2015 wasn’t just good. It was outstanding. And 2016 undoubtedly will be better.

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