At the Canon Media Awards on Friday night, a well-known print journalist approached me, shook my hand, took me aside and proceeded to berate me.

He demanded to know why my opinion pieces "couldn't be more positive".

"There must be something going so well in the world that you'd like to write an opinion on it," he opined.

"Do that and you'll go a long way, girl."


I tried to explain, in my best high-pitched girly voice, that good opinion writing is not actually designed for the provision of puff pieces and, anyway, that's called PR. But I couldn't get a word in before he spotted someone far more illustrious to harangue, and swanned off with a flourish.

It got me thinking though. Maybe I'm too hard on the status quo. Maybe I'm not acknowledging the good things about humanity enough; not approaching my opinion writing life with even slightly tinted rose-coloured glasses.

Maybe I just need to imbibe that goddam book by Steven Pinker about all the things getting so much better in the world. Indeed, if I had a dollar for every time some smiley, well-heeled male has suggested I read that book, I'd be busy right now feeding the slot machines in downtown Vegas.

The central tenet of The Better Angels of our Nature is that there's less violence, less deaths due to war, treatment of homosexuals and animals and women has never been fairer, and rape in the US is down by 80 per cent over the last four decades.

Despite having been written six years ago, it's still the go-to book for chirpy men to recommend as a remedy for cynical, questioning women.

It encapsulates yet another way of telling the likes of me to smile sweetly, and to buck up my ideas. The world is not all doom and gloom, and if you think it is, you're just uninformed.

I suspect the sheer mention of the book serves as a cover for those that, for reasons known only to them, want us to accept that modern civilisation is all tickety-boo.

Men with children, wives, and upper-middle class lives certainly appear drawn to it in droves. Just as religious believers are drawn to the Bible, or Playboy perusers to the letters to the editor, it's obviously a way to reframe the very real sense that the planet's hurtling out of our control.


If you haven't already guessed, Pinker is a self-described optimist. If you haven't already guessed, I am a self-described realist. Which therefore means I'm prone to sadness, and depression if the sadness bleeds out too far. But I'm also an opinion writer, and I see very little merit in taking the media man's random and unwanted advice.

Talking up everything being good in the world is probably best left to the "technology will save us all" boys at Future Crunch, and Mike Hosking.

You see, another recent study has concluded that sadness, melancholia and nostalgia are deeply rewarding emotions. They are proven to enhance empathy, compassion, and connectedness to others.

Sadness has always been recognised as a trigger for artistic creativity and, even more interestingly, the findings show it often works as an unconscious alarm signal which, in turn, promotes a detailed thinking style. Apparently, sad moods also help us to be more attentive and focused in difficult situations.

All of which makes me very happy.

By contrast, optimism was found to typically serve as a signal indicating familiar and safe situations (in other words, privilege), which resulted in a less detailed and attentive processing style.

Bottom line, the findings suggest that the constant pursuit of happiness and optimism was often self-defeating.

"Despite the near-universal cult of happiness and unprecedented material wealth, happiness and life satisfaction in Western societies has not improved for decades," said Joseph Paul Fargas, Professor of Psychology at the University of New South Wales, Sydney.

Which is quite at odds with the proponents of "the world's never been better" brigade. Rather than promoting the outdated book as the troubled soul's salve, maybe they'd be better off admitting that life's never been better. For them.

Because for truckloads of others, it quite simply isn't.

For them, they are neither heartened by the argument that mankind has a diminishing predilection for violence - which I simply don't accept - or moved by the thesis that women and homosexuals are now better tolerated. Even if it's true.

My firm opinion is - being an opinion writer an' all - that this applies to historical, scientific tomes like Pinker's, as much as all of the other mountains of happy, sappy, soul-sucking, self-help guides to nirvana-land. A utopia of detachment; devoid of critical thinking.

Me? I'm going to stick with the critical thinking.

That's one thing I'm positive about.