Survey reveals that reality is more positive than some believe

“CHEER up, it’s nearly Christmas!” I know, that’s easier said than done when the world seems like it’s going down the pan. Brexit blues, NHS nightmares, street crime chaos, and weather that is cold enough to wither the soul – is it any wonder Mr Smith looks so glum when he goes to pick up his newspaper every morning? Well, take heart, because life isn’t as bad as it seems. No, believe me, it really isn’t.
Last week, the polling company IPSO MORI published its annual ‘Perils of Perception’ survey results, which looks at how good we are at judging what’s going on in the world. After surveying tens of thousands of people from 38 countries, which ranged from Australia to England to Indonesia to Saudi Arabia, they uncovered that Britons are pretty lousy at knowing what’s really going on. We Brits are off-kilter when it comes to judging rates of crime, terrorism, teenage pregnancy, immigration, and overall health in this country. In almost every case, we think things are getting worse, even when they aren’t. 
Take the murder rate, for example. The vast majority of us think that in the last 15 years, murder rates are either getting higher or staying about the same. In reality, they are plunging and have dropped by almost a third since 2000. We similarly guess that 20 per cent of babies are born to teenage mothers, when the real teenage pregnancy rate is just 1.4 per cent.
Our doom-and-gloom view of the world is especially true when it comes to our health. For example, we guess that about a quarter of British adults have diabetes – when the actual number is five per cent. And we think that only about half (55 per cent) of us are in good health, when, in fact, the great majority (74 per cent) of Britons say that their health is either ‘good’ or ‘very good’. Put another way: as a people we are generally healthier and safer than we ever have been. 
News reporters are partly to blame for the lack of Christmas cheer. Journalists have long said that “if it bleeds it leads”, because grisly, violent crimes attract website clicks and sell newspapers faster than smoked salmon on Christmas Eve. Scientists can now explain why. When researchers have scanned human brains with functional MRI machines they have found that our brains are super-sensitive to anything that is disgusting, repulsive or threatening. Our brain cells fire into a frenzy when we see a dead cat, but give out only a gentle flutter of activity at the sight of a beautiful vista. It is our human survival instincts that make our ears prick up when we hear of something nasty because we are programmed to try to avoid risk and stay safe at all costs.
Ironically, however, if we let all the gloom bring us down, then our overall health will take a serious knock. Optimistic people are healthier, live longer, and are less likely to suffer long-term illness. Research shows that, all else being equal, someone who has a positive outlook on life is less likely to suffer heart problems like angina or a heart attack. 
My advice to you to keep a cheery spirit, you need to count to five. Science shows us that five encouraging, positive remarks are needed to offset the negative impact of just one piece of bad news. (Husbands and wives take note: that means five loving acts to make up for one belittling grumble.) Big celebrations like Christmas are great for lifting a depressed spirit, but the real secret for staying glad and grounded is a constant trickle of small, positive experiences all year long. That’s because Smiles, giving and merriment are for life, not just for Christmas.