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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.

The Progress Report: Emotional Sea Change

Featuring Zachary Karabell & Emma Varvaloucas

In this week’s Progress Report, Zachary and Emma discuss the emotional state of the world, the decriminalization of marijuana in Brazil, and the surprising resilience of small islands to rising sea levels. They highlight the disconnect between individual experiences and collective perceptions, as well as the need for more positive stories in the media.

Prefer to read? Check out the Audio Transcript

Zachary Karabell: I’m Zachary Karabell, the founder of The Progress Network, joined, as always, by Emma Varvaloucas, the executive director of The Progress Network, and this is our weekly progress report, which is an adjunct to our longer What Could Go Right? interview podcast, which you can also listen to on whatever platform you are listening to this.

As well as signing up for our weekly newsletter, What Could Go Right?, which is free. We’re going to look at some stories that aren’t quite so poisonous, although there are a plethora of those as well, just not ones that we often can find, which is why we have The Progress Report. It’s why we have The Progress Network.

It’s why we have What Could Go Right? And of course, it’s why we have Emma Varvaloucas, who has scoured The Known Universe for stories of things that are working, or at least of people that are trying to make things.

Emma Varvaloucas: Okay, today Zachary, we are going to start off with a little discussion about the emotional state of the world.

And in fact, we can know about the emotional state of the world because there are places like Gallup that go out and do annual surveys about the world’s emotions. So we’re talking 146,000 interviews across 142 countries. 

Zachary Karabell:Wow. 

Emma Varvaloucas: Yeah, if people are feeling more positive emotions on the regular or more negative emotions.

Zachary Karabell: That’s like a really magnified version of Pixar’s Inside Out.

Emma Varvaloucas: I was actually thinking that it’s like a really magnified version of when you go to the toilet in a public area and they ask you to like rate your bathroom experience from like the frowny face to the smiley face. 

Zachary Karabell: Oh, the smiley faces? Yeah, that’s one of the weirder things in the world. Really? Do I have to do have to give you a face.

Emma Varvaloucas: Yeah. And like, in theory, everyone’s just washed their hands, but also like, you just don’t want to touch the thing that’s inside the toilet. But anyway, the point is the Gallup, you know, if we’re talking about the toilet survey technique, they have found that the world has recovered to pre pandemic levels of positivity.

So, positivity, yeah, in their definition, they measure people’s daily experience of enjoyment, learning or doing something new or interesting, I think is one of them. If you are well rested was one of them, and now I’m forgetting there’s one more, um, and then the negative emotions are like, did you feel angry, sad, stressed, worried, kind of run of the mill negative stuff.

So there was a pretty big dip in those positive daily experiences over the pandemic. People under 30 actually recovered a year before everyone else, but now everyone is back to their pre pandemic levels of positivity and it’s actually a world high. It’s not the first time that we’ve reached a world high of positivity, but it kind of seems to like, that seems to be the upper limits of people’s positivity for the last 10 years, but we have returned.

We have returned. We are resilient.

Zachary Karabell: Which highlights, once again, this profound, multicultural, somewhat head scratching disconnect between what people feel and think about their own individual lives versus what they feel and think about whatever us collectively is. We’ve talked a whole bunch about lots of people feeling pretty good about their jobs, about their careers, about their own individual finances, but thinking that the economy is just terrible, or thinking pretty favorably of their local school, but thinking education is terrible, or thinking pretty favorably of their local elected officials.

But thinking that Congress or Parliament or you name the collective body is terrible and corrupt and awful. And that seems to be more than just an American phenomenon and, you know, we have posited lots of theories about that. How is it that people can be feeling relatively sanguine about their own lives and incredibly negative about all of our lives collectively.

Some of that’s because the world in which we function information wise is, is overpopulated Stories of everything going wrong and how messed up all the systems are and less populated by sort of individual stories of things going well, but be that as it may, that’s just yet another indication of there are a lot of individual humans who will aver that they are.

Doing okay. I mean, not like everything’s fine and great. A human life without struggle is rarely a lived life, certainly not an introspective one, but it does point out this continual kind of odd moment we’re living in.

Emma Varvaloucas: Yeah, that’s what was so striking to me looking at these figures is that the world is just, from a data point of this, is, you know, Way more positive than they are negative, right?

Like the vast majority of the world is in the seventies and eighties out of a hundred. And for context, the countries with the highest positivity scores were 86.

Zachary Karabell: Which were those, do you know offhand?

Emma Varvaloucas: Yeah, Panama and Paraguay. And I have another fun fact, which is that the countries that rate the highest positive on the positive index are like almost always the same kind of every year.

Like the top 10 is very stable on most positive. And then the most negative countries, like, the list is a lot more volatile because it’s much more affected by, like, individual circumstances, like, if a country goes into war, there’s, like, really serious economic or political conflict. There are some countries that have been on the most negative list for a really long time, like Afghanistan, which is horrible.

But that list changes up more often than the positivity list, which is almost always countries in Latin America and Southeast Asia. So again, like a very interesting cultural aspect there.

