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Chicken little forecast

Still Chugging Along

Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.

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Actually, We’re Doing Just Fine

Give us a pandemic, and we’ll give you: life satisfaction! Our latest newsletter explains why we're emerging from a very difficult year more resilient than ever.

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas

This is an extract from our now-weekly newsletter, What Could Go Right? Sign up here to receive it in your inbox every Thursday at 6am. You can read the full newsletter here.

We’ve all been reading about the sharp increases in depression and anxiety rates the pandemic has caused. But also, apparently we’re all . . . fine? So says a new World Happiness Report: “In a conclusion that even surprised its editors,” wrote Ryan Bacic in The Washington Post on Tuesday, “self-reported life satisfaction across 95 countries on average remained steady in 2020 from the previous year.”

“I would have expected much, much bigger declines in well-being,” says psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky in the piece. Yep—it is amazing how adaptive and resilient we are as a species. Give us a pandemic, and we’ll give you: life satisfaction!

“It’s not so much that people are doing precisely as well as they were before,” Bacic writes, “as that many have adapted to their new situations in ways that might have roughly evened out their well-being.”

It’s the pandemic as a portal, an idea we first heard from one of our Members, Krista Tippett of the immensely popular spiritual podcast On Being. The pandemic has been, of course, awful, but it has also given us an extremely rare collective jolt, an opportunity to pay close attention to what works and what doesn’t, experiment with what might work better, and build a future accordingly, both personally and socially. It’s in that spirit of potential—and not in the spirit of hoodwinking you into believing everything is great—that The Progress Network was launched to begin with.

Once we’re looking for it, we end up seeing that potential realized all over the place. We’re seeing it in friends and family going through personal growth, and we’re seeing it in societal development, too. Here are two recent examples, both from The Atlantic: “3 Ways the Pandemic Has Made the World Better,” which includes the possibilities for the mRNA vaccine technology to treat cancer, and “Virtual Learning Might Be the Best Thing to Happen to Schools,” which is about exactly what the title says. (We’ll be exploring a related topic in our next event about the trends disrupting the traditional model of higher education.) This mindset of potential also helps frame issues where we want to keep pushing forward, from local racial inequity to federal gun control, not as coals for stoking more outrage but as seeds for future flourishing.

We can both focus on that potential and deal constructively with the struggle that’s in front of us. For the latter, we go back to Tippett, whose episode this week with clinical psychologist and mindfulness teacher Christine Runyan is just the thing for understanding and acknowledging what’s going on in our nervous systems as we hit the one-year lockdown mark. It’s a grounding, nourishing listen, with the added bonus that Runyan’s voice has that “sinking into a warm bath” quality that we’re starting to think they must teach in meditation instructor school.

Last thought before we go—yesterday morning The New York Times covered the US’ “bad news bias,” which we covered in this newsletter back in December. It is awesome seeing mainstream media picking up this thread!

Below, the goats we promised. One, two, three: awwwwww.

From us: Is higher education due for a makeover? We look ahead and discuss what’s coming next in higher ed, from closing the gap that has opened between elite schools and the rest to the waning of standardized admissions tests to the rise of online and hybrid learning. Join us on April 7!

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas is the Executive Director of The Progress Network. An editor and writer specializing in nonprofit media, she was formerly Executive Editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and is the editor of two books from Wisdom Publications.