Eternal Optimist

06/25/10 Dawn Elliott
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David Niven's new book, Up, gives a positive answer backed by research, to the notion that life is bad and keeps getting worse.

DN: The number of different ways that life is getting better is quite astounding. The idea behind Up is that, if we think about that, if we pay some attention, it’s not just a matter of trivia, it sustains us, and the things we care about, in family life or career. Any aspect, if we have a little sense of hope and optimism, it’s hard to keep doing what we’re doing. The number 1 thing people say is ‘How can you say life is getting better when the economy is obviously in tough straits, and so many are struggling?’ One of the studies I wrote about in the book was on happiness across the globe. On day to day basis, are you happy? What it found was that the richest Americans are on the same happiness level with the Masai cattle herders in Kenya. When you understand the basic roots of happiness, nothing to do with the vastness of one’s wealth, that people who live in huts have exactly the same level of happiness as people who have private jets, you kind of get a sense of possibilities about people’s lives. And not to foreclose the possibility of enjoying life even in times of economic struggle.

DE: Why do people feel so bad then? Why did you write this book?

DN: There was a newspaper headline that said, “Life is getting Harder, experts say.” It connected to me with the general sense I have from people I know, the media, just about every indicator that one would turn to that thinks, Boy things are tough right now. For example, I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t agree there’s not enough time in the day, they have too much stress, they are running out of time to do the things they want to do. One of the examples in Up is that our life expectancy has grown more in the last 100 years than it has in the previous 5000. In a very measurable sense, we’ve never had more time than we have right now.

DE: Is Up similar to 100 Simple Secrets in terms of layout?

DN: Yes. Each entry is a finding from a researcher, and an anecdote. 365 ways of how life has never been better. Some of the entries focused on very short term, some focuses on the direction of things over thousands of years. Some are trivial matter of daily life, and some are absolute big picture things of how we spend our time and how much time we have.

David Niven

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