Zachary Karabell: Yeah. I would not have guessed Panama and Paraguay. I would have gone through a lot of guesses. Before I got to those two as being part of the top 10.

No knock on either country. Just saying would not have been first on my agenda of like, Oh yeah. You know, Panama has an unusually contented population.

Emma Varvaloucas: The least negative country list is really interesting to you, right? Cause the most positive is different than the least negative. And the least negative ones, like there are some really surprising ones on there, like Kazakhstan or Russia.

And you’re thinking to yourself, like, are they just like, I mean, this is a stereotype, but it’s just like, they are Teflon against negative experiences, you know, like they just keep going. Like, What is going on there? Mongolia was one of those. It’s just very fascinating to me, you know, how the cultural container plays into these kinds of things.

Zachary Karabell: Although I suppose, again, theorizing without any basis and proof of the fact that one could have a least negative experience because you have a very high expectation of a lot of negativity.

Emma Varvaloucas: Mm hmm. Exactly. Like how this all plays out in people’s individual experiences is like, I wish that there were so many follow up studies and surveys and stuff about this, but this is all we have. It’s just this number. 

Zachary Karabell: So people can find this going to like gallup.com or gallup.org?

Emma Varvaloucas: Yeah, so it’s in the latest newsletter edition that came in yesterday. If they want to go to The Progress Network and make it easier on themselves. But if they want to look at the whole report, they can Google Gallup Global Emotions 2024 report and they can download it and anyone can read it.

So that’s our main discussion for today. And then I got two other sort of quick things. One is this Interesting tidbit from Brazil. You know, we talk a lot about, we have talked a lot about marijuana and marijuana decriminalization and legalization and so on and so forth in the United States, but we don’t talk about it so much in other countries, unless it’s Europe.

Brazil just did an interesting move. They have, the Supreme Court decided to decriminalize possession of marijuana. And it’s particularly, progressive in a small P kind of way, because they had changed the law in 2006 that if you’re caught with a small amount of any drug, including marijuana, that you can get arrested and put in jail for drug trafficking charges.

So after they did that, as you might imagine, like their prison populations. started to grow and people expect that this will help, you know, empty out the prisons and, or at least stop the growth of the prison population.

Zachary Karabell: Hard to argue with that as being a net positive for all sorts of reasons. Saves money, saves lives. You name it.

Emma Varvaloucas: So last but not least, I’m so excited to talk about this new piece that was in the New York Times, The Morning Newsletter on June 27th. If anyone wants to go, you know, look at it in more detail. I have seen this information published in smaller outlets, but I have never seen any big outlet cover this and it’s because there’s new research out about it.

There’s been a lot of concern about small islands like the Marshall Islands or Tuvalu, getting literally sunken into the seas with climate change, right? With rising sea levels. And what they have just discovered is that the islands kind of naturally adjust themselves. So yes, as sea levels have risen over the years, parts of the islands kind of deteriorate.

I’m not sure what the right verb is, but other parts of the island grow. So overall, most of these islands have either stayed about the same size. Some of them have even grown. And obviously it’s very good news. They still, you know, they caveat like, listen, like the sea levels could still rise like really fast and something bad could happen, but this is a much more promising sign of these islands survival than we have had in the past.

Zachary Karabell: Wow. That’s a counterintuitive observation, right? That somehow these islands have their own, I don’t know, buoyant ecosystem. That’s probably totally wrong because they don’t float on the water. So that’s a ridiculous thing to say, but the point being that there is some. Adjustment to sea levels. Yes. As you say, within reason, if they got inundated, if sea levels suddenly rose 10 feet in a matter of months, it probably would, all bets would be off, but then all bets would be off globally.

We’d all be screwed. So that’s a, another kind of hypothetical that may not be the most useful, but that’s interesting that there’s, You know, more some ecosystem adjustment than we were aware of. And I look at it, it does highlight that while there’s a lot that we know about how the planet works, there’s also a lot that we don’t know about how the planet works.

And this I think is just one more iteration there of, of, We’re still discovering a lot about what’s the ability of the planet to adjust to climate change over time, obviously, let alone humans to adjust to that. So this is one of these, like, we may be more resilient than we think we are.

Emma Varvaloucas: Yeah. And like new space for beaches.

Zachary Karabell: Exactly. And that kind of removes the whole tourism statement that some of these islands had been flirting with, like, see them now or else, or, you know, visit this year. Cause you may not be able to.

Emma Varvaloucas: Well, they could still do it for parts of the island, right? Like visit the north side.

Zachary Karabell: Go to the north side now before it’s underwater.

Marshall Islands Tourism Board.

Emma Varvaloucas: Right. Not as much of an enticing message, but, I’m sure they’ll adjust. So that is it for today.

Zachary Karabell: Thank you, Emma, for sifting through. We will take a 4th of July break. Which obviously highlights the American centric aspect of the podcast. Emma’s in Greece, but she will also be taking a 4th of July break, just cuz.

And we will be back in mid July.

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