This explains a lot.

“Thanks to biased exposure, things look bad every day. But thanks to biased memory, when you think back to yesterday, you don’t remember things being so bad. When you’re standing in a wasteland but remember a wonderland, the only reasonable conclusion is that things have gotten worse.”

This is by Adam Mastorianni in the New York Times and is based on his co-authored paper “The illusion of moral decline” in Nature. You can find a summary, un-paywalled edition here The intersection of two behavioral biases perpetually puts in a place where we think the past was better than the present. If you think that, then it’s unlikely you are going to be optimistic about the future.

We see this all the time in how financial markets are covered. Over long periods of time, the stock and bond markets in the U.S. and around the world have done a good job of providing investors with positive real returns. However the financial media is beset with content informing you why things are going to hell.*

What is a person to do? You could consciously consume less news.

You likely have to do more than just prune your inputs. You have to actively seek out optimistic content. In a sense, we are all deficient in Vitamin O (Optimism) and need to take regular doses just to get back to homeostasis. Examples include sites like Reasons to be Cheerful, Our World in Data, and Packy McCormick’s Not Boring and specifically his Weekly Dose of Optimism.**

In the tumult of our day-to-day lives it is easy to lose perspective. Optimism seems like a luxury, especially when your brain selectively works against itself. Just remember that at some point in the future some one is going to look back at today and call this the ‘golden age of X.’*** As Adam Mastroianni writing at Experimental History writes:

“While lots of people are happy to tell you about Golden Ages, nobody ever seems to think one is happening right now. Maybe that’s because the only place a Golden Age can ever happen is in our memory.”


*This is also explains why so many successful investors turn into permabears in their dotage.

**The fact that only a few sites come easily to mind demonstrates the problem in a nutshell.

*** See this Morgan Housel piece on why we underestimate the power of compounding.