WATCH THE evening news a few weeks in a
row and youre likely to feel less optimistic about the
future of humankind. The majority of the stories are about tragedies
and mistakes and cruel deeds. For the most part, they arent
making these up. Tragedies and mistakes and cruel deeds happen
every day all over the world.
But thats not all that happens. Many
other kinds of events happen every day and if you got as much
exposure to those, you would naturally become more optimistic.
But how can you get news about the millions
of smart people all over the world successfully solving important
problems? How can you find out about the universities and governments
and wealthy private donors pouring their money into ending poverty,
curing diseases, and making important discoveries? If you had
a source of news like that, it would be fairly easy to
become more optimistic.
Ive got good news for you: There
is such a source: Scientific American Magazine. No, they didnt
pay me to write this. They dont mean to be optimistic,
and they cover important problems of the world, but always in
the context of what is being accomplished and what is being discovered.
And because it is a peer-reviewed scientific
journal (which means their fellow scientists are scrutinizing
and double-checking their discoveries to see if theyre
really true), you will find almost no thought-mistakes. This almost guarantees
optimism. Thought-mistakes are the root source of pessimism,
cynicism, and defeatism. Read more about that here.
If you get your news from the radio, television,
newspapers, or online sources, your chances are very high youre
getting your news from a source that is competing with other
news sources to capture your attention. They rely on advertising
for their income, and to make money, they need an audience. They
must capture and hold your attention. And what captures and holds
attention best is tragedy, mistakes, and cruel deeds. Thats
just how our brains are wired up, for survival reasons. Read more about that here. News sources exploit
this natural way our brains function.
They look at the events of the world and
try to find events they can cover that will capture and hold
your attention, and then they try to present it in the most compelling
possible way. And what captures and holds and compels best is
whatever makes you feel endangered, worried, or angry.
Keep exposing yourself to news like this,
and your point of view about the world becomes skewed. It gives
you a generally pessimistic, defeatist, cynical outlook. This
outlook is becoming normal.
But even if you watch the news, you can
balance it out with Scientific American. They are trying to do
something entirely different. Yes, they also make money with
advertisements, but their audience is made up of scientists and
people interested in scientific development. Because of this
focus, the requirements to capture and hold the audience are
quite different. Scientists are not necessarily more optimistic,
but the unintended side-effect of covering stories about the
scientific endeavor is its readers will naturally and spontaneously
become more optimistic.
Ive got a few issues here in front
of me. Besides covering things like astronomers recent
discoveries and new discoveries in medicine, there are stories
The Next 20 Years in Microchips: Designers are pushing all the boundaries to make
integrated circuits smaller, faster and cheaper.
Boundaries for a Healthy Planet: Scientists have begun to quantify red-alert levels
for environmental problems.
Regaining Balance with Bionic Ears: Electronic implants in the inner ear may one day
help patients suffering from disabling unsteadiness.
The Rise of Instant Wireless Networks: Wireless networks that form on the fly bring communications
to the most foreboding environments.
A Plan to Defeat Neglected Tropical
Diseases: A new global initiative
may break the cycle of poverty leading to sickness and more poverty.
These are major, important news items youre
not likely to find in normal news sources. Theyre just
not scary enough. Or tragic enough. Or upsetting enough.
So lets say you accept the idea that
you could become more optimistic if you read science magazines.
There are several major scientific magazines, so why do I recommend
Scientific American, specifically? Because some scientific magazines
are not written for laymen and are difficult to read. Some are
sensationalized and focused on future possibilities. Scientific
American is the one you want.
Ive subscribed to Scientific American
for about 26 years now, and what Ive come to appreciate
is the reliability of its content. They dont play around.
They dont get lost in wild speculation. They dont
cover things that are not important. They dont cover urban
legends as if they were real stories. Its solid. You can
count on it.
When youre trying to cure yourself
of pessimism and cynicism, one way is to try to convince yourself
of positive thoughts. This doesnt work very well. If you
dont believe something, it has no impact on your level
of optimism. And trying to make yourself believe something
is an exercise in futility because the very effort of making
yourself says to yourself very directly, I dont
believe this is true.
A better way to become more optimistic
is to disabuse yourself of false negative notions. Read more about that here. Why is it better?
Because youre standing on solid ground. Youre committed
to truth and reality. Youre not trying to live in the clouds
or stick your head in the sand. Youre not trying to avoid
Regularly reading Scientific American can
do this for you. But dont take my word for it. Conduct
your own scientific experiment. Take an optimism test (by following this link) and then subscribe
for a year. Read something from every issue. And at the end of
the year, take the optimism test again. I think youll
see a tremendous improvement.
Your general outlook on life has an impact
on your health, on your relationships, on your ability to be effective in the world, and
on your day-to-day mood. Of all the ways of changing
your outlook and becoming more optimistic, reading Scientific
American is the easiest and most interesting.
Learn another way to cultivate a reality-based
Read Scientific American online.
Subscribe to Scientific American